I’ve eaten a lot of yogurt for most of my life, and most recently I’ve become enamored of Greek-style yogurt. It’s strained and thicker … and way more expensive. $5 for a container is really more than I want to spend, and so about a year ago I was intrigued by Bakerina’s post about making her own yogurt. I wishlisted a yogurt maker, but then proceeded to do absolutely nothing about any of this, which is probably fair considering the new job and the move and all.
The idea of homemade yogurt sat in the back of my mind, though, and when my dear friend Fresca wrote about making her own yogurt guerilla-style, as is her way, I thought that I really had to do this. And then right after that I ran across this wonderfully helpful post from Soulemama. And then I made yogurt and it was wonderful and cheap. I plan to keep doing this for awhile.
Due to a pile of Amazon gift certificates, I make mine in a bourgeois yogurt maker, but I’m intrigued by what Fresca and Amanda Soule have to say about making it with a pilot light, an electric heating pad, a wood fire, or even a warm car. Even with an Apparatus, making it still reminds me of the central lesson I’ve gotten from doing this Recipe Project: most ways of making fundamentally real food aren’t really very hard. If they were, humans wouldn’t have been able to feed themselves all these thousands of years. Really, what most things come down to are being able to hunter/gather decent ingredients and transforming them with a little science and technique. As Fresca pointed out,
You don’t need thermometers and special tools. Like bread and babies, yogurt’s one of those basics people have been making forever. The living beasties that get the party started (yeast, sperm, Lactobacillus bulgaricus) are pretty tough.
For yogurt, you need milk, some old, plain, live yogurt, and a way to hold it at 110 degrees F for 8 – 10 hours or so. Boil the milk, cool it to 110 (warm to the touch) by putting the pan in a sink partly filled with cold water, add the old yogurt and whisk until smooth, and then put the results in your container(s). Stash that wherever you plan to keep it consistently warm for enough hours for the bacteria to do their work. Later, it will be yogurt.
Firmness seems to be an issue for much discussion. I used whole cow milk and greek yogurt and came out with a completely firm, American-style product. Milk that hasn’t been boiled will result in thinner yogurt, as will lower fat contents. This can be remedied in a number of ways, but my grandma always relied on powdered milk to do the job. And you may prefer something that approaches the consistency of kefir anyway.
After you make all that yogurt, you may find yourself looking for ways to sweeten it. (It’s pretty remarkable plain, though.) I’ve added honey, maple syrup, and fruit with happy results, and right now am enjoying it with elderberry syrup. I enjoyed elderberry cordial while I was in London, and when I ran across some elderberries at the CNY Regional Market last week, I snapped them up. David Lebovitz posted a straightforward recipe for elderberry syrup several years back, and it worked out well. Or would have if I hadn’t panicked at the very end and dumped in more sugar because I thought my syrup was a little bitter. It wasn’t, as it turned out, and I ended up with a super-thick syrup. It thins when heated, though, and is still thin enough for swirling in yogurt and suchlike. Cleaning elderberries is enough of a pain that I won’t do this all the time, but I’ll likely be up for another batch next summer. It’s wonderfully purple and summery, and good in all sorts of things.