Small Batch

Yogurt at Home

By • May 30, 2012 • 25 Comments

Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today, Alana Chernila of Eating From the Ground Up shows us how to make our own yogurt. Alana is the author of The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making.

What is the food that everyone can, should, and wants to make at home? I get that question a lot, and my answer is yogurt. We all have our own preferences with tang, flavor, and consistency, and as soon as you jump into the enchanted world of home dairy culturing, the perfect yogurt can be yours. Even more? Homemade yogurt is fresher, better for you, easier to make than you might think, and an absolute money saver.

My hope here is to put everything I know about making yogurt at home in one place. First, I’ll lay out the basic process and science of the process, and then I’ll offer three different methods to make yogurt at home. I know there are many yogurt methods and people who make yogurt! So please, feel free to jump in and let us all know how you make yogurt at home or ask any questions that come up for you in your own kitchen.

In the interest of full disclosure here, I’ll tell you that yogurt tends to be a gateway for making other foods at home. Once those cultures work their magic in your own kitchen, I can’t predict what you might want to make next. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

What you need:

1. Milk: Good milk makes good yogurt. Ideally, use the freshest, most local milk you can find, but any milk (of any fat content) will work, as long as it is not labeled “ultra pasteurized.”
2. Culture: You can use either a dry powdered culture available online or you can just use plain store-bought yogurt. If you are using plain yogurt, make sure that it is not past its expiration date and that it has some long names of active cultures such as lactobacillus bulgaricus or lactobacillus acidophilis listed on the side of the tub. After you make your first batch of yogurt, you can use your own yogurt as a starter for several generations of yogurt before starting again with a new store-bought or powdered starter.



The Process:

1. Heat the milk to 185 degrees F. You can measure this with a thermometer, or you can do the brave finger test: dip a finger in and it should be too hot to touch, but not boiling. This process of heating and cooling the milk helps the yogurt to firm up when it cultures.

2. Cool the milk back down to 110 degrees F (or comfortably warm on your finger). You can do this by just letting it sit, or you can place the pot into an ice bath.

3. Add the culture. Whisk either the store-bought yogurt or powdered culture with a bit of the warm milk — then whisk the culture mixture into the rest of the warm milk.

4. Pour the mixture into the container in which you’ll be culturing the milk (the container of the yogurt maker, the crockpot, or the jar). You want to keep this container warm so that the liquid inside can stay at about 110 degrees F for several hours.

5. Let it sit for 5 to 7 hours, or until relatively firm. Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before eating.

Three methods for home yogurt making:

1. Yogurt maker: Most yogurt makers use electricity to do the job of keeping the milk at 110 degrees for you. Look for one like this that cultures the milk in glass containers. Heat 4 to 5 cups milk (for most yogurt makers) in a large saucepan to 185 degrees F. Allow to cool to 110 degrees F. Combine ½ cup plain yogurt OR 3 tablespoons powdered starter with a bit of the warm milk, and whisk the mixture into the rest of the milk. (Note: to see how much powdered starter you need, follow the directions of that particular starter.) Transfer small cups of the yogurt maker and let culture for 5 to 7 hours, or until set. Refrigerate for 2 hours before eating. This method is good for people who want to make smaller amounts of yogurt, or who want cute little cups of yogurt for lunch boxes.

2. Crockpot: This method takes longer, but with very little active time. It’s great for people who want to make a lot of yogurt at once. Heat the milk directly in the crockpot on the high setting until it reaches 185 degrees F. Depending on your crockpot, this will take 1 to 2 hours. Unplug the crockpot and shift the lid so that heat can escape, letting it sit until the mixture goes back down to 110 degrees F. This will take another 1 to 2 hours. Add the starter to the milk (first whisking powdered starter or plain yogurt into a bit of warm milk, then adding it to the crock pot). Keeping the crockpot unplugged, replace the cover and wrap the whole thing in a warm blanket. Let it sit for 5 to 7 hours, or until firm. Most crockpots will hold ½ gallon of milk, for which you should use about ¾ cup yogurt or 1 to 4 tablespoons powdered starter (again, following the directions on your starter when it comes to quantity).

3. Jar in a warm place: Follow the method for the yogurt maker. Pour the warm milk and culture into a large jar.
Place in an oven with the pilot light on, or in a spot near a burning wood stove. Or alternatively, wrap it in a towel, then put it into an insulated cooler.
Let sit for 5 to 7 hours, or until set.

Variations:

Make raw milk yogurt: (Note that raw milk can be used for any of these methods, but this is how to keep it raw by heating it to a lower temperature.) Instead of heating the milk to 185 degrees F, only heat the milk to 110 degrees F. Add the culture immediately and continue as above. Raw milk yogurt can be a bit runnier than yogurt made with milk heated to 185 degrees F, and if you prefer a firmer yogurt, add about ½ cup dry milk powder for every 4 cups milk when you add the culture.

Make flavored yogurt: Heat jam to 110 degrees, and spoon it into the bottom of the container before adding the milk mixture. You can also add maple syrup, vanilla, or a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar or instant coffee and sugar to the milk when you add the culture. (If you’re making flavored yogurt, it’s good to make a small bit of plain as well so that you have plain yogurt for your next batch.)

Make Greek yogurt: Line a colander with cheese cloth, and pour the finished yogurt through the cheese cloth, being sure to catch the whey in a bowl. Let drain for about 30 minutes, or until the yogurt is a good texture for you. (Be prepared to have much less yogurt than you started with!) Yogurt whey, the liquid that drains from the yogurt, is especially good to drink. I like to combine 3 cups cold whey with the juice of 1 lemon or lime, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom. This creates a delicious and refreshing drink with just enough cardamom to make it exotic.

Troubleshooting:

1. My yogurt didn’t set! Try a new kind of milk or culture. Your milk might have been ultra pasteurized, or your yogurt might not have active cultures anymore.

2. I don’t like the taste/texture of my yogurt! Try a different culture. Every combination of cultures creates a different kind of yogurt. My favorite store-bought yogurt to use as a culture is Fage Greek yogurt, but look around and you’ll find the right culture for you.

3. My yogurt got moldy within 10 days! Make sure that all your receptacles and utensils are very clean. Yogurt should stay good for 3 to 4 weeks, unless unwanted bacteria is introduced into the process through unclean materials.

Save and print the recipe here.

In next week's Small Batch, Marisa McClellan will help us get our pantry stocked with nut butters. Start shelling now, and set aside a few good jars!

Jump to Comments (25)

Tags: small batch, yogurt, greek yogurt, dairy, alana chernila, DIY, cultures, crock pot, how-to & diy

Comments (25)

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6 months ago Can't live without

I make yogurt with 2% organic milk. I follow the oven method with light on and keep it overnight. It is not as thick as the store bought yogurt. to improve the thickness/creaminess I add 1/3-1/2 cup of non-fat milk powder for 3 cups of milk. It always turns out tastier and texturally more pleasing than store bought stuff.

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6 months ago Panfusine

Kefir is a great starter culture. I usually set subsequent yogurt batches with the previous batch. Also, if your oven has a 'proof' setting, that's ideal to let the mixture sit in to set as yogurt.

Stringio

6 months ago Amy Shier Bowen

I make yogurt a gallon at a time in glass jars in my Brod and Taylor Folding Proofer. You can set the machine to precise temps and make yogurt with any kind of milk. I've found that their recipe for culturing at 86 degrees after holding it at 115 for 1 hour results in perfect yogurt. Some makers give you lumpy results from culturing too hot. I swear this is the best. http://brodandtaylor.com/

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6 months ago Count Mockula

I have an insulated shopping bag, and I put my milk/culture mix in mason jars, then fill another jar with boiling water, and zip the three jars up in the insulated bag. It works great. I personally like it quite thick and sour, so I often leave it for 8-10 hours!

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6 months ago Rodney Bedsole

Very interesting that you recommend not to use ultra-pasteurized milk. I use it for my yogurt quite often and it always turns out great.

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about 2 years ago MaryCr8on

This didn't set for me, what do I do with it now? Can it be fixed or can I use the liquid for something else? I used Fage yogurt with skim milk in my crock pot.

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about 2 years ago Dianne N A

My dad, Armenian descent, always swore by Stoneyfield plain yogurt as a starter. He always had madzoon (yogurt) in the fridge and it was firm and wonderful. When I made yogurt I followed his lead with no more than 1/4 cup of starter per half gallon milk and left it overnight in the oven (I had a pilot light). It would always be thick, tart, and perfect. I now have an electric Viking oven with no pilot light. I'm hoping the oven light (tested out overnight at 100 F) will work. Wish me luck.

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about 2 years ago MicronCat

Hey Dianne, how did your experiment turn out? I don't have a pilot light either. Last time I made yogurt, I put the pot of milk on the heating pad turned to the lowest setting, and wrapped the whole shebang in a towel to sit on the counter overnight. Worked pretty well.

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about 2 years ago barbara-jean

I'm wondering if you could use goat's milk instead of cow's or maybe even rice milk, does anyone know, thanks

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about 2 years ago alana_chernila

Alana is a food writer, contributor to the Small Batch series, and recently released her debut cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making.

Hi Barbara-Jean,
You can absolutely use goat's milk, but it has a harder time firming up, so most people add some sort of thickener to the mixture when they add the culture. You could use arrowroot powder or tapioca starch--I know that many commercial goat yogurts use tapioca starch. And yes, you can use rice milk, too! I don't have a lot of experience making yogurt with alternative milks, but I do know that it works, and that you have to use a new starter every time (as opposed to with dairy, when you can use some of your last batch for your new starter). But if anyone has any more guidance on this, that would be great!

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about 2 years ago Mickey0627

I put my jars in the oven. Heat the oven to 350 for 1 minute, and turn the light in the oven on. After 1 minute I turn the oven off, but keep the light on. After the culture has been added to the milk, I take out the jars, pour the milk into the jars and put them back into the oven for about 7 hours. The light keeps the oven at the perfect temperature.

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about 2 years ago reddragon

Like Maureen and cantaloupealone, yogurt is part of my heritage. Every time I feel a twinge of doubt when I make yogurt ( did I heat it enough? did I culture it long enough), I remind myself that thousands of women make yogurt in thousands of villages every day, without any electricity or thermometers. I breathe. And it all turns out great. Here's the test for how hot the milk has to be when you add the culture. Can you stick your little finger in it and hold it for a count of five? Yes, of course, my pinky is super clean.

Some days I'm too lazy to stir the milk continuously while heating it, and it will scorch on the bottom. Then I'll be foolish enough to start stirring, loosening all the brown bits. Doesn't matter. I just strain the milk into the pot before adding the culture, and it turns out fine.

I used to leave it overnight to set, and the yogurt would be a bit too sour for my taste. About 5 hours seems right these days.

I strain most of it overnight, in the fridge, covered, to get labneh, which I eat instead of cream cheese in the mornings.

By the way, calling this Greek yogurt is a somewhat annoying advertising gimmick, given how widespread strained yogurt is in the Middle East and the Caucasus. I think it reflects the prejudice that Europe, and therefore civiization, stops at the eastern border of Greece. Sigh.

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about 2 years ago FrancesE

"Back in the day" starting in the early 70's, I had the old Salton yogurt maker. I was into all of it, baking my own bread, growing and canning vegies, etc. Now I have a Euro Cuisine yogurt maker, buy vegies, meats, eggs, cheese and bread from local farmers. It's all good.

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about 2 years ago Maureen Abood

Wonderful! I make yogurt every week, which is traditional Lebanese laban, then strain it for the thicker labneh. Try placing the milk with the starter in it (right in the pot you cooked it in) into a barely warmed oven (turned oven off after warming, then place the pot in) over night. Also, try straining the yogurt to thicken it using food safe paper towel set in a strainer in the sink...the thickened yogurt falls right off the towel and into your bowl with ease. Whisk for a very smooth thick yogurt spread.

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about 2 years ago kamileon

If you want firmer yogurt, keep the milk at 185 degrees for a bit longer, rather than taking it off the heat immediately. The heat helps denature some of the proteins that keep it from setting up. That's why raw milk yogurt is so runny, because it's never been pasteurized. I personally don't like the taste of non-fat dry milk as a thickener (I think it's a bit soapy), but once I started cooking my milk a bit longer at 185, I've gotten very consistently thick, creamy results.

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about 2 years ago Joyember

I always use a thermos flask and next morning I have perfect yoghurt which only needs to be chilled. Joyember

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over 2 years ago cookingProf

I mostly used the raw milk method and ended up with thinner than desired yogurt which I then strained. Thanks for the tip on heating the milk to 185 degree first. Also, I avoid using store-bought starter yogurts that contains gelatin which produces a slimy yogurt. I have had good results with Fage Greek yogurt.

Cantaloupealone

over 2 years ago cantaloupealone

My Armenian Grandmother taught me in very low tech terms me how to make yogurt for breakfast time labneh which we would eat with oil, spices, arabic bread and olives.

She would dump the yogurt into an old pillow case (presumably clean and lint free) and let it sit wrapped over the tap in the kitchen sink over night. No cheese cloth required!

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over 2 years ago Sara Sterling

After adding the culture (which I do at 118 degrees), I put the mixture into a heavy duty thermos for 5-7 hours.

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over 2 years ago wietje

Thanks for all the tips here. Very useful. One question: do we need to stir the milk while heating to avoid the skin forming?

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over 2 years ago alana_chernila

Alana is a food writer, contributor to the Small Batch series, and recently released her debut cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making.

I've found it's not necessary! When I whisk in the culture, I just whisk the skin right into the milk and it dissolves as the yogurt cultures.

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over 2 years ago Sam1148

Sam is a trusted home cook.

Rather than a heating pad. A good old fashioned red rubber hot water bottle. Fill with hot water and put in the microwave (don't turn it on) to keep that chamber warm with the yogurt jars. I use a silicon rubber oven mitt and water out of the tea kettle to fill the bottle.

Bonus: the hot water bottle is great for the bed on cold winter nights and no power cords to tangle.

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over 2 years ago HeatherM

Ooh, love this idea, Sam. Super simple, and already on hand. Thanks!

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over 2 years ago Demington

I use a heating pad under jars wrapped with a bath towel. This maintains the 110 degree temperature. I set mine at medium, but heating pads may vary -- mine is probably 50 years old.