A few weeks before Christmas I went looking for a yogurt maker for my mom. I headed over to Macy’s (which is never a good idea) and asked the first salesperson I saw where the yogurt makers were. She directed me to the far corner of the appliance department. I was amazed to find success so quickly. I should have known it was too good to be true. No yogurt makers. I did a few laps around the store, thinking maybe I misunderstood. I found my salesperson again standing by a display of novelty popcorn poppers (the kind that look like miniature popcorn carts, like at a fair) and frozen margarita dispensers. I told her I failed to find the yogurt makers. She walked me back over to the far corner. No, not ice cream makers. Yogurt makers. You know, that makes yogurt? Out of milk? It comes with little jars? She stared at me blankly.
I didn’t necessarily expect to actually find a yogurt maker at Macy’s. But come on now. Nobody needs a novelty popcorn popper or dedicated frozen margarita dispenser. That’s what blenders are for. But I think we’d all be better off if we were making our own yogurt. You don’t actually need a yogurt maker to make yogurt, but it makes it a whole lot easier. Basically all it is a little incubator that keeps either a set of little individual jars or a 1-quart container warm, the way the bacteria like it. I have the kind that makes 7 little individual glass jars. Which is nice if you’re going to bring yogurt for lunch. I ended up getting my mom the kind that makes one big container. I think she likes it. She eats about 2 quarts of yogurt a week. I’m not exaggerating.
So here’s how you do it.
Take a quart of milk (Actually it takes a little more than a quart of milk to fill my 7 jars, which is a little bit annoying. Its more like a quart plus 1/2 a cup.) and put it in a saucepan. Heat it up till just below the boiling point, at least 170 degrees. If you heat it up slowly and stir it once in a while, you can usually avoid having a gross skin form on the surface of the milk. Now take it off the heat and let it cool down to 110 degrees. This is going to take a while. While you’re waiting put half a cup of plain yogurt in a big measuring cup. Make sure your yogurt contains active cultures. If it doesn’t it won’t work. Mix it up a little so it thins out. Leave it out on the counter and go watch a movie or something. The milk is still too hot.
Once your milk is down to 110 degrees, you’re ready to inoculate it with your yogurt starter. This very important. Pay attention. If your milk is still too hot your yogurt cultures will DIE. And that means they won’t make more yogurt. Its better to err on the side of too cool than too hot. Ok, now pour a little of the milk into the cup of yogurt and mix it well. Then pour the milk and yogurt mixture back into the pot of milk. Make sure its well mixed and then pour it into your jars. Turn the yogurt maker on and leave it for about 8 hours. The longer you leave it, the more tart it will get. Once it sets up, its done. The length of time depends on the cultures and the temperature. When it’s done put it in the fridge.
A couple of things–
1. I like to use whole milk. You can use low fat or skim milk, but its not going to be nearly as delicious as it is if you use whole milk.
2. You can also add in a little dried milk to make it thicker (especially if you use low fat or skim milk) but I tried that a couple times and I think its kind of gross. It smells weird and sometimes you end up with gross clumps if you don’t mix it really well.
3. Your yogurt will come out a lot like the yogurt you start with. So start with good yogurt. Different kinds of yogurt are made with different kinds of bacteria, which produce yogurts with different flavors and textures. I’ve been using a starter that is mostly Fage Total yogurt with a tiny bit of another kind, but I don’t remember what its called. Also you can use some of the yogurt from your last batch to start your next batch. Everyone says that the cultures will eventually degrade after a few batches and you’ll have to start with fresh store-bought yogurt, but I kind of don’t believe that and I’m going to see how long I can keep my culture going. I’ll let you know how it goes.
4. You can do it without a yogurt maker as long as you can rig up some way of keeping the yogurt at between 100 and 110 degrees. But that sounds like kind of a pain to me.