Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kitchen Staples - Yogurt

This method comes from an offhand mention in one of Elizabeth David’s books and I wish I could remember which one. She wrote that she made her yogurt – in a Thermos.

It was kind of a “Duh” moment; Thermos bottles are designed to keep the contents at the same temperature for an extended period of time, which is exactly what you need to make yogurt. Forget the fancy machine from Williams Sonoma with the Italian name. Dig out the thermos flask from the cupboard by the kitchen stairs where it is hiding behind the Off, the flashlights and the dog brush. Bonus points if it has Barbie or Spiderman on it.

You will need the Thermos, a large microwave proof bowl or Pyrex measuring cup (8 cups minimum), and a cooking thermometer that gives a reading of 130. I use the same thermometer we use for turkey. You also need a small amount of commercial yogurt to use as a starter, and the best milk you can get your hands on.

(We are lucky enough to get our milk from a local dairy that delivers it in glass bottles. The dairy owner keeps running for the Republican nomination for governor and losing. He should stick to milk. Politicians are a dime a dozen but a good dairyman is hard to find.)

First, make sure everything is clean. I put the kettle on to boil and then scald the thermos and the lid. Scalding not only gets rid of any bacteria that might be lingering in the Thermos from the last batch, it also preheats it.

Because I can’t put commercial thickeners in my yogurt, I like to cook the milk down a bit. I usually start with 2.5 cups of 2% milk and microwave it in 8-minute bursts, skimming that nasty skin off in between. It rarely takes more than two zaps before it is reduced to 1¾ cups. I have a 2-cup Thermos; if yours is larger, obviously, make more but you want to reduce the milk by about a fifth to a fourth. I’ve gotten great results by cooking it down by half, as well. Remember, you need room in the Thermos for the commercial yogurt starter so two tablespoons less than 2 cups is what I shoot for.

Take it out of the microwave, drop in the cooking thermometer, and let it sit until it has cooled to 130 degrees F. This can be speeded up a bit by pouring it into another measuring cup. Remove the skin, stir in one tablespoon of commercial yogurt per cup of milk, and pour it all into the Thermos. Cap it and let it sit for no less than five and no more than seven hours. The longer it sits, the tangier it gets.

When you open the Thermos you will see a creamy, semi-solid mass with a very small amount of whey on top. Pour this all into a clean glass jar and stick it in the refrigerator. Once it is cold, it is ready to eat. This has a fresh taste that beats the store-bought stuff twenty ways from Sunday. The entire prep process takes about half an hour and you can get the dishes done, change loads in the drier, and check your email while it’s going on. You can even cook down the milk one evening and reheat it the next before you go to bed, letting it ferment overnight. It's worth it.


Anonymous said...

I'm in the UK and have made yogurt like this for more than 30yrs! I used to use a wide neck thermos but I have a special electric yogurt maker pot now and use a can of evaporated milk to avoid the heating up stage, you just mix the 410g can of evaporated milk with the starter spoonful then top it up to 1 litre leave to cook for 8hrs and bingo smooth creamy yoghurt. Just remember never to add flavourings or fruit before you make the yogurt, always add them after or it disturbs the fermentation.Judith

Carol Ann said...

I used to make yogurt using Mason jars and a heating pad. I found my electric heating pad kept the perfect temp on the middle setting. I'd put the inoculated milk in sterile canning jars, seal them good & tight, place them on their sides on the heating pad, and put a towel over the whole thing. My cat used to love to lie on top of it.

Shay said...

I had an electric yogurt maker once, and it got broken during one of our cross-country moves. I'm intrigued by the idea of using a can of evap milk though; maybe I'll give it a shot.

Cyndi in BC said...

A few months ago I found this recipe:

It's for yogurt made in a crockpot! It makes about 2 quarts of yogurt at a time and lasts me for about a week. I love it!

Shay said...

Cyndi, I'll stick to my thermos for yogurt but thanks very much for the link to that site! I'm always looking for great crockpot ideas and I've bookmarked this.

Cyndi in BC said...

It is a great crockpot recipe site. I've used a number of her recipes with great results.

I'm going to try out the evaporated milk for yogurt idea in my next crockpot batch.