Friday, October 24, 2008

Making Your Own Yogurt without a Yogurt Maker

I have long wanted to give making my own yogurt a shot, but I’ve always been afraid that it would be a tricky, delicate procedure that wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Was I ever wrong! The process is quite easy, involving only a few simple steps, and the kids got a big kick out of seeing the final product (which was practically spot-on). While there isn’t really that much that the kids could help with (other than reading the thermometer and stirring the mixture a few times), I think the benefit here is two-fold: 1) the kids get to create a nutritious alternative to store-bought candy-yogurt, 2) they get to learn a bit about the process of culturing and live bacteria. It is a bit of a lengthy process, so it may be tricky to get the kids involved from start to finish, but really each step is quite brief, with lots of “downtime” in the middle, so that if they can be snagged for a few minutes here and there, I highly suggest including them!

Supplies needed:
1. 1-quart glass jar, 2 pint jars or 4 half-pint jars
2. Candy or meat thermometer
3. 2 qt (or larger) saucepan
4. 2 or 3 quart glass jars (for the culturing process)
5. Small cooler or insulated box (if you don’t have one, you can use your oven set to the lowest temperature, but the process is a bit trickier)
6. One quart milk*
7. One Tbsp plain LIVE yogurt (suggest Nancy’s, Mountain High, or other good quality yogurt with live bacteria)

I consulted my sister, who has been making her own yogurt successfully for several months, and here is the procedure that she suggested:
1. Sterilize the jar(s) that you plan to make the yogurt in in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Reserve the water for Step 4 instead of dumping it down the drain!
2. Heat milk in saucepan almost to boiling (the surface will get frothy).
3. Remove from heat and let cool to 105 degrees F (this is where the thermometer comes in) — this step can take an hour or more.
4. Meanwhile, you can prepare the cooler and remaining jars (which do not need to be sterilized). If necessary, wipe out any dust/debris from the cooler you are using. You will want to fill the cooler with jars filled with boiling water. The idea here is that the cooler will insulate the milk mixture enough to keep the temperature up so that bacteria will continue to grow overnight. I used a small “lunchmate” cooler and needed only two extra jars, but if your cooler is larger, you may need more. You will also want to “insulate” the yogurt jar from the hot-water jars with a dish towel so as to prevent it from getting too hot at first and killing the bacteria.
5. Once the milk has cooled, stir in the yogurt (make sure to stir well to disperse the bacteria).
6. Pour mixture into the sterilized jar(s) and place into the cooler with the hot-water jars, separated by the towel. Set a lid loosely on top of the yogurt jar(s) to prevent contamination.
7. Close the cooler lid (note: if you are using a larger cooler than necessary you may want to cover all the jars with a couple of towels to aid in insulating them).
8. Let sit overnight, or up to 36 hours**
9. Check your yogurt — it can be considered “done” now. Stir and taste. **You can let it sit longer if you want it thicker or more sour, but you may have to reheat the hot-water jars to keep the optimum growing environment.
10. Now you can enjoy your yogurt anyway you want. Our family likes to stir in honey, maple syrup, or jam to sweeten, and top with granola. It is also suitable for smoothies, baking, and anything else you would use yogurt for.

If your yogurt is lumpy, run it through a fine-meshed sieve. If the consistency is not thick enough for you, lined the sieve with cheesecloth or a papertowel and let the yogurt sit for several hours or overnight until desired consistency is reached. The liquid (whey) that drains off of the yogurt is a great and healthy addition to smoothies or baking, so don’t toss it! Also remember to save the last spoonful of your homemade yogurt to make the next batch!

*any kind of natural milk will work (not soy milk, nut milks etc); the lower the fat content, the thinner the consistency of the final product

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