Over the holiday vacation at my parents home, I decided to try my hand at yogurt. Specifically, Greek yogurt.
Yogurt has traditionally been a diet food of choice. Full of protein, low on calories, high in the good aspects of dairy, and full of bacteria that aid in digestion. Plus, it's yummy tangy flavor is a nice replacement for mayo in a number of applications; a friend recently recommended using it in place of mayo in tuna salad, and I have used it in Waldorf salad too.
So, I had purchased "Make it Fast, Cook it Slow" by Stephanie O'Dea last year, after enjoying her blog. She included a slow-cooker yogurt recipe which seemed easy enough... heat the milk, cool the milk, add a little yogurt, and let it go for a half-day. She offered some options for flavor and thickness, and I roamed about the web looking for other suggestions and additional information on making greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt is a thicker, more protein-laden version of regular yogurt containing less carbs, sugars and sodium. I also learned that greek yogurt is just regular yogurt that is drained of more of it's whey. So technically, you could save money and time by just buying plain yogurt and straining at home. Which, I may very well do on busy weeks. However, I really wanted to do it myself, start to finish (ok, not really start to finish. The milk is store-bought, as I don't have access to a cow, nor do I have a source of unpasteurized farm-fresh milk).
Ultimately, I followed a simple plan:
SLOW-COOKER YOGURT (REGULAR OR GREEK)
milk (fat free or whole or anything between)
plain live active culture yogurt
fine strainer (read notes below)
about a day of time
Proportions and Yields:
One gallon of milk plus one cup yogurt =
~3 quarts regular yogurt or ~2 quarts greek-style yogurt plus one cup reserve
2 quarts of milk plus 1/2 cup yogurt =
~1.5 quarts regular yogurt or ~1 quart greek-style yogurt plus one-half cup reserve
1. Put the milk into a slow-cooker and turn on high. Monitor until it reaches 180F (a digital thermometer helps!). From what I've read, this is just to kill any bacteria in the milk. This takes 2-3 hours, depending on how much milk you use
2. After reaching 180F, turn off the slow-cooker, remove the crock, and let the milk cool to 110-115F. Any hotter, and the heat will kill your yogurt bacteria. Again, this took an hour or so; less time if you stick it out on a cold porch with a splash screen on top to keep out errant bugs. If you get a film at the top, do please take it off. Not good eats.
3. After reaching 110-115F, scoop out some milk and whisk it with the live, active culture plain yogurt. Dump it all back in and stir it up.
4. For the next 6 hours, keep the crock warm. I kept the crock warm in front of the fireplace at my parent's house, Stephanie O'Dea recommended wrapping your crock in a bath towel, and I used a soft-side cooler at home. The amount of time will vary, but keeping it above 70deg will help the bacteria grow.
5. You end up with what looks amazingly like... yogurt. Soft but gel-like. Some whey may have started to separate. This is normal!
6. The next step involves straining to the desired thickness by draining out the whey. There are a number of different ways to do this, all of which will involve a colander and something with a finer strain laying in it; this could be an old (clean) t-shirt, a layer of coffee filters, cheesecloth, or - my personal choice - a paint-strainer bag. I like paint-strainer bags for a number of reasons (thanks, Able-Bodied Boyfriend, for the suggestion!). First, it's cheap. You can find them for just a couple of dollars in a paint store, and we have one just down the street from us, conveniently enough. Second, they are vastly reusable. Throw them in the wash if they get crusted with food chunks, or simply rinse with a bit of soapy water after straining yogurt.
7. So, armed with your colander lined with some sort of fine strainer, scoop/pour the yogurt in and let it sit. I noticed that I first got some of the yogurt itself draining out the bottom, but that soon led to a pure, yellow-ish whey. For the first few hours, I let it sit out at room temperature. Partly to cool down, partly to allow the bacteria to continue growing, partly as a visual reminder to perform step 8...
8. After a few hours, scrape the inside of the paint strainer to release some of the thicker yogurt and allow the looser stuff to drain. I also poured out the whey on occasion, from the catcher vessel.At this point, it would have been fabulous normal yogurt.But I covered it and put it in the fridge overnight, ~8 hours. That was the perfect amount of time. On one occasion, I left it to strain for more than about 15 hours... whoa boy, it was like spackle. But you may like it that thick...
9. You have greek-style yogurt! Scrape out as much as you can. This may get messy, but you can just lick your arms. Or the counter. Maybe not the floor.
10. Remember to reserve 1/2 to 1 full cup as the starter for your next batch. I put it in a jar that holds about twice as much as I needed. Next batch, I put my warm milk in the jar with it and shook it like a polaroid for a couple minutes. Worked like a charm, and less mess/dishes!
Yield: 2 quarts greek-style yogurt + 1 cup reserve yogurt + a minor mess
Which dish(es) do you like to make from scratch? Did you learn how for yourself, or is this something passed down from older generations?