My Yogurt Mania

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I love breakfast, but I don’t want to have to think about it. Plain yogurt, mixed with granola, some fresh fruit and  a handful of walnuts, pecans or almonds,  generally does the trick (the yogurt in the photo is topped with apple, walnuts and pomegranate seeds). If I want it sweeter than the fruit makes it, I’ll add a little honey, maple syrup or jam. It’s filling, with enough protein to wake me up, though coffee helps, too.

This is similar to the breakfast my father has been eating for about 50 years—or longer, maybe. I made it a regular habit myself when I was pregnant with my son and needed to eat something more nutritious than a bagel with cream cheese. I started making my own yogurt about 4 years ago, after I attended a demonstration by Ricki Carroll of New England Cheesemaking Supply. She made mozzarella and ricotta, but had yogurt samples, too. I haven’t got into making cheese (the first time I made mozzarella, my kitchen looked like it had exploded), but I’m pretty obsessed with homemade yogurt now. Supermarket yogurt is way too sweet for me. My husband eats the homemade stuff, too, so I make anywhere from  a 1/2 gallon to a gallon a week, for about a quarter of the price I’d pay for factory yogurt. We still buy the store brands for the kids, but I figure they’ll come around eventually. At least they eat yogurt.

A batch of yogurt involves a few minutes of active time, about an hour of intermittent attention and 6-10 hours  of waiting while you go about your business. I make it on weekend mornings, or start a batch late in the afternoon so it’s done before I go to bed at night. There’s some incubating right now on my kitchen counter. The recipe below is adapted from several different sources, though the basic method is from the label on the powdered Y5 yogurt culture I buy from New England Cheesemaking.

Your Own Yogurt

1/2 gallon milk. (I use 2 percent. When I’ve used milk with lower fat content, the yogurt doesn’t set properly.)
1 packet yogurt culture, or 4 tablespoons of yogurt from your previous batch

Special equipment:
Yogotherm insulated container

Pour the milk into a 3 quart saucepan. Heat on medium low until the milk reaches 185 degrees F (a skin will form on top; you’ll remove it later). Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. The temperature of the milk should remain at 185 degrees.

When the 15 minutes are up, remove the pot from the heat and remove the skin from the top of the milk with a wooden spoon. Cool the milk to 112-115 degrees F. To hasten the cooling process, I put the saucepan inside a larger pot filled partway with cold water, slip  a reusable ice pack into the water between the sides of the two pots and stir the milk periodically. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, this process takes about 15 minutes.

Pour in the 112-115 degree milk into the plastic Yogotherm container. If you’re using powdered yogurt culture, sprinkle it over the surface of the milk and let it rehydrate for a couple of minutes, then stir it in.  If you’re using yogurt from your previous batch, mix it first with a few spoonfuls of the milk before adding it to the warm milk.

Cover the plastic container with its lid, making sure you remove extra air from the container. Put it inside the insulated container and cover it with the insulated lid.  Set it in on the counter where it won’t be disturbed for 8-10 hours. When the yogurt is done incubating, putting it in the fridge for a few hours will thicken it a bit (it won’t be as thick as store-bought ’cause you’re not using emulsifiers or stabilizers. The yellowish liquid that has risen to the top of the container is whey. I stir it back in, but others pour it off and use it in other recipes.

Before you eat any, stir it well and spoon 4 tablespoons into a small container to save  for the next batch. I usually won’t reuse the culture for more than five or six batches—the yogurt gets more tart with every batch and eventually it’s too acidic for me. The yogurt, and the starter, will last more than week in the fridge, though as I said, we usually go through a half-gallon in a few days.

There’s a bit of art to this process, though: you may need to experiment a bit within the temperature range and the incubation window before you get the consistency you like. For me, it’s 115 degree milk, incubated for 8 hours.

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