Saturday, June 2, 2012

Homemade Yogurt Unplugged

Back in April, Marisa of Food in Jars posted about making homemade yogurt in mason jars.  I was enthralled.  For years – Y E A R S – I’ve looked at yogurt making machines.  Part of me felt it would be a justifiable expense as I do eat quite a bit of yogurt and the idea of experimenting with different flavors was intriguing.  But then I would read further about needing to order and reorder the yogurt cultures, think about the cost of having everything shipped, and the fact that it would be a single-use machine and eventually would talk myself out of it. 

Thank goodness I did.

Using Marisa’s method is beyond easy.  The only “specialized” equipment you need is a good thermometer and a small cooler; everything else is stuff you probably already have.  For plain yogurt, you need two ingredients:  milk and a small amount of purchased yogurt.  While some people commented on her post that they didn’t feel it made sense to buy yogurt to make yogurt, to me it makes perfect sense.  I know exactly what I’m buying and even with the pricier Three Greek Gods yogurt I like, $1.69 gets me a small container of yogurt that I can use to make several batches of homemade yogurt without having to pay shipping on anything.

So far, I’ve used this method to make yogurt four times.  The first time I threw in some scraped vanilla pods that had been hanging around in some sugar; the second time, half of a full vanilla pod and some honey; the third, some instant espresso; and the fourth, some of last year’s dried strawberries.  I'm going to use some dried peaches in my next batch.  In all but the third attempt, I used organic whole milk.  When I made the coffee yogurt, I picked up essentially generic whole milk and a different brand of yogurt at the grocery store instead of making the trip to the Co-op.  It worked, but not as well.  I ended up with a very thin yogurt that took considerably longer to drain.  Despite that, I’ve not been disappointed with any of them thus far. 
I intended to show you some of my half-pint fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts -
but I ate all of them before I managed to get a photo.  Story of my blog.
For the strawberry yogurt, I had contemplated using fresh strawberries.  Ultimately I felt they would water down the yogurt and I would also have to deal with the acid in the berries curdling the milk.  The dehydrated strawberries did the trick, but their flavor had diminished somewhat with time.  If you can find them, freeze-dried strawberries would be perfect.  I did change up the formula a little bit by adding three tablespoons of nonfat dry milk to the simmering milk and stirring it until dissolved.  I had read that this can help make the yogurt thicker without having to drain as much whey from it.  It seems to have worked, but I'm not sure I will do it again.  Despite that fact that I ground the dry milk granules to a fine powder in my mortar and pestle, it still seems to have left a slightly gritty texture to the yogurt.  Or maybe that's just the strawberry seeds.   

The cost effectiveness of making your own yogurt may be arguable.  It will depend on the cost of the ingredients you purchase, the cost of the commercially made yogurt you would ordinarily buy and whether or not you drain the yogurt to be thicker.  Before draining, my recipe makes a little over four pints of yogurt but I lose about a pint by draining it.  (You can see the "little over" in the Ziploc bag in the cooler.)  For the yogurt I ordinarily buy, I come out ahead even with using the more costly organic milk.

I'm going to experiment with using the remaining whey is some bread recipes.  As of right now, our dogs enjoy it poured over their food.  Yes, they are spoiled.

Homemade Yogurt

Equipment:  large, heavy sauce pan; heat-proof spatula; measuring spoons; thermometer (one that you can clip on the side of the pan); large heat-proof bowl; whisk; two quart-sized or four half pint wide mouth canning jars with lids (or other leak-proof containers, though I do recommend glass), washed in hot, soapy water and dried thoroughly; ladle; jar funnel; small cooler (like an Igloo Playmate)

Before you begin, make sure your jars (with lids) fit in your cooler.  Some brands of coolers are larger than others and it would be highly disappointing to get to the end and realize your cooler is too small.

64 fl oz whole milk (I splurge on organic for this)
3 Tbs yogurt (use one you like, but do use a high quality yogurt without artificial sweeteners)

Pour the milk in the large sauce pan set over medium-low heat.   Clip the thermometer to the side of the pan where you can easily monitor the temperature.  Slowly heat the milk to 190°F, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching.  Meanwhile, place the large heat-proof bowl in your sink and put the stopper in the drain.  Alternately, if you have a larger pan or bowl that the heat-proof bowl will fit in, you can use that for the cold water bath and not waste so much water by filling your sink.

When the milk reaches temperature, remove it from the heat and pour it into the heat-proof bowl.  Remove the thermometer from the pan and clip in on to the bowl.  Being careful not to splash into the bowl, fill the sink with cold water to the level of the milk in the bowl.  (You could also just set the sauce pan in the sink and add cold water, but I’m reluctant to risk warping a hot pan by shocking it in cold water.)  Stir the milk to help cool it until the temperature drops to 120°F.  When the milk reaches 120°F, remove the bowl from the sink and set it on a towel on the counter.  Whisk in the yogurt, making sure no lumps remain.

Using the jar funnel and ladle, portion the milk equally into the jars (you may have a small amount left over).  Put the lids on the jars fingertip tight and set the jars in the cooler.  Fill the cooler with the hottest water possible from your faucet up to the level of the jar necks.  Close the cooler and set aside in a warm spot for six to seven hours.  The longer it sits, the tangier the yogurt will be, but it’s not recommended to go any longer than eight hours.   

When the yogurt is finished, remove the jars from the cooler, dry them off and refrigerate them.  If you like thicker, Greek-style yogurt line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth (unbleached coffee filters work well, too), set it over a large bowl and pour in half of the yogurt .  Allow to drain for several hours.  Stir the yogurt occasionally as what's near the cheesecloth will firm up sooner than what's in the middle.  The longer it drains, the thicker it will be.  Repeat with the remaining yogurt if desired.

The recipe can be easily halved if you don’t eat as much yogurt as I do.  J

Honey-Vanilla Yogurt: 
Add 2 Tbs of honey and half of a vanilla bean, split, to the milk as it cooks.

Coffee Yogurt:
Add 2 Tbs of instant espresso (or instant coffee) to the milk when it begins to steam.

Strawberry or Peach Yogurt:
Add 1-1/2 cups of dried strawberries or dried peaches to the milk when it begins to steam.  (I use dried fruits as they don’t add additional moisture and the flavor is more concentrated.)


  1. What a fun thing to learn how to make. I must have missed the recipe when it was initially posted because I definitely thought you needed a yogurt maker to bring this to life. I love those extras you tossed in. What a treat!

    1. This is so simple it makes me think of all of the yogurt I could have been making while pining for a machines I didn't need. However, I now spend a little too much time in the dairy aisle contemplating yogurt flavors I can replicate.

  2. The science or shod I say the art of yogurt making. I grew up on homemade yogurt and in India almost every home makes their own yogurt !! I hope I don't sound like a yogurt snob ! :)))))

    1. Simi, you do not sound like a yogurt snob! Do you have information regarding homemade yogurt on your blog? I'll have to go look. I would love to learn from your expertise!

    2. I was going to leave you a link but you raced me on that one :)) am glad u found the post and o hope u find it useful Have a nice Sunday !!

    3. Once you have a culture u can reuse it every time - my culture must be at least 2 yrs old !!

    4. I'm glad you mentioned about the culture. Something else I'd read indicated only to use it a few times because it would lose its effectiveness. Now I know better - thanks!


What do you think?