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Homemade Yogurt

I find myself digging into the past recently and finding recipes. My grandmother’s rugelach [1], cheese blintze [2]s from the Kiev, and now fresh yogurt my mom used to make. We lived on a commune in VT, where we grew our own vegetables and raised a cow for dairy. Everything was local and organic, because if we didn’t produce it, we couldn’t afford it. My mom was the one to milk the cow, which she then made into butter, yogurt and cheese. The flavor of that yogurt, made from fresh milk, must have been divine. In Minneapolis we are allowed to keep chickens, but the city hasn’t approved dairy cows, so I buy local organic milk from the co-op for making yogurt.

I have come to yogurt making by the way of a proof box. Seems random, but I was recently asked to test a prototype counter-top proofer suited for home bakers. I was intrigued by the concept, because I always love a new gadget for bread baking. It works wonderfully for dough, but I’ve ended up using it even more as a perfect warm spot for making yogurt. Back in the day my mom simply warmed her oven and left the yogurt to culture in it overnight, which is probably the simplest and cheapest way to go, but I may never have been inspired to make yogurt had this proofer not arrived. Now that I have started making my own, I will never buy yogurt again. The homemade version is so easy and has such an incredible flavor. Even my boys like it better. We are a family that eats yogurt on waffles, in smoothies, in lunch boxes, for snacks and as a garnish for curries. I like it thin for chilled soups or thick (Greek style) for dips and desserts. I happen to love it plain and tangy, but I also swirl preserves, honey or marmelade into it as a sweet midnight snack. Now that my raspberry patch is heavy with fruit, I toss those in too.

All you need is milk (you choose the fat content) and some plain yogurt to get started. 

Plain Yogurt Recipe:

1/2 gallon milkpreferably organic, but I think any will do it. I used 1% milk, because that is what my family drinks, but you can use skim, 2% or whole milk as well. The more fat content the milk has, the creamier the yogurt will be. You can also use goat or sheep’s milk.

1/2 cup plain yogurtpreferably organic and without any gums or other crazy ingredients. I used whole milk yogurt, but non-fat or low-fat will also work. The yogurt has to say live active culture.

You can sweeten the yogurt to taste, but I prefer to make it plain and then sweeten it after, if the mood strikes me.


Non-reactive sauce pan

Candy Thermometer [3]

Cheesecloth [4], if you are going to make thicker or Greek Style yogurt

individual cups or a large bowl

Oven, proof box [5] or Yogurt Maker [6] – for keeping the yogurt warm while it sets. *See comments for more ideas from readers.

Over low heat, slowly bring the milk up to 170°F in a non-reactive sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer. (You want to heat the milk to kill off any unwanted bacteria, but you are also doing so to denature the proteins, so the milk will become more solid, in the form of yogurt. If you do not heat the milk or heat it to the point of boiling, it will not set up properly.)

Once your milk reaches 170°F, turn off the heat and bring the temperature back down to 110°F.

Once your milk has reached 110°F, stir a little bit of the warm milk into the 1/2 cup of plain yogurt. The plain yogurt, with its active cultures, is going to act as a “starter” for your batch of yogurt. It will create the fermentation that sets the yogurt and gives it the tangy flavor.

Return the blended milk and yogurt to the pot and gently stir them together.

Now you have the choice of making thin or thick style yogurt:

Thin Yogurt: Pour the mixture into the individual cups or a large bowl.

Thick Yogurt: Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

To set the yogurt you now need to keep it at a temperature of about 110°F for the next 4 to 12 hours. The length of time will depend on how thick and tangy you want your yogurt. The longer it sits at this warm temperature, the firmer and tangier it will get.

You can achieve this by using a yogurt maker, a proof box set to 110°F, or in an oven that was set to the lowest temperature and then turned off. You  can try to maintain the heat in the oven by leaving the light on, which can generate enough heat to keep the yogurt active.

After the yogurt has sat in the warm spot for the desired time, you may need to take the skin off the top.

Many people consider this skin a delicacy and eat it with a sprinkle of sugar or spread on a crusty bread. Think of it as yogurt butter. If you want to prevent the yogurt from forming a skin, cover with a cheesecloth or loose fitting lid.

For Thin Yogurt: Cover the bowl or individual cups and place them in the refrigerator until well chilled from 2 hours to several days.

For Thick-style Yogurt: Pour the set yogurt in a strainer, lined with cheesecloth, set over a bowl. This will remove some of the whey and make the yogurt thicker. Set the yogurt in the refrigerator. The longer you let it hang in the cheese cloth, the thicker your yogurt will be. Let it go for several hours for Greek-style yogurt. If you let it go over night you will make farmer’s cheese to use in your blintzes.

Once you have the yogurt at the desired thickness place it back in the bowl or into individual cups and return it to the refrigerator.

I love to drizzle the top with honey,

and serve with fresh raspberries.

My fresh raspberry patch has produced some gorgeous, sweet fruit that is perfect for the tangy yogurt.

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Beehive Cake (Brown-Butter Banana Cake and Honey Buttercream)
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