No, I’m not going to post about how to cook a turkey. I don’t care that it’s the day before Thanksgiving. There are a million and one (at least) shows, posts, websites and video tutorials on that subject. I refuse to jump on that bandwagon, and I have faith in my loyal readers.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk turkey….er… yogurt. My husband and I have quite a history with yogurt. In our first year of marriage, I baked a lot. I love to bake; my husband loves to eat my baked goods. This was a wonderful arrangement at first, but then it caught up with us. We needed a change. Like so many others, we started hunting for that perfect healthful alternative to our favorite tasty treats and discovered the beauty of Greek-style yogurt. It was love at first bite. Creamy, rich, thick and flavorful, we realized that we’d found something amazing. It’s great on its own, as substrate for fruit and toppings or used in recipes (such as Greek yogurt pannacotta). We became addicts, making desperate midnight grocery runs to fulfill our cravings.
We recently started tracking our expenditures more closely. Greek yogurt was taking up an increasingly massive part of our food bill:(. To cut it out of our diet was off the table; I started thinking about how I could make it. I read a book and numerous online articles on yogurt-making. All were insistent on using a thermometer and many refused to acknowledge a method that didn’t require a yogurt maker. I do not own (or particularly want to own) a yogurt maker. Furthermore, I have never cooked with a thermometer. You may view this as blasphemy (how could I do such a thing! Aren’t you afraid of eating raw meat and getting food poisoning?), but think about it for a bit: people have been cooking meat, making yogurt and doing other culinary tasks for millennia before the invention of the thermometer. We’ve been granted some pretty darn good natural temperature-measuring sensors in our skin.
If you prefer to use modern instrumentation, don’t worry. I’ll use temperatures in degrees along with more archaic methods to let you choose which way to do it.
1 gallon milk (I like to use 1% or 2% for a good balance of creaminess to calories)
7-8 oz container of your favorite-tasting plain yogurt (I’ve been using Fage brand)
1/2 C (or to taste) powdered sugar
2-3 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large lidded pot, preferably with a heavy bottom
1 strainer (I use the pasta-draining insert that came with the pot I use)
1 non-terry cloth towel or cheese muslin (not regular cheesecloth; it must be finer)
1 whisk or slotted spoon
1 container for the finished yogurt
Sterilization is your priority. Fill the pot with water and boil the whisk or send it through the dishwasher on the sterilization cycle. Only after everything is clean and sterile should you begin. Remember, we’re trying to create a large bacterial colony. It should be the right bacteria, not whatever happens to be floating around the kitchen! Fill the pot with your milk and start heating it over medium to medium-low heat. You will definitely need to stir constantly, as the milk solids have a tendency to settle to the bottom and burn. Wait for the milk to start to foam (but not boil!) or reach 185 degrees.
Hold it here for at least five minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool to about 110-120 degrees (it will take about an hour; stir it occasionally to keep a skin from forming), or about the temperature you’d use for a baby’s bathwater (warm but in no way uncomfortably hot). You may now add your starter yogurt without fear of killing our microscopic friends. In general, cooler temperatures will still produce good yogurt but will take longer. Temperatures that are too hot will kill the beneficial bacteria and will produce spoiled milk. This can be very, very bad. Think of it like playing The Price is Right: You want to be as close as possible to the correct temperatures without going over. You lose everything if you guess too high, so guess cooler if you’re unsure.
Whisk or stir the yogurt thoroughly to combine; small lumps are acceptable but a smooth distribution is preferred. Put the lid on the pot and put it in the ice chest. Fill the ice chest with 110-120 degree water up to the level of the yogurt in the pot and let sit in a warm place, undisturbed, for 6-10 hours. I usually find that 7 hours is ideal for my taste. If the water cools off too much you can carefully replace it with warmer water, or just let the yogurt culture for longer. The yogurt should be set but still slightly wobbly; whey floating on the surface is usually a sign that you’ve let it culture for too long. The longer it incubates the sourer it will be.
The above instructions are just basic yogurt-making. How, you might ask, does it become Greek-style yogurt? The Greek and Balkan peoples have been straining their yogurt for thousands of years to create a concentrated, thickened yogurt we know as (predictably) Greek yogurt. This is the second stage. Again we start with sterilization, this time of the strainer and towel. You can do all your sterilization in one batch; I just prefer to do it as needed so I don’t have anything sitting and accumulating germs for seven hours. Place the towel in the strainer and pour your yogurt in. Place the strainer over your freshly emptied pot, clap the lid on, and refrigerate while the whey drips out. This can take 3 hours or overnight, depending on how thick you want your finished yogurt to be. I personally prefer very thick yogurt and therefore strain it overnight. Skim or lower fat milk will produce more whey than whole milk. You may have to drain the whey occasionally if there isn’t enough space for it to accumulate without having the yogurt sit in it. Giving the yogurt a stir every once in a while will also make it smoother (the yogurt tends to stratify otherwise).
Finally scrape out the yogurt into its sterile container and give it a final stir. Add some vanilla and powdered sugar (it dissolves better than granulated) or honey if you like; leave it plain if not. Voila, homemade Greek-style yogurt!
Variations: lemon extract and/or lemon zest makes a delightful lemon yogurt; any extract or flavoring you like can be easily added. Cinnamon is a delightful addition. Feel free to try whatever sounds interesting