Easy Homemade Yogurt
Originally published in 2015, “Homemade Yogurt, Finally!” on Tagan’s Kitchen Blog,
updated June 2019 for The Table Underground.
A few years ago I tried repeatedly to make homemade yogurt, but rather than jars of divine creamy yogurt, I ended up with soupy sour milk. It's an expensive experiment if it doesn't work right. Thanks to a conversation with my friend Leah of Soul Fire Farm back in 2015 , I learned a new technique that turns out perfect yogurt every time, (two quarts for the price of a half gallon of milk) much cheaper than store-bought, and no plastic containers to recycle.
The key to this successful recipe is holding the yogurt mixture overnight in a cooler filled with extra bottles of hot water to keep the temperature warm enough for the good bacterias added to the milk to work their magic and turn it into yogurt. Many older recipes say to wrap the warmed milk mixed with starter in towels and keep in an oven with the light on, or on top of the fridge, but even in summer, this was not warm enough in my drafty house, to make the yogurt thicken.
The flavor of your yogurt will change depending on how long you let it culture. My kids, who are now 15 and 11, are eating tons of yogurt these days, and prefer the flavor when it’s cultured closer to 24 hours, (which I’ve been told also reduces the amount of lactose in the yogurt). A standard batch of yogurt will typically be ready after 10-12 hours (such as an overnight culture in the cooler). To let it continue for another 12 hours, just replace the water in the jars with fresh boiling water after the first 12 hours, to keep it hot enough for the next 8 to 12. This is easier than it all sounds, and once you go through the process one time, it won’t seem complicated. Typically I start my yogurt process in the evening when I’m making dinner, let it culture over night, and replace the hot water in the morning before leaving for work. When I get home at night, I put the jars of warm yogurt in the fridge and they are chilled and ready for breakfast the next day.
I often use milk from grass-fed cows, raw milk, or at least hormone free or organic milk. While this milk is more expensive than conventional milk, a half gallon of grass-fed milk that costs $5 or $6 dollars turns out two quarts of yogurt for around $3 each, which is still cheaper than a quart of generic grocery store yogurt. I use whole milk for yogurt making, but you can use any fat content milk you like, and the texture of the yogurt will be a little different. Either way, you're culturing some good food filled with probiotics that support digestion and a healthy immune system, and it’s easy and delicious. A number of people have asked me if this process works with a non-dairy milk such as coconut or almond. I have yet to try it, but am excited to, so stay tuned!
Whether you make yogurt or on busy weeks, just buy it at the store, starting with plain yogurt and adding your own fruit or sweetener is an excellent habit to get into. Generally this means eating a lot less sugar and additives then you’d find in a store bought flavored yogurt and you can change it up at each meal to keep it interesting.
Do you make yogurt at home? What are your tricks or techniques?
This recipe was part of the Food Squad Does Strawberries podcast episode.
There’s more great info and recipes there. Check it out!
Homemade Yogurt without Gadgets
makes 2 quarts yogurt
1/2 gallon milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 quart sized jars and lids (or the equivalent volume) - clean and dry
Extra jars for hot water (however many fit in your cooler)
Heat up a half gallon of milk to 180°F - measure this with a cooking thermometer. Remove from heat and let cool to 110°F.
While the milk is cooling, boil a kettle of water and place the yogurt jar lids and rings in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the lids to sterilize them. Prepare a cooler by lining it with dish towels. Fill a few of your water jars with hot water, put the lids on and place them in the cooler. These are going to keep the cooler warm while your yogurt develops. See the photos of the process and set-up at the bottom of this post.
When the milk has cooled to 110° (warm but not too hot to kill the probiotics), stir the plain yogurt into the milk and mix thoroughly. Pour into two sterilized quart-size mason jars, screw the covers on, and place it in the towel lined insulated cooler with the jars of hot water. Wrap the towel over all the jars and close the cooler tightly. Let sit for 10 hours or overnight. If you like a more sour yogurt, you can culture it for up to 24 hours. Just fill the water jars with new hot water half way through the process. Place set yogurt in the refrigerator to chill. Save a 1/2 cup of this yogurt as starter for your next batch. ENJOY!!!