Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yet Another Homemade Yogurt Tutorial

I have been making my own yogurt for a while now, and highly recommend it.  I first learned how based on this tutorial.  The beauty of this method is in the heating pad.

Usually, yogurt recipes/tutorials tell you to put the warm milk and yogurt starter in the oven, and let the pilot light warm it.  My problem is that I don't have a pilot light on my oven.  And I'm not about to go cluttering up the place with a yogurt maker.

I'm actually kind of looking forward to being able to make yogurt in August and September and just leave it out at room temperature (I live in L.A. and have no air conditioning.  At least yogurt making will give a little bit of productive purpose to all the misery of living in triple digit heat 24/7.)

I have made yogurt by this method so many times that, at this point, it is a pretty easy routine for me:

1. Set it up before bed,
2. Let the yogurt culture overnight,
3. Transfer it into the strainer the next morning and refrigerate,
4. Let the whey separate out during the day,
5. Move it into a storage container(s) that evening.

So, although it takes about 24 hours, it is really just 5 simple steps, as you can see above.  Actually, 2 of the 5 steps don't even involve any action on your part.  Also, I am giving you the instructions for my method of making yogurt.  Feel free to consult any of the gazillion other web tutorials on the topic and mix and match or adjust the method to suit your own needs.  It is really a very flexible process, and those yummy little cultures don't need much more than a little bit of encouragement to do their thing.

Here are the supplies you need:

  • A gallon of whole milk
  • Optional: extra pint or quart of heavy whipping cream
  • A pot to warm it in, with a lid
  • A thermometer (although, if you are brave, you could probably get it to work without this - read on)
  • Some yogurt starter.  I use a little bit from my last batch, or Greek Gods Yogurt if I need a new starter.
  • Optional : a large cutting board
  • A heating pad
  • A collander
  • A lightweight cotton kitchen towel
  • A few extra towels
  • A large baking dish (a bowl would work)
  • Storage containers for the delicious yogurt and whey you are going to end up with.
I like my yogurt very thick, hence step 4.  If you follow these instructions, you will end up with something in between what you commonly think of as yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese.  I can typically scoop up a spoonful and turn it upside down, and the super thick yogurt clings to the spoon.  You will also end up with extra whey.  I use mine to make protein smoothies, by blending it with protein powder.  I would like to find something more exciting to do with the whey, so if you have a good use for leftover whey, please tell me in the comments.

So, let's see how it's done!

1. Set It Up Before Bed

This week, I had consumed some of the milk already, but happened to have some heavy whipping cream on hand.  I added it to the milk, and I think I will make that a regular part of the process, because it transformed the yogurt from really really good, to absolutely heavenly.


Use low heat.  Heating the gallon of milk to 100 degrees usually takes me 15-20 minutes.  Stir it about every 5 minutes.

Use your thermometer to check the temperature.  I have a candy thermometer that I use:

Like I said, you want the temp around 100.  If it goes over a little bit that's ok.  If it accidentally boils because you are distracted reading blogs in the other room, it's still ok.  You just have to let it cool down.

Here's how I think you could get it to work without the precise thermometer temperature reading:  body temperature is pretty much the same as yogurt culture temperature.  Your body is 98.6 and the yogurt needs to be around 90-100 to work.  So, if your hands are at normal body temperature, and you stir up the warming milk and stick your finger in it, and it feels just barely warm, but not cold and not hot, you are probably close enough to the right temperature.  Also, remember that the real action takes place with the heating pad overnight.  The stove part is very preliminary.

Like I said, the low flame shown above takes about 15-20 minutes, with occasional stirring, to warm a gallon of milk from 'fridge cold' to 100.  I will probably quit messing with the thermometer at all after a few more yogurt-makings.

Then, I transfer the pot of warm milk/cream over to the counter where I have set up the heating pad.  I use a large cutting board and lots of extra towels in between all the parts.  I'm all about protecting my countertop from the heating pad, even though it doesn't get that hot, really.  I set the heating pad on medium.

Mix the starter:
I take the last bits of  yogurt from the last batch I made and scrape it all up with the spatula.  You only need a couple tablespoons, or no more than a 1/4 cup.

Add a cup or so of the warm milk from your pot and mix it up:

Pour the starter into the pot of warm milk/cream and mix it together:

Then I cover it with a couple more towels just to tuck those yummy little cultures in for the night, and then I go to bed.  Or go read blogs for a while.

And you're done with Step 1!  Easy!

2. Let the Yogurt Culture Overnight

When  you come downstairs in the morning, it should look something like this:

My thermometer tells me that we're holding steady at right around 90 f.

And you're done with Step 2 - super easy!

3. Transfer it into the Strainer and Refrigerate

Here's where it gets interesting.  My basic strainer setup is as follows:  I have a large colander, which I prop up on some little supports I made from cutting up a bamboo chopstick.  This is an optional step, but I think it helps the whey drain out more easily.  Don't agonize over it if your colander is just sitting on the bottom of the bowl or dish.  It will be fine.  Trust me.

Line your colander with the thin cotton towel like this:

and then pour in the yogurt:

If I start with a full gallon of milk/cream, it just comes to the very top of my colander.  Here it is a bit below because the gallon wasn't a full gallon at the beginning.  They whey starts immediately streaming out:

Now the whole thing goes into the fridge, and you're done with Step 3.

4. Let the Whey Separate out During the Day

Here's what it looks like several hours later:

Look at all the whey that has separated out!  Oh, and here's an important tip:  tuck the ends of the towel into the dish, otherwise, through the miracle (not really) of capillary action (I think), the towel will wick the whey out of the yogurt and dribble it all over the inside of your fridge.

5. Move the Yogurt and Whey into Storage Containers

Now it's really thick, and at the same time ultra smooth and creamy.  These photos don't do it justice.

Then it's just to transfer it into containers and enjoy!

I have also found some other links on making cream cheese, and sour cream, that I would like to try out.  And here's one on home made ricotta cheese.  I once tried making ricotta from all the leftover whey and it was a massive fail.  These days I make protein smoothies with the whey and some protein powder.  Given how fabulous this super thick yogurt is, it seems kind of anticlimactic to not have something just as amazing to make with the leftover whey.  So, as I said earlier, if you have a way with whey, please share it in the comments.


  1. I think I just found a new cooking/science/homeschool project. Going to do this soon. Thanks!

  2. That Rhino looks quite interested in your yoghurt. You should feed him more often.

    Good post! I'm going to try it out ASAP.