Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Homemade Yogurt. Easier than you think.

I love yogurt. A lot. I eat it every day. At first, I ate it because I liked it. Then I realized how important the active cultures are to my gut health - especially since Spouse likes to remark I have the stomach of a cat. Then, with the rise of Greek style yogurts, I ate that because it is substantially higher in protein (and I honestly prefer the thicker texture).

But at $1+ per container or the larger containers just being hard to navigate, I started investigating alternatives. At first, I did some research on yogurt making machines but those seemed a little confusing + expensive. Then one of my favorite blogs had a post on how she makes homemade yogurt – in a machine but the first comment mentioned making yogurt in a crock pot. I’m always trying to come up with new things to do in my crock pot so I googled “crock pot yogurt” instead. WOW. Who knew.

I settled on this post, which starts heating the milk on the stove in a saucepan because it’s faster than if you just used the crock pot. Patience not being one of my virtues.

For my first batch, I used skim milk I got at the store, which was organic. But for my subsequent batches (I think I’m on batch 5 or 6), I’ve been using Hartzler Family Dairy Skim Milk. It really does make a difference in the taste and texture – and I feel all smug because I’m supporting an Ohio business. (Note: I use Hartzler over Snowville Creamery, only because I like that the milk is in glass, not the tetra/waxed paper boxes –so Bratty Sister, you can stop right there).

Also for my first batch, I used a small Chobani Plain 0% as my starter. The most important part of choosing a starter is making sure it lists live active cultures not just on the front, but in the actual ingredient list. This is what is going to turn your milk magically into yogurt.

All other tools, I had on hand so that was pretty easy.
- Saucepan that can hold 1/2 gallon of milk
- Candy thermometer or meat thermometer
- Crock pot that can hold 1/2 gallon of milk
- Small bowl, preferably with a spout, that you can mix your starter and a cup or so of milk, then transfer into the crock pot
- a few large spoons for stirring
- either one large container to transfer your newly made yogurt or a few small containers to make individual servings - all of which that fit in your frig

The thing that takes the longest is heating the milk in my large saucepan on the stove. You don’t want to scald/burn the milk, so I go with the medium setting and it takes about 30 minutes for a ½ gallon of milk to reach 185 degrees.

The ice bath/cool down portion doesn’t take as long, even if you are just using cold water. Maybe 10-15 minutes to take the milk down from 185 degrees to 110 degrees. 

I pour the all but 2 cups or so of the cooled down milk into my heated crock pot (I turn it on high until the milk is cooling down, then turn it off and unplug it). To the 2 cups I've not put in the heated crock pot, I add the starter until it’s all smooth, then work the combination into the crock pot and put the lid on.

I take the crock part out of the heating element part and then wrap the crock in one large beach towel, then another.

Since I like a thicker yogurt, I let it chillax on my counter for 10 hours. I know some people put the crock in their oven, but even though I set a timer, I’m always afraid I’ll forget about it. So I let the hulking mass chillax on my counter where there’s no way I can miss it.

The first two batches, I just mixed in the whey (the liquidy stuff on top of the creamy yogurt) and it was thinner, like traditional yogurt. The next batch, I skimmed the whey off into another container and used a fine sieve colander to skim the rest. After chilling it in the frig for a day, it firms up nicely.

This last batch, I saved all the skimmed super-thin, lots of whey yogurt to use in other recipes that call for yogurt (my sieve isn't super, super fine).

Up until my last batch, I’ve flavored it after I’ve measured it out into individual containers so I can take it to work. I’ve used Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Paste, maple syrup or honey so far and all work really well. Have to say I’m partial to the vanilla paste though.

This last batch, I didn’t flavor it with anything. But since I add in a cup of fruit to every serving, the fruit really serves to flavor the yogurt and I haven’t missed the added flavoring.

The fruits I’ve found that work best are strawberry, blueberry, pear and cherry. I tried plums but I have to say, I did not care for it. I find plums to be slightly sour so I think the slight sourness of the fruit and the tangy quality of the yogurt were just too much.

I’m going to try some other fruits, like kiwi and apple though and see how those turn out.

The nice thing about homemade yogurt is, assuming you keep 6-8 oz. plain/unflavored and set aside, you can then use it to be your starter the next time. I have to say the first time I made yogurt, I didn’t read ahead well enough and flavored all that I had. Needless to say, my second batch was also started on another little container of Chobani. Since then though, I have been smart enough to reserve some.

The hardest part – other than the waiting and stirring the milk at the first step – is getting used to leaving the hulking mass of towel-covered crock pot on my counter and walking away. It just seems so counter-intuitive. But the results are really yummy.
Finished product with flash-frozen but thawed strawberries
and a smidge of vanilla almond granola
My first batch resulted in 9 servings and I figured the costs to be $.50/serving (vs. $1+ for store bought). Since I’ve been sieving batches, I get 7 servings and with the slightly more expensive milk, calculate each serving is now $.85. This does not include the fruit but does include the starter. 

I think it’s well worth the time and effort, and I’m not throwing away a little plastic #5 cup for each serving, which really makes my hippie self happy. 

Do you have a food that you make because you like it better than store-bought? 
Does it save you money or time or both?


  1. ACK! You are my hero. I will make teh yogurtz. Johann eats it with granola for brekkie.

  2. YAY!! It really is disgustingly easy. I eat it every day for lunch (with fresh or flash frozen fruit).

    Spring for non-skim milk, preferably full fat. It's worth it both texture wise and nutritionally (packs in the protein).