Making Yogurt

Making your own yogurt may not be high on everyone’s to-do list the way it was on mine lately. You can buy perfectly lovely yogurt in the shops, and I’m not really sure homemade is proven to be healthier, so why bother? For me the answer is that it’s fun to do and very rewarding. And, as to the health question, I definitely do feel healthier eating homemade yogurt, even if it’s only due to the placebo effect.

My main reason for making yogurt this week, though, was that I had a growing backlog of milk in the fridge. We get our milk delivered three times a week and usually it gets used up. For some reason, this week that didn’t happen. So, by Friday, I had 1 pint bottle surplus by the time I took my daughter to preschool. Her teachers were trying to give their excess milk away, so I took a pint to add to my ‘yogurt fund’. Later, when I collected her, they still had a few pints left, so I took two more. If you’ve been counting along with me, that adds up to four pints for my yogurt. Perfect.

My dad sent me this recipe for yogurt many moons ago. I’ve copied his (email) directions below, verbatim, because he’s just so cute. One thing my dad isn’t, though, is worried about germs. Any of you who are should check out this page of directions for cooks with OCD higher health and safety standards. It also has great info about temperatures and other niggly details that neither my dad nor I care too much about. I have to say, I’ve been making yogurt his way for years and, although I’ve had a couple of failures (see notes at end) it usually comes out great. Just use some common sense and you should be fine.

My dad’s email:

I forgot to give you the recipe for making yogurt.
You can use 2% or fully leaded milk. The starter should be
good yogurt from good ME (
Middle Eastern*) stores, if available.
1.Boil the milk (without burning the bottom ! which happens to
the best cooks). This will kill all bacteria in the milk.
2.Let the milk cool down till it is at a temperature that you
can stand. Do not jump in the pot, but you can test it with
your finger.
3.Have two to three tbs of the starter yogurt in a cup. Add
some of the milk to it, mix well and add to the rest of the
Milk. Mix well.
4.This step is the most important. Keep the milk at almost the
same temperature over night. Mom used to wrap it with a blanket.
I used the warm oven at 90F, and I also tried the blanket wrap
and left the milk at the heating vent. The idea is to let the
yogurt bacteria multiply and form the yogurt. DO NOT USE THE
Making yogurt is really simple, and you have to find your own
most suitable method. You may have some failures, but you will
be ok.
Good luck

*Note – my dad’s Middle Eastern, so he’s biased. But he’s also right – Middle Eastern yogurt is generally fantastic.

By the way, introducing you to my dad is actually long overdue. In most families it is the mothers who cook and, in turn, inspire their children in all things culinary. In our family, although my mom did her fair share of cooking, it has traditionally been the men who are in the kitchen. (Well, until I married my gorgeous hubby who can barely boil an egg. But that’s another story.)

My dad is a great cook. He produces veritable feasts, whether for a family dinner or a whole troop of friends who happen to stop by. I have friends in Seattle who visit when I’m home not to see me (as is their feeble excuse) but in hopes of snagging one or two of my dad’s sfeehas. Yes, you know who you are.

The single most important cooking lesson I learned from my dad is to try things. Experiment. Be open to possibilities. Even going on 72, he still mixes it up in the kitchen, never content to let his recipes rest on their laurels. Just last night we were skyping and he was helping me figure out how to make an Atkins-friendly version of qatayif for a friend who’s coming to dinner tomorrow. Watch this space.

And now back to our yogurt…

Homemade Yogurt
(yields 4 pints ~ 1/2 gallon)

What You Need:

4 pints (1/2 gallon) milk (I used semi-skimmed/2%)
1/2 cup good yogurt for starter (important that it states on the label that it has ‘active live cultures’)
Candy thermometer (optional)

What You Do:

1. Read my dad’s email above.
2. Read the following…

Notes for Next Time:

1. You may have noticed that my dad basically tells us to boil the milk to kill all the bacteria, then stick our fingers in it to test temperature. Yeah, I told you he’s cute. So, if you’re worried about bacteria, use a sterilized thermometer. Having said that, I’ve always done it my dad’s way and I’m still here to tell the tale (but legally I can’t advise it). When the milk is cool enough (90F/32C to 110F/43C) that you can comfortably put your finger in it (if you’re wild and crazy like us) it’s ready.
2. My two previous yogurt failures were because I 1) Added the starter when the milk was still too hot, thereby killing the active cultures that were supposed to make yogurt for me, and 2) Used lebneh (strained yogurt) as starter. Turns out lebneh doesn’t have enough active cultures to be a good starter.
3. I’ve found the perfect spot to incubate my yogurt is the airing cupboard (that may be UK-speak – this is the cupboard that has the hot water tank in it. In the UK it usually has shelves above the tank to put your towels and linens on.) I wrap the pot in a towel and leave it there overnight. Works brilliantly, but you’ll have to find your own spot, which may involve a bit of trial and error.
4. The longer you leave it incubating, the thicker and more sour it will be. When your yogurt is at the consistency that you want, put it in an airtight container in the fridge. Be careful when you’re scooping it out that you don’t scrape the bottom of the pot. Even if your milk didn’t burn, it may have formed a skin on the bottom that you just don’t want in your yogurt.
5. If you have a bigger fridge than I do, you may want to double the recipe. This would be especially handy if you’re planning to turn all or some of your yogurt into lebneh, as I did. Stay tuned for that post later this week!