Without a yogurt maker. Just a pot, your stove, & your oven. Maybe a blanket. Homemade yogurt is easy to make, difficult to perfect.
So let’s talk about homemade yogurt. I don’t like store-bought yogurt except for one brand: White Moustache. It’s a very small batch product made in Brooklyn & it markets itself as Persian yogurt. Which got me exploring the difference between Greek & Persian. And there is none. Each culture that has its own version of yogurt has a strained or dripped version, which we know as “greek,” but the Greeks certainly are not the only ones making thick yogurt.
The process I’m using to make this yogurt comes from a Bon Appetit article on Homa Dashtaki, the founder of White Moustache, and her process. So I’ve pieced it together from other sources.
Each time I make it, it comes out a little different. But the texture and the ability to customize the tartness to my liking makes it all worthwhile. The entire process can take up to 26 hours. It’s a lot of leaving it alone to do its thing.
You need: * half a gallon of milk (I prefer organic, non-homogenized, whole fat) * 5-6 tablespoons of yogurt (live cultures, plain, no sugar added - or buy a yogurt starter probiotic) * cheesecloth or muslin cloth towel
To get started, you’ll need the best quality milk you can find: organic, non-homogenized whole fat milk. And you’ll need a probiotic starter. You can buy the bacteria or you can use a few tablespoons of store-bought plain yogurt. Just make sure in the ingredients section, that it has no added sugar and only live cultures - they have to be alive to work. You can use regular yogurt, but Greek yogurt gives a more tart result.
We’ll start by slowly heating the milk on the stovetop. Use a low medium heat, so set your dial to medium, then a touch lower. As it heats, you’ll notice slight movement in the milk and then a skin forming on top. Leave it there. Basically don’t touch it for 45 minutes. It should take about 45 minutes for the milk to reach the point we’re going for. Some recipes will say to reach 180 degrees, but I just wait for the milk to nearly bubble over the edge of the pot. The slower the milk reaches this point, the more velvety your yogurt. (If using a gallon of milk, it can take over an hour on medium heat. Be sure to use a thick bottomed pot.)
So this is the point where I’ll turn off the heat and start pulling back the skin.
About this time, I’ll also turn on my stove to its lowest heat setting which is 170 degrees.
We’re going to let the milk cool until the tip of your pinky finger can stay in the milk for 3 seconds without burning. Other recipes will say the milk should cool to about 105-115 degrees. When I pull back the skin every 10 minutes or so, it takes about an hour for my pinky to be able to not burn in the milk.
Now it’s time to mix in the probiotic or the yogurt starter. For half a gallon of milk, 4-5 tablespoons of yogurt work for me (10 tablespoons if using a gallon of milk). I usually save some yogurt from my previous batch and freeze it. It should be good for a couple months like that. So stir in a little hot milk into a separate bowl with the yogurt. Then pour the little mixture into the rest of the milk.
Now I’ll transfer everything to a bowl or storage container that holds heat well. We want to create an environment that holds a low level of heat for the bacteria to feed and grow but we don’t want to cook the milk anymore because that will pretty much kill the bacteria. So use a ceramic or even glass bowl; I use my enamel-coated aluminum stock pot for this part. And find a warm place in your home or just use a warm oven. The ultra traditional way of making the yogurt is to coddle your container with a blanket - so literally covering the container and then wrapping it with a blanket, leaving it in a warm spot in the house, like in front of a heater, for 8-10 hours. Or, use a warm stove and leave the light on.
Your yogurt should get as much sleep as you do, so I usually try to time this so I go to bed right after I move the yogurt to the oven and when I wake up, it’s ready for the next step. The next step is - we pull it out of the oven! It should smell like yogurt and the yogurt should pull away from the side of your bowl.
This part is one of the places you can customize to your liking. 10-12 hours gives me a little tartness; the longer I leave it, the more tart it gets; the shorter I leave it, the more mild it is - but it does need at least 8 hours to fully set. You’ll just have to experiment to find what you like.
And then there’s the cream on top, which is great, but it’s also a little lumpy, almost grainy. So I scoop it off because I like a very smooth velvety yogurt. If you stir it in, it’s fine, you’ll have little lumps that don’t smooth out when you stir it. No big deal.
But at this point, you’ll move it to the fridge to stop the bacteria from growing but to continue setting the yogurt. Let it set some more while you go about your day - it’s fine to eat at this point if you can’t control yourself! But after 12 hours or so, you can strain it to make thick yogurt, what we know as Greek yogurt.
To strain, set a colander over a bowl, and line it with a double layer of cheesecloth or muslin cloth. Pour in the yogurt and let the liquid whey drip out overnight. The Bon Appetit article mentioned setting plate on top of the yogurt while it drips overnight, but I usually forget that part. I do believe it is helpful, though. I usually end up with perfectly thick yogurt on the outer edges and liquidy yogurt on the inside part. I’ve tried stirring it around while it strains, and I’ve tried separating the yogurt to drip in two batches, so it’s more shallow and theoretically, draining better. But most likely, using a plate for a little weight to push it all down is the most effective. Let it drain on its own for another 10-12 hours and you should have luxuriously thick yogurt in the morning!
When I use the muslin cloth towel and the plate, it can fully strain in 5ish hours. The cloth soaks up a lot of the liquid whey and the plate on top helps push it all through evenly.
So I transfer it to little storage containers & I even keep the liquid whey. This stuff is equally exciting as the yogurt itself! Liquid whey is the original probiotic drink - it’s zero calories with tons of protein and calcium. They call it “nature’s gatorade.” I drink it straight from the jar right before working out and it can be used in cooking, any place you’d use water. It gives a slight tart flavor because it tastes exactly like yogurt, but the consistency is like thick water. I’ve poured it into soups and boiled rice in it. You can add it into smoothies! There’s also always a little bit of very thin yogurt that drips through. Again, it’s good for drinking or adding to smoothies or soups. Liquid whey can also be used to brine a turkey!
Now that you have this gorgeous yogurt, you can make superb dips or dressings or enjoy it plain. My favorite way is to eat it with Bonne Maman cherry preserves. Share with me how you're enjoying your luxurious velvet yogurt!