The following is an excerpt from Home Dairy with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More by Ashley English (Lark Crafts, 2011). The excerpt is from Chapter 5: Cultured Dairy.
Spooned into granola, mixed with cucumber and spices for a cooling raita, or blended into a refreshing fruit shake, yogurt has a long and storied reputation as a cross-cultural palate-pleaser. Yogurt’s pudding-like texture, coupled with an intense tanginess, makes it perfect for any meal, from breakfast to dinner (think chilled yogurt soup) to dessert. This cultured treat is a treasure trove of vitamins and minerals, containing generous amounts of iodine, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, pantothenic acid, and vitamins B2 and B12. It is also a great source of protein, with 8 ounces supplying around 8 grams.
Prior to the 20th century, yogurt was consumed primarily in the Middle East, Asia, Russia, and several eastern European countries. During the 1900s, research conducted by Dr. Ilya Mechnikov brought yogurt to the attention of the Western world. The Ukrainian-born doctor was given a Nobel prize for his work on the role of beneficial bacteria—now commonly known as probiotics—in digestion. Based on the dietary habits of some of the world’s longest-lived individuals, such as inhabitants of eastern Europe, known for their regular consumption of cultured dairy foods, he theorized that lactic acid could prolong life, and consumed soured milk and yogurt daily. His research inspired a new generation of yogurt makers and eaters, introducing the puckery treat to the entire world.
When you’re just starting out, you have the option of using a packet of commercially prepared yogurt starter or a dollop of prepared yogurt, purchased from the market. If you decide to use prepared yogurt, make certain it indicates somewhere on the label that it possesses “live, active cultures.” The existence of these cultures is absolutely crucial to the success of your batch. While you can use milk of any type, the higher the butterfat in your ingredients, the thicker and creamier the end product will be.
Yield: Slightly more than 4 cups; 5 half-pints, if jarred
You Will Need:
4 cups whole, low-fat, or skim milk
3 tablespoons live yogurt or 1 packet dried yogurt culture
If you prefer a thick, stick-your-spoonin-and-it-remains-upright type of yogurt, add 4 tablespoons powdered dry milk or 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin.
1. If you are using a thickening agent, whisk the dried milk or gelatin into the milk until combined. Warm the milk gently in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it almost reaches the boiling point, right around 180°F (82°C).
2. Remove the milk from the heat and allow it to cool to 110 to 115°F (43 to 46°C). Using a metal spoon, stir in the yogurt or dried yogurt culture. Mix until well incorporated.
3. Transfer the mixture to whatever container you will be culturing it in, such as yogurt machine glass jars, Mason jars, lidded glass bowl, or a thermos.
4. Hold the yogurt at 110 to 115°F (43 to 46°C) for the next six hours. Consider any of the “Incubating Ideas” options as a way to maintain the necessary temperature for proper yogurt formation.
5. Store the yogurt in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and use within one to two weeks.
“Incubating Ideas”: DIY Yogurt Makers
Try any one of these ideas for successfully regulating yogurt without the aid of an electric yogurt maker.
Preheat an oven to 120°F (49°C). Place the yogurt mixture in a glass or ceramic bowl, and cover with a lid or plate. Turn the oven off, and place the yogurt inside for six hours.
Place the yogurt mixture into one (or several, depending on volume) glass jars. Place the jars in a small to medium insulated cooler overnight, along with several jars of hot water.
Preheat a slow cooker on low. Add glass jars of yogurt to the pot. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and allow to incubate six hours or overnight.
Let the sun do all the cooking for you. Place your yogurt mixture in a ceramic or glass bowl, cover with a lid, and put in a spot that will be consistently sunny for four to six hours. During the dog days of summer, when the sun is seriously scorching, it might be wise to either start this means of incubating quite early in the morning (7-ish), or wait for a more hospitable, balmier day to make yogurt. This technique can be used year-round, as you’ll be culturing your yogurt indoors, so long as the ambient room temperature remains between 68 and 74°F (20 and 23°C).
Simply fill an insulated thermos with your yogurt mixture, put the lid on, wrap a couple of kitchen towels around it, and put in an area away from drafts, such as a pantry or cabinet, for six hours or overnight. The ambient temperature should be somewhere between 68 and 74°F (20 and 23°C) for your yogurt to culture properly.
Reprinted with permission from Homemade Living: Home Dairy, © 2011 by Ashley English and Lark Crafts, a division of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.