Thick and Creamy Yogurt
I don’t recall exactly how I got started making yogurt at home. I think at first it was because we had a ton of milk that a friend sent home from his farm with us. I have never been a huge yogurt eater, but occasionally I will eat a little. My husband on the other hand, absolutely loves yogurt, and eats it every day. The thicker and creamier, the better. In case you haven’t noticed, groceries aren’t exactly cheap these days, and good Greek yogurt is no exception. On top of that, I have a couple of geriatric pets that struggle with regularity issues. I often give them pumpkin for that, but eventually they get tired of pumpkin and reject it. Yogurt to the rescue.
I don’t really feel the need to go on about how good for us yogurt is. I think that is widely understood. However, yogurt is easy to make, and quite a satisfying project. I looked at many recipes, and I will be honest, I kept procrastinating because I was just too lazy for the tedious process of straining it that all the Greek yogurt recipes called for. So I sat down and did some research. I created my own process for a good, thick and creamy, Greek style yogurt. I make it once a week. I thought I would share my process with you today.
This yogurt is plain. We flavor it with homemade jams and jellies, and hubby will often just eat it plain. You can also add vanilla bean to the milk as it is cooking if you so choose. I do not recommend adding any sweeteners to the fermentation process.
The ingredients needed are pretty simple. You will need milk, preferably whole milk. The secret to this yogurt is all about the milkfats. You will need a starter culture. I use Fage 5% milkfat Greek yogurt for my starter culture. And you will need powdered whole milk. Once you have it started, you can just keep going with the yogurt you have on hand. Occasionally, life gets in the way, and a batch doesn’t get made for one reason or another, and I will have to grab another store yogurt to start from scratch. The vast majority of the time, I am just making more from the yogurt I already have on hand.
I start by pouring a gallon of milk into a large stock pot. I add two cups of powdered whole milk to that liquid milk, and mix it in good with a whisk. The added powdered milk adds milkfat solids to the yogurt, helping to create a nice thick yogurt, while also giving it a hint of sweetness and a mild tang as far as yogurts go. Once it is all nicely mixed together, I cook it on medium heat, to a temperature just before the boiling point. Some people say to boil it, but when mine accidentally boiled one time, it turned out quite grainy. For most people, it will boil right around 212 degrees Fahrenheit. I am at high altitude and my milk boils closer to 204 degrees. Once you reach 210 degrees (adjust for altitude by learning what temperature milk boils at your altitude and then cook about two degrees lower than that, if you live at an altitude of 5000 feet or more), hold that temperature for ten minutes. This will help break down the protein chains which also helps to create that thicker, creamier consistency. You will want to stir pretty regularly, and the closer it gets to 210 degrees, the closer you will want to watch it, stirring more frequently to prevent it from scalding. I use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature, but I keep a clean unpaper towel handy to wipe it off after I check the temperature. Warm milk is really hard to get off, and it wants to dry on there quickly. I don’t prefer to keep it in the pot while I am cooking, it just gets in the way. I just pop it in for a quick check when I stir, wipe it down, and keep it handy.
Once the milk reaches the desired temperature, I just turn the heat off and let it cool. It needs to be cool enough for the starter culture to survive. I let it cool to 115 degrees. I have read that yogurt cultures can survive in temperatures as high as 130 degrees, but I choose 115 to be on the safe side. I stir from time to time as I wait for it to cool. It will form a skin on top as it cools. No matter, just stir it in, it will turn back into liquid milk. Once the milk reaches 115 degrees, I put one cup into a glass measuring cup. I chose the large sized cup because it will come in handy during the pouring process, but a one cup measure will do just fine. I add one tablespoon, or three teaspoons, of the yogurt culture to the milk that I have separated out and stir it in well to temper it. When it comes to yogurt cultures, less seems to be more, and a tablespoon is an ample amount of culture for a gallon of milk. Adding more may result in a runnier end product. Once your culture is well mixed into the cup of milk, you can add it all back to the pot of milk and give it a good stir. Make sure those cultures get nicely distributed in the milk.
Next I fill my measuring cup with the milk and start filling containers. Because I make so much yogurt, I love these 8 oz containers that I found on Amazon. They are perfect, and we just keep reusing them over and over. This yogurt process will make 16 eight ounce containers of yogurt for each gallon of milk. I put the lids on, because I am looking to hold them at specific temperatures in the next step, not remove the moisture.
Finally, when all of my containers are filled and the lids are on, I place them in my dehydrator. I have a dehydrator that allows me to program two cycles, so I can set it and forget it, but if you don’t have that option, you will have to change temperatures manually at the four hour mark. I slide the trays into my dehydrator and set a cycle for 110 degrees for 4 hours, and then a second cycle of 85 degrees for another 3 hours. For even thicker results, you can run the 110 degree cycle for 5 hours. When the timer beeps, I remove and refrigerate them promptly. They will be yogurt at this point, nice and thick, but I discourage you from trying them quite yet. Warm yogurt is NOT good. I am 100% certain by my husbands response the first time I asked him to try this recipe. Let it cool first. Trust me. Plus, it will keep thickening up a bit as it cools.
Once they are cool, just add your favorite toppings or flavors and enjoy. The options are endless. You control the added sweeteners. You control the flavors. You cant go wrong with this easy and satisfying project, though I will admit, the process is not quick, it is well worth it. You can do other projects while you are working on it, just make sure to stir and check temps regularly.
The only issue with this yogurt process that may be prohibitive is your access to a dehydrator, yogurt maker, or other appliance that can hold those fermentation temps needed. If you have the capability to hold those temps, I highly recommend you give this one a try. It is one of my most frequently requested recipes. Before today, I had been unwilling to publish it online, but today, for you, I am spilling my secrets. I hope you enjoy as much as we do!