Making Mild, Creamy Yogurt at Home

Family, Food & Drink

A few weeks ago, I bought a six-pack of kids yogurt and it was gone in two days. I was both dismayed and thrilled. Wow, $5 of fancy organic yogurt was depleted nearly instantly. But, hey, the kids were eating, and loving, something with undeniable health properties… calcium, probiotics, the lot.

So, I set out to provide all the yummy goodness without the expense. I know there are tons of well-documented-on-the-Internet ways of making yogurt from scratch without a specialized yogurt maker — with crock-pots, special yogurt-making cabinets, inside an oven with a pilot light, and in coolers with containers wrapped in towels. But I wanted something reliable, and I didn’t mind another kitchen gadget, so long as it wasn’t that expensive. So I went ahead and bought a yogurt maker with 7 glass jars, so as to avoid the evils of cooking in plastic.

Making yogurt is incredibly simple, once you have all of the requisite elements handy: a cooking thermometer, milk, “starter” (either as-fresh-as-possible yogurt, with live cultures, or a freeze-dried packet of starter cultures), and powdered milk.

Homemade Yogurt, Mild & Creamy

  • Milk – this can be low fat, skim, or whole. Organic, non-organic. Whatever you’ve got. But remember the final product is entirely dependent on the ingredients you start with. You need 4 cups.
  • Powdered milk – this can be omitted, but, for the effect I was going for, yogurt that’s not too tart but fairly thick, I need the powdered milk for extra substance. You need anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 cup.
  • “Starter” – This provides the beneficial bacteria that convert the milk to yogurt. I’ve used everything from Fage to Ronny Brook Farm to freeze-dried starters. You need one packet of the freeze-dried or 1/2 to 1 cup of the starter yogurt.

First put the milk into a saucepan and heat it to around 170 or 180 degrees Farenheit. While it’s warming up, add the powdered milk and stir it in until it’s well-blended. When it reaches the appropriate temperature, take it off the heat immediately.

Let the milk cool to 110 degrees or so. You can either let this happen naturally (and very slowly), or I’ve sometimes placed the saucepan in the sink and surrounded the pan with cool water to bring down the temperature. Either way works, but, with the first, slow method, I’ve sometimes gotten distracted and forgotten about the milk until it’s cooled a little too much.

Once your milk mixture is cool enough, add the starter and mix well but gently. Pour the yogurt-to-be into whatever container it will be fermenting in. In my case, I use the glass jars of my yogurt maker. At this point, you want to be gentle with the mixture because it will be starting to set. Try to pour it once and not move it again, if possible. Fire up your yogurt maker — which keeps the mixture at a bacteria-friendly 110 degrees — and let it sit. It can sit anywhere from 4 hours to 12 hours or longer.

Here’s the bit I never saw anyone say explicitly. The longer you let it ferment, the more tart the yogurt will be. This, I believe, is because the bacteria are consuming the milk sugars. Also, the longer you let it ferment, the thicker the yogurt will be. So, making mild but thick yogurt, which was my aim, was a bit tricky. I have done pretty well by using a lot (1 cup) of powdered milk, and letting the yogurt ferment for only 4 hours, or slightly longer. The result is definitely yogurt, but, when you stir, it isn’t nearly as thick as the commercial stuff. Still, it’s super yummy. Voila:

I have to admit I’m not fond of plain, unflavored and unsweetened yogurt, and the kids… well, yeah, they are typical kids. So, we’ve tried a few things: Polaner All Fruit preserves, honey, agave nectar, sugar, and a little vanilla. It all works wonderfully when mixed in after the yogurt is made. One consideration, though: if you intend to keep making yogurt, keep some of it plain to serve as starter for the next batch.

UPDATE: I’ve been experimenting a bit more here and there, and really love the variation I’ve been doing lately. Here are the variables:

  • 2% milk
  • 2 cups of powdered milk
  • 5 hours of fermentation
  • The result: Amazing, thick, creamy and delicious!

4 comments… add one
  • Shawna Apr 20, 2010

    FYI, maple syrup (the real stuff) is a fabulous addition to plain yogurt!

  • Pamela Parker Caird Apr 28, 2010

    Thanks, Shawna. I'm one of those freaks who doesn't like maple syrup all that much (grew up with the HFCS flavor) but it's a great idea!

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