My new favorite thing is homemade yogurt. I had fig flavored yogurt the other day. Try and find that in a grocery store. =) (And one of my coworkers gave me yummy homemade granola, which goes really well. But I digress.)
The process is actually really easy, and no, you don't need a yogurt maker.
Here is what I did (after copious amounts of research. I didn't make this up.):
1. Heat a quart of whole milk on the stove over medium heat, stirring and checking the temperature every few minutes. Don't walk away for too long. You want to go to 185 degrees.
2. Next, cool the milk to 110 degrees. You can put it in the fridge or leave it on the counter. I poured my milk into a clean glass measuring cup (quart-size) and set that in a pan of cool water. Keep stirring the milk every few minutes, or you will get cold on the outside and warm on the inside.
3. Add 1/4 C of dried milk powder and 2 Tbsp of yogurt starter. This can be powdered yogurt starter or plain yogurt. I used a cup of plain yogurt because I didn't want extra plain yogurt sitting around my house. Stir this in. You can also add 2 T of honey for sweetener. I intended to make vanilla last time, but forgot the extract. Add it now.
4. Pour the soon-to-be yogurt into glass jars. Set the glass jars, lidded, in your crockpot. (Check to see how many will fit first.) I fit 7 jars in my 6 qt oval crockpot. I was using half-pint canning jars, because I have them. You can use larger clean jars and just make a larger batch. I wanted mine in portable, single-serving sizes. (If you don't have any glass jars, I have alternate instructions at the end of the post.)
5. Pour warm tap water into the crockpot. Put your thermometer in there. Aim for 110-120 degrees. You don't want to go much higher than 125 degrees, or you will kill the yogurt cultures, and end up with sour milk, not yogurt.
6. Watch the thermometer. If the temperature goes down a lot, put your crock on "keep warm" or low, for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Keep an eye on it! You don't want to let it get too warm. If you are leaving the house like I did, get the crock warm and the water at the right temperature, then cover it with a towel and leave.
7. The yogurt will take 6-10 hours, depending on how tangy and thick you like it. The longer it cultures, the more tangy it gets. The milk powder acts as a thickener, so it should thicken nicely even after only 6 hours.
8. Put the jars in the fridge! Ta-da! You just made yogurt!
You may notice a little liquid inside your jars when you go to eat your yogurt. This is harmless. you can either stir it in for a thinner consistency, or do like me and pour it off because it weirds you out a little. It doesn't mean the yogurt is bad at all. Just that the whey separated a little.
Now, what if you don't have any glass jars? Easy. Follow instructions to number 3. While your yogurt is cooling to the right temperature, turn your crock on "keep warm" or "low" and let it warm up a bit. Then pour the yogurt into the crock, turn it off, and cover with a towel and let it incubate. Put the thermometer in there so you can monitor the temperature. If it gets too low, turn the crock back on. It should hold the temperature fairly nicely though. When it is the right consistency, 6-10 hours later, you can dish it into tupperware or whatever containers you have. (I can't vouch for this particular method, but CrockPot Lady can.)
Now, if you have glass jars but no crockpot, you can put the jars in a waterbath in the oven. Warm the oven up as low as it will go as you heat the milk, then turn the oven off and the light on. Put the jars in there for the time amount. I have done this, but I find the crock pot a little easier since it insulates so well.
Homemade yogurt is not as thick as store-bought, but it also doesn't have weird words thickening it. Just milk and bacteria. Yum. (The good kind. Come on, you knew yogurt had bacteria in it before now.) The more you stir homemade yogurt, the more it loses it's thickness. You are breaking up the proteins. Just don't stir it too much after it is done incubating. This is why I like the individual serving jars. I can take the one I want and leave the rest alone in the fridge. You can use your homemade yogurt as starter for the next batch, but after a few batches, it loses potency. (You know, a copy of a copy. It ain't too bright.) I for one, will spend $0.33 for a new small plain yogurt cup every time to make sure I have good live active cultures. By the way, make sure the plain yogurt you start with says that- live active cultures. Dead cultures mean no yogurt. You can also use a vanilla flavored yogurt if you can't find plain. I know that our Kroger-brand store carries plain in the small size, not just in monstrous size.
Now, why do I like making yogurt? Isn't it easier to just buy it? Yeah, sure. But I really don't like the fruit on the bottom yogurt because it isn't fruit. It is this weird fruit custard syrup thing that grosses me out. I don't like buying the low-fat "diet" yogurts, because while there are many flavors, they have aspartame or splenda, both of which are gross to me. I can taste aspartame from a mile away, and I don't trust splenda yet. Let someone else be the guinea pig for splenda. So I end up buying the full-fat "blended" yogurt, which probably has the same "fruit" stuff mixed in it, but at least I can't see it. And that only comes in a few flavors, which I get tired of. Plus with homemade, I can control how sweet it is, and I can control what fruit goes into it. Imagine that, yogurt with REAL fruit in it. Like when I had fig jam and yogurt. It was yummy! I also recommend pear jam, strawberry jam, raspberry jam, apples, pears, and nectarines (not in season anymore).
You can slowly decrease the fat content of the milk as you get better at making yogurt. Start with whole milk for guaranteed success (ok, it isn't guaranteed if you kill off the cultures, but otherwise, it works). Then try 2%. Just up the quotient of non-fat dried milk powder, which adds in the needed proteins, but without the fat. Honestly, I don't know how low you can go. I am still in the whole milk stage of homemade yogurt. But I don't eat yogurt every day, so a quart or half gallon of milk will make me enough yogurt for quite a while- at least 2 weeks. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that you can do this with soy or rice milk, but do your own research if you are going that route.
Next up, sour cream! I've been buying the "natural" kind for a while, so we can avoid more of those weird words. I think I am about ready to try making it. Research must be done first...