Of all the do-it-yourself projects I wanted to try, homemade yogurt was not at the top of the list. It’s a lot easier to find a decent yogurt on the market than it is to track down, say, preserved lemons or cabbage-free kimchi.
But then I fell in love with a whole-milk yogurt that was so smooth, thick and milky-tasting, it blew away anything I’d had before. Naturally, it was made by a Brooklyn artisan, it cost a fortune, and it was in such high demand that the fancy shop where it was sold was often out of stock.
So I decided to try making my own. If I used the expensive yogurt as a starter, maybe I could approximate that beloved flavor for a fraction of what I was paying. And I’d never have to worry about running out.
Yogurt-making turned out to be so simple that it’s become part of my weekly routine. I can throw together a batch in the morning while I’m drinking my tea, and it’s ready that night. All I do is heat a pot of milk until it steams, let it cool down a bit, and stir in some yogurt as a starter. Then I leave the pot in a warm place to ferment.
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The milk thickens into something delectably custardy and satiny smooth, with a clean, fresh, tangy flavor that is even better than the fancy artisanal stuff – a pretty big payoff for what ends up being about 10 minutes of active work.
I have learned a few little tricks to make the process go seamlessly. The first, from the website teamyogurt.com, is to rub an ice cube over the inside bottom of the pot before adding the milk. This can keep it from scorching as it heats.
Next is that where the pot of milk ferments doesn’t matter as long as it’s warm. I’ve tried placing it in a turned-off oven with the oven light on, in a corner swathed in a heating pad, on the counter wrapped in a big towel, and tucked on the top of the refrigerator. They all worked, though the warmer the spot, the more quickly the milk fermented.
Once the yogurt thickens and you think it may be ready, taste it before you refrigerate it. If it seems too mild, let it sit out for a couple of hours longer to increase the tanginess. You can leave it for up to 24 hours at room temperature.
You can use your homemade yogurt as the starter for the next few batches, but it can weaken over time and lose its thickening power. I’ve been buying new yogurt for every five batches. (Any brand of plain yogurt will do as long as you like the taste of it.)
Creamy Homemade Yogurt
2 quarts whole milk, the fresher the better
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
3 to 4 tablespoons plain whole-milk yogurt with live and active cultures
Rub an ice cube over the inside bottom of a heavy pot to prevent scorching (or rinse the inside of the pot with cold water). Add milk and cream, if using, and bring to a bare simmer, until bubbles form around the edges, 190 to 200 degrees. Stir the milk occasionally as it heats.
Remove from heat and cool until it feels pleasantly warm when you stick your pinkie in the milk for 10 seconds, 110 to 115 degrees. (If you think you'll need to use the pot for something else, transfer the milk to a glass or ceramic bowl, or you can let it sit in the pot.) If you’re in a hurry, fill your sink with ice water and let the pot cool in the ice bath, stirring frequently so it cools evenly.
Transfer 1/2 cup warm milk to a small bowl and whisk in yogurt until smooth. Stir yogurt-milk mixture back into the warm milk. Cover with a large lid. Keep pot warm by wrapping it in a large towel, setting it on a heating pad, or moving to a warm place, such as your oven with the oven light on.
Let yogurt sit for 6 to 12 hours, until thick and tangy. Refrigerate at least 4 hours; it will continue to thicken as it chills.
Yield: 10 servings (7 cups)