Make Yogurt

January 26th, 2011 / Comments 4

Even though terms like locavore, eco-gastronomy, terroir, bioregional and sustainable were not used when talking about food in the 1970’s, I was making yogurt and growing bean sprouts in my apartment in Washington, DC.

Paisley 01 Make Yogurt

I was an accidental, partial locavore – eating yogurt and sprouts that were being produced within a 100-mile radius of my dining room. The eco-gastronomic sprouts were growing in a very local ecosystem – a glass jar on my kitchen counter. I don’t know if the altitude, the terroir, of my fourth four apartment affected the flavor of the sprouts, but they certainly added texture and flavor to sandwiches and salads.

There’s evidence that cultured milk products were being made in 2000 BC. Pliny the Elder noted that nomadic tribes knew how to thicken milk into a substance with agreeable acidity, and yogurt has long been a staple in the diets of people in Central Asia. It appeared in my grocery store in the late 1960’s packed in plastic cups with a puddle of sweetened fruit slurry. Soon after yogurt appeared in grocery stores, electric yogurt makers replaced fondue pots as ‘must have’ kitchen equipment. My kit consisted of glass jars with lids, a thermometer, dried yogurt culture and a temperature-controlled container. Producing yogurt was an appealing scientific experiment.

When I read that the earliest yoghurt was probably fermented spontaneously, perhaps by wild bacteria found inside goatskin bags used to carry raw milk, I realized that making yogurt didn’t need to be as precise as the five pages of instructions that came with my yogurt maker. I no longer have an electric yogurt maker and the only special equipment I use is an instant read thermometer. I make yogurt in eight-ounce canning jars that are kept warm in the oven with two large tin cans filled with hot water. Rather than using a dry yogurt culture, I use a tablespoon of plain yogurt, either homemade or store bought, as the source of Lactobacillus, the ‘starter’. Here’s how I make it:


I begin by heating  a quart of milk in order to get rid of any unwelcome bacteria. (Raw, pasteurized, full fat, skim, or 2% fat will all work.) It takes about four minutes in my microwave for the milk to reach to the required temperature of 180º. Boiling milk makes a mess so I keep an eye on it and check the temperature every minute. While the milk cools in a covered container, I prepare a warm environment for the milk to be transformed by bacterial fermentation into yogurt. Preparation is simply a matter of turning on the light in the oven, putting two large tin cans, filled with boiling water, into the oven and closing the oven door.

I add one tablespoon of room temperature yogurt to the milk when it has cooled to 105º, mix it well and pour the mixture into four eight ounce glass jars. I cover the jars and put them into the oven along with an instant read thermometer and refresh the tins with boiling water. Fermentation takes between four and seven hours in a warm environment, between 100º and 106º. I check the consistency of the yogurt and the temperature of the ‘environment’ every hour. If the oven cools to below 100 degrees, I replace the water in the tins with boiling water. I have also created a ‘warm environment’ by heating a small, insulated cooler with two large tin cans filled with hot water.

When the yogurt has reached the consistency of custard, I move it from the warm environment to a chilly one, the fridge. I try to remember to save a tablespoon of yogurt to use as the starter for next week’s batch.

More ‘starter’ will neither speed the process nor make better yogurt. Too much ‘starter’ results in sour and watery yogurt.

Plain yogurt is great on its own, or can be dressed up with the addition of fresh fruit or berries. Vermont maple syrup on top is heavenly. Pancakes and muffins made with yogurt are fluffier than those made with milk. I make yogurt lassi to share with Charles by using a blender to combine one cup of yogurt, three quarters of a cup of crushed ice and two teaspoons of sugar. A handful of frozen raspberries added to the mix makes a pink lassi.

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• 4 Responses to “Make Yogurt”

  • Diana O'Leary says:

    Hi Carol, I love your food blog. Always wondered how you make yogurt. I leave for Italy to meet one of my favorite cook’s tomorrow. (Nancy Iott) I will be back in 2 weeks. She would love to receive this as well. Diana

  • You’re so right about it not being as complicated as a 5-page booklet! I used to make it in the oven with the light on, but my current oven is light-less. Instead I heat the milk then pour it in my crockpot. I leave the crockpot off, but wrap it in towels for insulation. Once the milk is the right temperature I mix in some starter yogurt, then let it sit for 8-10 hours, then refrigerate.

    I’m always confused when people are shocked at the things you can make at home. How do they think people got yogurt before supermarkets?

  • Isn’t is funny to come back to what we used to do and call it fancy names? :) You are so right with making yoghurt at home and it’s so easy and rewarding. I grew up seeing my grandparents making all kinds of cheeses, sour cream and buttermilk on a regular basis. It’s imprinted in my DNA so I have to do it at home :) . Home made mozzarella is made in our house almost every other month.

  • Drick says:

    interesting using the starter, just like making bread… never thought of it that way and very interesting way to make homemade yogurt…

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