I grew up in one of those health-food-loving-kitchens, the kind where seeds and fermented foods grow in glass jars: alfalfa sprouts, sourdough bread starter, and homemade yogurt.
Our kitchen ingenuity didn’t stop with cultivated bacteria; we made granola, carob balls, and bread from scratch as well. At the time, I didn’t understand my family. We were different and that’s all I knew. Our pantry was stocked with bulk items from the local co-op instead of the canned vegetables and fruits, quick baking mixes, sugar cereals, and instant mashed potatoes.
Like most kids, I rebelled during my teenage years. I bought fast food, doughnuts, and candy on the sly. That is until one day, during my junior year of high school, I changed. I went vegetarian. Well, mostly vegetarian. But more importantly, I thought about what I ate, where it came from, and why I rejected the super natural foods that marked my childhood, especially the homemade yogurt.
What I’ve learned about yogurt since is that making yogurt in small batches is far superior to most watery and soggy fruit varieties available in the store. Homemade dairy yogurt is tangy without being acidic or sour. To make yogurt, I like to start with the best available ingredients, like organic whole milk and yogurt. The taste is rich and fresh whole milk products produce a luxuriant cream-style yogurt.
However, a combination of powdered and 2 % milk creates a thick yogurt as well. If like me, you prefer an even thicker Greek-style yogurt, you can strain the finished batch in a colander lined with cheesecloth for several hours, long enough so the yogurt clings to the spoon like cream cheese.
Unlike dairy yogurt, soymilk and coconut milk yogurts tend to be thinner and more custard-like. Their flavors are milk compared to the richness of dairy yogurt; however, they do stand on their own, especially when made at home. The following recipe calls for tapioca starch and agar powder to create a sturdier yogurt.
Most often I scoop the finished yogurt into a bowl and drizzle pure maple syrup or honey on it. Pureed fruit, vanilla, or nuts can also be stirred in. The flavor possibilities are endless. Yogurt also creates tender baked goods, hearty smoothies and cold fruit soups. Don’t forget savory dishes, you can add yogurt to cream-based soups, salads, and sauces in place of sour cream or buttermilk.
Today my kitchen is a snapshot of the past. A jar of yogurt can be found incubating inside the picnic cooler. It’s fresh and tangy, just the way I like it.
- large heavy-bottom pot (enough to hold 1/2 gallon milk)
- 2-quart container(s) with lid(s)
- glass measuring cup
- spatula or wooden spoon
- Instant-read thermometer
- large picnic cooler or oven with light bulb
- kitchen towels or wool blanket
- Boil all utensils and containers for a few minutes and thoroughly wash your hands. Use the tongs to remove everything from the water and let all containers air dry on a kitchen towel.
- Proceed with the directions for making dairy, soy, or coconut milk yogurt.
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog “Homemade Yogurt Recipe” by guest contributor Wayne Bremser and from Harold McGee’s article “They Do the Work, You Reap the Yogurt” published in The New York Times online edition.
Yield 2 quarts
8 cups or 1/2 gallon organic milk (whole or 2%)
1 cup plain organic yogurt (“with active/live cultures,” whole or low-fat), at room temperature
optional: add 2/3 cup powdered milk to the milk in Step 1.
- Heat the milk in a large pot over low to medium heat. If using powdered milk (which thickens the yogurt and reduces fermentation time), whisk into the milk. Heat the milk until it reaches 180 to 190 F, or to the point that it’s steaming and beginning to form bubbles, before it reaches a boil. Turn off the heat and cool to around 115 to 120 F (use an instant-read thermometer), somewhere between very warm and hot.
- Whisk yogurt into the very warm milk. Put the milk in warm jars, containers, or insulated bottles, cover it, and keep the milk still and warm at about 100 F until it sets. Swaddle the jars in several kitchen towels or a wool blanket and place them inside a large picnic cooler or an oven with the light bulb on. You can also use a food dehydrator, yogurt maker, crock-pot, or heating pad to incubate your yogurt.
- Allow the yogurt to set undisturbed for at least 6 hours. Check the yogurt by tilting the jar or container to see whether the milk has become yogurt. If not, leave it alone for another 6 hours. When the yogurt is set, refrigerate and use within a week.
- homemade yogurt
- cheesecloth or a large coffee filter or a thin tea towel
- a fine-mesh strainer or colander and a bowl (about the same size)
Follow one of the recipes for dairy, soymilk, or coconut milk yogurt. Once the yogurt is set, instead of refrigerating it, spoon the yogurt into a fine-mesh strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth, and allow the whey and its lactic acid drain into a bowl for several hours.
Soymilk or Coconut Milk Yogurt
Yield 2 quarts
8 cups or 1/2 gallon plain “Silk” soymilk or “So Delicious Original” coconut milk (divided), at room temperature*
1/3 cup tapioca starch
1 1/2 tsp agar powder
1 cup plain “Silk” soy yogurt or “So Delicious Plain” cultured coconut milk (“with active/live cultures”)*
*You can also use your favorite commercial brand of milk or yogurt – just make sure there is sugar added to the milk and active and live cultures in the yogurt. If you use homemade soymilk or unsweetened soymilk or canned coconut milk, add 2 tablespoons of sugar to it, since yogurt cultures feed on sugar.
- In a large pot whisk 1 cup of the soymilk or coconut milk, tapioca starch, and agar powder together until the starch and powder dissolve.
- Whisk in 3 cups soymilk or coconut milk until it reaches a smooth consistency.
- Heat the pot of soymilk or coconut milk over low to medium heat until it reaches 180 to 190 F, or to the point that it’s steaming and beginning to form bubbles, before it reaches a boil. Gently stir the mixture so that it remains smooth and not clumpy.
- Whisk in the remaining 4 cups of soymilk or coconut milk. Turn off the heat and cool to around 115 to 120 F (use an instant-read thermometer), somewhere between very warm and hot.
- Whisk yogurt into the very warm milk until it is smooth. Put the milk in warm jars, containers, or insulated bottles, cover it, and keep the milk still and warm at about 100 F until it sets. Swaddle the jars in several kitchen towels or a wool blanket and place them inside a large picnic cooler or an oven with the light bulb on. You can also use a food dehydrator, yogurt maker, crock-pot, or heating pad to incubate your yogurt.
- Allow the yogurt to set undisturbed for at least 8 hours. Check the yogurt by tilting the jar or container to see whether the milk has become yogurt. If not, leave it alone for another 4 hours. When the yogurt is set, refrigerate the yogurt and use within a week.