I stopped making my own yogurt when I moved to Paris, and didn’t take it up again when I moved to California twelve years later. Who needs to make it when there is so much good yogurt in the shops?
But now I don’t get to the shops, and the shops are sometimes out when I make an order, and I can’t get the yogurt I like anyway. Last week, when I was beginning to run low (it’s something I eat just about every morning), I just happened to hear somebody on Evan Kleiman’s wonderful Good Food radio show talking about making yogurt. So I went home, thawed some milk I’d frozen, and made it. I loved the result, which was mild tasting and just creamy enough, and I’ll keep making it every few days for as long as I can get hold of milk.
In my Austin days I used to incubate my yogurt jars in big stockpots filled with warm water and set over my stove’s pilot lights. This was not ideal as sometimes the water got too hot and killed the yogurt. The fermentation process requires a warm environment for about 8 hours. I’ve heard many suggestions -- a dishwasher that has been turned on for a few minutes, then turned off, an oven into which you have put a pot of steamy water, a sous-vide. But what I use, and I also use this for bread, is a heating pad. I tuck the pad into my pie box (a wooden box with a lid), and set the yogurts on top. If I were making yogurt in larger containers I wouldn’t be able to put the top on, but I don’t think it would matter too much with the heating pad. An ice chest or an insulated bag would also work.
A while back I bought some (expensive) French style yogurt at Target. I liked the yogurt a lot, but what I really liked were the glass jars it came in. I saved four of them, and they make a perfect serving of about 1/2 cup. Here’s what I do and it works like a charm.
Note: Make sure the yogurt you use to culture the milk has active live cultures. It will say so on the label.
Plain Whole Milk Yogurt
Makes 2 cups
2 cups whole milk or 2% low-fat milk (not 1% or skim)
2 tablespoons yogurt with active live cultures (check the label)
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to 188ºF / 86.6 C. If you don’t have a thermometer, watch closely and when you see bubbles forming around the edges of the pan, the milk is hot enough. Turn off the heat and pour into a bowl. Allow to cool to between 90ºF / 32ºC and 100ºF / 38ºC (lukewarm).
Whisk in 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, preferably yogurt that does not have a lot of other stuff added to it (though the yogurt I’ve been using does have some pectin in it).
Pour the yogurt into jars or containers (you can just use one). Cover and place in a warm spot to incubate for about 8 hours. The milk will have thickened by then. Refrigerate for a few hours. Save some for your next batch!