I was planning on some semi-intelligent discussion of the Farm Bill tonight, but it’s only 1:30 in the morning and already the caffeine isn’t helping much. I’m on the night shift tonight, which means that I’m checking numbers, taking data, and trying to keep my eyelids from drooping too often until 8 am, when someone else will take my seat. Right now, the accelerator isn’t happy, so I’m waiting, hoping luck will kick in and make my colleague’s experiment work. But I digress…
The point of this little story is to explain that the haze of exhaustion won’t stop me from telling you about my favorite midnight snack: homemade Greek-style yogurt.
For those of you who haven’t made yogurt at home, the process is fairly straightforward. All you need is milk, starter (fresh, leftover plain yogurt with active cultures will work), a meat thermometer, a wire whisk, and somewhere relatively warm. If you really want to get fancy, a bit of dry milk is also a good addition.
As long as you have good quality milk (like the one James is holding in the picture above), all of this equipment will get you a decent end product. But a couple of years ago, I fell in love with Greek-style yogurt, which has a thick, creamy consistency and is — in my opinion — delectable enough to replace dessert, cream cheese, sour cream, and any number of soft cheese variations. Lucky for me, creating Greek-style yogurt from regular yogurt requires nothing more than a fine sieve or cheese cloth and a little bit of patience.
Homemade Greek-style yogurt
This recipe comes from a yogurt discussion I stumbled across ages ago on eGullet. I’ve tried it both with and without dried milk, and the dried milk does seem to improve the consistency of the yogurt. It’s delicious with a bit of homemade granola and fruit, as pictured above, or mixed with preserves. I’ve even been known to spread it on a bagel, or use it in place of sour cream on burritos and quesadillas. The whey that I strain out is put to use as well, either in mashed potatoes or in place of water in savory baked goods.
I use a yogurt maker because my house is freezing in the winter. If your oven has a pilot light, you may be able to place your yogurt in the oven overnight to incubate. To strain the yogurt, I use a yogurt cheese maker, which is little more than a wire mesh strainer that sits nicely in a plastic tub. You can use cheesecloth, an old yogurt container, and a rubber band instead, if you like.
- 4 c. whole milk, preferably non-homogenized.
- 1/4 c. plain yogurt, or yogurt starter (follow packet directions for amount). I’ve used this brand before, which my local health food stores carry, and was happy with it, but am more apt to use a bit of the last batch of yogurt I made as a starter for the next batch. I have found that I need to make yogurt once or twice a week to keep my yogurt active enough to use in the next batch, so if I’m not sure how fresh my last batch is, I use some of the freeze-dried starter. If you prefer to start your first batch with store-bought yogurt, make sure it has active cultures. Stonyfield’s Cream on Top Plain is a good choice, and hasn’t failed me yet.
- 1/4 c. non-fat dried milk (preferably not instant). This is optional, but seems to improve the consistency of the final product.
Place milk in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add dried milk and stir constantly until the milk reaches 180°F (or begins to boil up — careful; this happens quickly). Remove from heat. Let milk cool until it reaches 105-115°F (if you forget and let it cool a bit too much, you can heat it up a bit and bring it to temperature). Strain off any skin that may have formed, and take a few tablespoons of the milk and add it to the starter of choice. Stir thoroughly, and then add milk-starter mixture to the rest of the milk. Combine thoroughly, then pour into your yogurt maker and follow the manufacturer’s directions, or pour into a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in your oven (heat off) or in a warm spot for 8-10 hours.
Once 8-10 hours have passed, the milk should have thickened into yogurt. The top should look pretty much like yogurt you buy at the store, and when you tip the bowl, the mixture shouldn’t move much. Place in the fridge to chill for a few hours or a day, then place in your strainer. Let strain for 12 hours or more. Enjoy.
Troubleshooting tips: If your milk did not thicken, either your starter was dead, your milk was too hot, or your incubation spot was too cold. Check your thermometer calibration. Consider the age of your starter. And if you think the temperature of your incubation spot was the problem, choose a different spot, place your bowl of yogurt in a bowl of warm water before placing the whole lot in the oven, or buy a yogurt maker.
Oh, and if you had fun with this project, perhaps cheese making is in your future. James and I just ordered a whole set of cultures for our first attempts at homemade mozzarella and brie, which could either be a total disaster, or get pretty interesting …