Monday, December 15, 2014

Homemade Yogurt

I love yogurt. Especially Greek yogurt - it's so versatile! It can be eaten sweet (think fruit or honey) or it can be made savory (seasoning and extra virgin olive oil, for example), and it's a wonderful substitute for many things (sour cream and heavy cream, just to name a few). Some people I know hate it though, and to them I say "This recipe can make either Greek or regular style yogurt!"

The only difference between Greek and regular style yogurt is that the Greek version is strained, and therefore thicker.

Whether you're making Greek or regular style yogurt, follow all the directions until you reach the section about straining. At this point, there will be two sets of instructions: one for Greek style and the other for regular yogurt.

*All temperatures in this post are in Fahrenheit.*

Things you will need to get started:

  • Slow cooker or large pot
  • Thermometer (instant read or the type used for deep frying/candy making)
  • Something for the yogurt to incubate in (oven, cooler, thermal bag)
  • Containers for the yogurt to incubate  in (jars, slow cooker, or even a pot)
  • Strainer (large enough to hold all of the yogurt, if straining)
  • Cheesecloth or coffee filters (if straining)
  • A bowl large enough to rest the strainer on and collect the whey, a byproduct of yogurt (again, only if straining)
  • A container or 2 to hold your homemade yogurt and the whey (that stuff is useful!)


Ingredients you will need:

  • Milk (skim, whole, or anything in-between; the higher the fat content, the more yogurt you get)
  • Starter yogurt (must be Greek yogurt, about 6 oz. for every gallon of milk; you can use your homemade Greek yogurt for this next time!) 

To get started, you'll need:
milk, starter yogurt, a pot, and a thermometer
If straining, you'll need:
A large bowl, a strainer, and cheesecloth (or coffee filters)

The basic concept:

  • Scald milk
  • Cool temperature down to 110-120 degrees
  • Add starter yogurt, mix
  • Incubate
  • Strain (optional)



Pour as much or little milk into the pot as you'd like.
The higher fat content the milk has, the more yogurt you'll get from it.

Scald -

To start the yogurt making process you need to scald the milk by heating it to 180 degrees. Stir regularly or you'll end up with a thick coating on the bottom of your pot.

Cool -

Next let it cool back down to 110-120 degrees (use your thermometer).
You can do this in a crock pot or on the stove, but be sure to keep an eye on the temperature; 110-120 degrees is the sweet spot for that good bacteria to reproduce and make your yummy yogurt! Keep stirring to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Starter -

After the milk has been scalded and brought back down to 110-120 degrees, add your starter (about 6oz of Greek yogurt to 1 gallon of milk, store bought or from your last batch of homemade yogurt) and mix it together thoroughly.

Incubate -

If you used a crockpot, leave it in there or pour it into glass jars. (I made it on the stove, but used my slow cooker to incubate it. I've also just poured it into another pot in a pinch.)

Popular Incubating Methods:

  • Put the covered jars/crockpot into an oven that's been preheated for 1 minute and then turned off, with the oven light on.
  • Place the jars/crockpot inside a cooler with water that has been preheated to 120 degrees.
This is where I diverged from basically all of the recipes I read. My oven doesn't have a light, so I skipped that one (although I later found out that the light doesn't really matter). I'm also too lazy for the cooler method. I used a thermal shopping bag that keeps cold things cold or hot things hot. I stuck the whole crockpot in the bag, shut it tight, and wrapped it with a bath towel. I put it in a somewhat out-of-the-way place, and made sure to tell my family not to disturb it. It was thick around 5 hours later, but I let it go 8 hours just to be sure.

Avoid spilling your milk/yogurt mixture
by gently lowering it into the thermal
bag, if that's the method you're incubating
with. You may want to put it on the
floor to make this part easier.

Most of the recipes I read suggested letting the yogurt incubate for anywhere between 8-12 hours until thick like regular yogurt. If you're a scatterbrain like me, and you forget things a lot, then you'll be happy to know it won't hurt to leave it incubating for a long time. My record so far is 19 hours. I looked it up online and some people do recommend letting it incubate about that long for extremely thick and creamy yogurt. The good news is that nobody in my family got sick!
Allow the yogurt to incubate to your preference. The next step depends on whether you want Greek or regular style yogurt.

Here is the point in the process where you will either strain it for Greek style yogurt, or leave it as is for regular yogurt:

For regular yogurt:

If the yogurt is in a pot or a crockpot, pour the yogurt into containers (more than one may be necessary). If the yogurt is in jars, go ahead and put them into the refrigerator. When they are chilled through, they are ready to add flavoring or enjoy plain! Read further for flavoring suggestions.

For Greek yogurt:

Line a strainer with cheesecloth or coffee filters, and place over a large bowl. Pour the yogurt into the strainer, and place in the refrigerator. Allow it to strain until it's your desired consistency (be sure to cover with plastic wrap, a lid, or even a plate).

I did mine for about 8 hours, overnight while I was sleeping. When I woke up in the morning, I had thick, creamy Greek yogurt.
I've also accidentally forgotten about this part and let it strain longer than that. I just ended up with extra thick yogurt! I've also read comments on other blogs about straining it until it becomes like a tangy cream cheese, so there's always a Plan B if it goes WAY too long. I'm honestly not sure how long that would take though. You can also mix some of the whey back in until it's the desired consistency (I've done this before).

Before straining

After straining 8 hours

 The final product

Update: For ideas on how to use your leftover whey, check out 5 Uses for Leftover Whey!

Possible containers:

  • Tupperware
  • Jars
  • Old yogurt/butter/sour cream containers (Yay for recycling!)

Flavoring your yogurt:

You can flavor your yogurt once it's cool (you need to be able to do the "taste test"). I've personally never flavored my yogurt batch all at once; I prefer to flavor each individual bowl as I (or my son) eats it. That way I can use the plain Greek yogurt as a substitute for other things. I can personally attest that it works great as sour cream, and mixed with hard-boiled eggs for egg salad. Greek yogurt can also be used to cut calories in place of mayo, sour cream, and heavy cream or buttermilk (water it down with milk until it's the desired consistency for heavy cream or buttermilk).

Flavoring a large batch:

Many of the recipes I read suggested adding vanilla extract (some also mentioned sugar, but I suggest tasting it without first). You could also try experimenting with other extract flavors as well! Since I've never done this, I don't know any exact ratios for the sugar to vanilla (heck, I don't even know what size batch you're making). However, another blogger recommends:
"For a full 32 oz. container, I add: 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • a little less than a 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • and 3 tablespoons powdered sugar"

Flavoring individual bowls:

Plain yogurt can also be eaten as a quick snack, flavored with some honey, fruit, and nuts or seeds; my son actually enjoys it with a bit of jelly and a drop of vanilla extract swirled in! What other mix-ins can you think of?

Tips for Success:

  • Stir regularly to avoid most of the yogurt
    getting stuck to the bottom of the pot. 
    Stir regularly. Don't  just walk away and forget about it, or you'll end up with half of the yogurt stuck to the bottom of the pot. The photo to the right is with stirring, so imagine without.
  • Moisten your cheesecloth before lining the strainer, if making Greek yogurt. It makes it form to the shape of the strainer much easier.
  • Start the yogurt at night, so you can leave it overnight to incubate. This is especially handy if you don't have anyplace "out of the way" to put it or if using your oven to incubate.
  • Don't be intimidated! This recipe/method is very hard to mess up. If you scald it over 180 degrees, it'll still be fine. If you incubate it too long (like I've done before), or strain it too long it can still be salvaged.
  • Save your whey! You can make ricotta with it, rinse your hair with it (I use it on my hair, and it's amazing), boil noodles or rice in it, or marinate chicken in it to make it super tender. Update: Click here to read 5 Uses for Leftover Whey!
Whey leftover after straining


I did a lot of research on the subject of making yogurt, and the basic concept was universal. Some of sources that helped me the most are:

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