Homemade Greek yogurt
If the supermarket shelves are any indication, much of the nation is as in love with Greek yogurt as Jo and I are. You may remember a while ago when I shared a technique with you a while ago for making your own Greek yogurt by straining the store-bought stuff. I thought I had Greek yogurt all figured out, until last summer when Jo and I visited Greece. We had a bowl of fresh yogurt in a tiny cafe in Mykonos and realized that the stuff we’d been getting back home wasn’t even close to the heavenly yogurt that was possible.
We decided that it was the freshness that was missing in the yogurt from the store. I needed to figure out a way to make my own Greek yogurt from scratch so that we could continue to enjoy that tasty treat without having to travel back to Greece (although that wouldn’t be so bad).
After some research and experimentation, I came up with a technique that works very well for me. And the good news is that there are several ways you can do some of the steps depending on what you’ve got on hand and how much you want to spend. Keep reading and I’ll show you how you can make your own homemade Greek yogurt with basic kitchen supplies and only two ingredients — milk and some starter yogurt.
The first thing to do is pour some milk into a large pan. I usually do a gallon at a time, (which gives me about 4-5 cups of Greek yogurt, but you can do less if you don’t want such a big batch. Then stick an instant-read thermometer on the side. You’ll need a digital thermometer with a broad range or a candy thermometer — anything that will show you temps from 100 through 180 will work.
As for the milk, I know this will work great with either whole or 2%. The whole milk will of course give you a richer result, but the 2% works beautifully and saves you some calories. I haven’t tried with skim or 1%, so I don’t know if they’d work or not.
The next step is to bring the milk up to 180 degrees F to re-pasteurize it. This will ensure that any of the bad germs are killed so that the “good” yogurt cultures you’re going to add can have a clean slate to work with. You can do this on the stovetop over medium heat, watching it carefully so that it doesn’t go past 180.
Once the milk has reached 180, remove it from the heat and let it cool down to between 105 and 110 degrees F. I just turn off the heat and keep an eye on it over an hour or so, stirring it occasionally, until the temperature is in that range.
While the milk is cooling, let’s talk about the starter yogurt you’ll use. The easiest way to do this, especially for beginners, is to just purchase a container of yogurt at the grocery store to use as your starter. Choose any brand of plain yogurt you like, as long as it has active, live cultures. Make sure to check the label to be sure it has them, or else this won’t work. My first starter was made with Fage, which was my favorite brand of Greek yogurt before I started making my own.
As you get comfortable with making your own yogurt, you may want to experiment with some heirloom varieties of yogurt cultures. There is a nice selection available at Cultures for Health, including one specifically for making Greek style yogurt.
By the way, once you’ve made a batch of yogurt, you’ll be able to use the last bit of it as the starter for your next batch, which means you may never have to buy yogurt again!
Put three tablespoons of your starter yogurt in a small bowl and add 1/2 cup of the warm milk. Stir until completely smooth.
Pour the yogurt mix back into the rest of the milk and stir well. PLEASE make sure your milk has cooled to under 110 degrees here (105 is even better). If your milk is too hot, you will kill all those live cultures in the starter and your yogurt won’t set up at all. Be patient and let it cool properly — it’s worth it!
To allow the cultures to work, you’re going to need to keep the yogurt warm, between 100 and 110 degrees F. There are many ways you can do this, and I’ll describe four that each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Cooking method 1: A lighted oven
The easiest and least inexpensive way to keep your yogurt at temperature is to put it into an oven that is turned off but has the light on. The lightbulb will provide a little bit of heat. Watch it carefully, though, and don’t open the door or else the little heat you have will escape. The downside to this approach is that your bulb might not be hot enough to keep your yogurt up to temperature.
Cooking method 2: A heating pad
If you already have a heating pad in your home, it can make a great heater to keep your yogurt warm. Set it on the lowest setting and put your pan on top, wrapped in a towel. This is an expensive and easy method, but it’s critical that your temperature not exceed 110 F, so you need to watch it very carefully.
Cooking method 3: Sous vide water bath
A temperature-controlled water bath is the ideal method for keeping your yogurt at the exact temperature. I happen to have a sous vide setup that I use both for cooking and for home cheesemaking. (That’s a story for another day!) The benefit to this approach is that it’s useful for other cooking techniques, it will provide spot-on temperature management, and you don’t have to check on it at all. The downside is that it can be quite costly.
Cooking method 4: Yogurt cooker
The most reliable and cost-effective way to get consistently great results with home yogurt making is to invest in a small yogurt maker. I have a Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker that I use for making smaller batches when I don’t want to haul out the sous vide setup. Sure, it’s a dedicated appliance that doesn’t do anything besides make yogurt, but it makes it so well that I think it’s worth it! And it comes with the cutest little serving jars you’ve ever seen.
Whichever method you choose, you’ll now want to cover the yogurt (with a clean towel or the lid) and keep it between 105 and 110 for about 7 hours (or overnight if you need to).
When the yogurt has set, it’ll be scoopable with a spoon. Pretty neat, huh?
The yogurt may be set, but in my opinion it is still too thin to eat. You need to drain it to remove the extra whey. I’ve got two draining different methods that work well for me.
Draining method 1: colander and cheesecloth
Put a colander in a larger bowl then line the colander with a piece of butter muslin. This fabric is similar to cheesecloth, but better because it’s a tighter weave and machine washable, so you can use it over and over again! (Tip: hem the edges to keep it from fraying in the washer.)
Draining method 2: yogurt stainer
If you prefer a ready-to-go approach, and are making a 2qt batch or less, you can get great results with a dedicated Greek yogurt maker that comes with a draining basket, bowl, and lid. How convenient!
Let your yogurt drain using your method of choice for at least 2-3 hours. Depending on how thick you want your yogurt, you can let it drain up to 6 hours. They whey will collect in the bowl and the yogurt will stay in the strainer. The whey is no longer needed for this recipe, but there are lots of other uses for it. Some of you have given great suggestions in the comments below!
Dump the yogurt into a bowl and stir it with a whisk to smooth out any lumps. At this point you’ll have a lovely regular-style yogurt that’s ready to eat.
As I said earlier, though, my goal is thick and rich Greek-style yogurt. That means a lot more straining. I pour the yogurt back into the colander with a freshly-rinsed piece of muslin and let it strain some more, anywhere from 1-2 days, until no more whey drips out.
This second strain will leave the yogurt thick enough that it stays in the whisk. Ah, perfect!
Whether you strain once or twice, you’ll find this yogurt so much fresher and tastier than what you buy in the store. Jo and I agree that the Greek yogurt I make is as close to the stuff we had in Greece as I can ever get, and now we’re so spoiled that we can’t eat the store-bought stuff anymore!
This recipe will make from 4 to 6 cups of yogurt from a gallon of milk, depending on how much you strain it. Your homemade yogurt will last in the fridge for about a week. Be sure to save the last three tablespoons of yogurt to use as a starter in your next batch.
If you want to take time off between batches, measure out 3 tbsp and put it into a container in the freezer. Then you can just thaw it and use it as a starter whenever you’re ready to make more yummy yogurt!
What do you like putting in your yogurt? I usually stick to honey and granola, but sometimes I add fresh strawberries. I’ve also been known to pour maple syrup on it. I’m always up for new ideas, though, so if you’ve got a favorite topping, share it with us.