Make Your Own Homemade Greek Yogurt
By Eliza Cross on January 13, 2012
Since this is the Happy Simple Living blog's most popular posting yet, I thought you might like the recipe and directions for making your own thick, creamy Greek Yogurt. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
I first had Greek yogurt when we visited Aunt Sara and Uncle Myron at their beautiful home on the Chesapeake Bay last summer. Each morning Aunt Sara would lay out a big breakfast buffet with fresh melons, cereals, crispy bacon, eggs, juices, pastries, breads, jams....well, you get the idea. One morning I got into the FAGE Greek Yogurt -- and I was completely hooked. Greek yogurt compares to regular yogurt like home-grown tomatoes compare to February tomatoes in the grocery store - about a kazillion times better. Greek yogurt - even the nonfat version - is thick and creamy. However, it also costs substantially more than regular yogurt -- a 32 ounce container of FAGE is $7.49 at my grocery store, and it's not organic -- which is why I decided to try and make some myself here at home.
I spent $2.69 for organic milk and 99 cents for a container of plain organic yogurt to use as starter (I already had cheesecloth) so I saved over 50% -- and produced an organic product, to boot. When I make the next batch, I'll use 2 tablespoons of the yogurt from this batch for the starter so the cost will be even less. This project was one of my most successful culinary experiments, and if you're a fan of Greek yogurt you're going to love making your own. After some online research, I mostly followed the basic yogurt recipe in the Joy of Cooking cookbook. I started a batch before we went to bed last night, and awoke to fresh yogurt; it was almost as exciting as Christmas morning! Here's what you need to make 32 ounces (2 pounds) of fantastic, creamy, homemade Greek yogurt:
- 1/2 gallon milk* - fat content of your choice (I used organic 1% milk)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons plain prepared yogurt (make sure it contains live, active cultures)
- cooking thermometer
- cheesecloth to fit 4 layers in a large strainer
*I prefer to prepare this recipe with organic milk, which is produced without any synthetic chemicals, hormones or antibiotics. (Antibiotics can interfere with the yogurt-making process.) If your grocery story has a bargain section in the dairy case, check for organic milk. It's often on sale there at my store, so the cost savings is even greater. If you're using non-organic milk, for best results try to use regular pasteurized milk rather than ultra-pasteurized.
To begin, pour all but 2 tablespoons milk into a double boiler or heavy-bottomed pan and turn the heat to medium. If using a double boiler, cover the milk. If the pot is directly on the burner, stir it and watch it very, very carefully so you don't burn the bottom.
Heat the milk to 180 degrees F. It helps to have a candy thermometer so you can carefully watch the temperature, but when I went to fetch mine I remembered that the kids broke it the last time they made frosting so I used an instant-read thermometer instead.
Immediately remove the pot from the stove and carefully pour the hot milk into a glass or ceramic bowl or casserole dish. Put the dish on a cooling rack uncovered, and let the milk cool to between 105 and 110 degrees F. In our kitchen, this took about 50 minutes. (Note: remember to leave the dish completely uncovered at this stage, so the good bacteria from the air can start working their magic!) Meanwhile, turn on your oven light. Just the warmth from the oven lightbulb will provide the perfect temperature for the organisms to make yogurt.
Now, combine the 2 tablespoons of milk you saved with the prepared yogurt in a small bowl and reserve. Resist the temptation to add more than 3 tablespoons yogurt. According to the Joy of Cooking, "you may wonder why so little starter is used and think that a little more will give a better result. It won't. The bacillus, if crowded, gives a sour, watery product." I used 2 1/2 level tablespoons of prepared yogurt and the resulting yogurt was thick, mild and creamy.
Once the milk has cooled to between 105 and 110 degrees, add in the yogurt-milk mixture and stir well to combine. (Don't forget this important step.) Put the lid on the casserole and cover it with a dishtowel. Put it in the oven, making sure that the towel isn't near the oven lightbulb, and leave the oven light on. Leave the yogurt for 7 or 8 hours, or overnight.
In the morning, carefully take the dish out, unwrap it and remove the lid, and check to see whether the milk has turned to yogurt. I could hardly believe my eyes when I put a spoon into the mixture:
If your batch isn't quite thickened, return it to the oven and check on it again in an hour. Once the yogurt is sufficiently thickened, you can stop at this stage if you want regular yogurt. Just stir the mixture and refrigerate it; you may need to pour off a little of the watery liquid. Don't forget to turn off the light in your oven! For creamy Greek yogurt, refrigerate the yogurt for at least two hours to allow it to completely cool and thicken. Line a large strainer with four layers of damp cheesecloth and find a bowl that the strainer will fit inside:
Put the strainer inside the bowl and pour the yogurt in; refrigerate for one hour. Pour out the liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl; this is the whey - that's right, the very same delicacy Little Miss Muffet ate while she was sitting on her tuffet. You can save the whey and use it for cooking (a common use is as a liquid in homemade bread recipes) or discard it. Return the bowl to the refrigerator for one more hour, strain the liquid again and the yogurt should now look thick and creamy - like this:
Spoon it into a container and refrigerate for up to six days.
I find most store-bought plain yogurt is too tart for my liking so I usually buy vanilla-flavored, but you'll find this homemade yogurt has a very mild flavor. You can enjoy it as is, add some fresh fruit or jam, or do what we did and serve it with raw wildflower honey (we love Colorado-based Madhava Honey) and homemade granola.
Remember to save a couple of tablespoons of your homemade yogurt so you can use it as starter for the next batch!