Friday, November 16, 2007

Frugal Friday - Yogurt

I read a story a long time ago about a family that wanted to put a house somewhere, but they needed a source of water there. They immediately thought of a well. They went to considerable trouble and expense trying to get a well on their property. And then found out that they couldn't for whatever reason. It simply wasn't possible. They were devastated. And almost didn't build on the property at all. Then someone in the family realized that they didn't NEED a well. They needed water. And with that simple realization, they found an alternate way to get water there (which I don't remember...and I've probably butchered the story anyway, but you get the point)

This post today is specifically about how I make my own homemade, frugal yogurt. But it's generally about something more broad. I found a long time ago that many of the things I buy at the store are things that I can duplicate at home with little to no trouble. And usually for much less cost. It just takes some looking around.

As an example, I can remember a time when I made a special trip to the grocery store to buy a single pack of taco seasoning for dinner that night. I have always had a huge cabinet full of various spices, but never knew that you can throw a few together and make your own taco seasoning for pennies. What a waste!

The thing is, I didn't need a taco pack. I needed a seasoning on the meat that would taste similar to a taco pack.

Simple but profound difference.

So with that said, let's get to the yogurt. A few years back I would have never *thought* of making yogurt. But it's no secret that I like to have things well stocked, but with much variety. And I like paying the least I can pay for the quality I want. Like most of us do!

Homemade yogurt is really simple (even without a yogurt maker- this is actually the first time I'd ever used one!). I start with a quart of store bought, plain, whole fat, yogurt. (I like to get organic when possible, but it's really hard to find here most of the time.) I take out appr. 3 tablespoons and put that into a bowl. The rest I freeze in an old ice cube tray. Whenever I need to make homemade yogurt again, I can pop out 3 of the cubes and have the perfect amount of yogurt "starter".

Next I heat 4 cups of whole milk (this I *can* find organic) on the stove top. Using a candy thermometer, I heat to 180 degrees.

Once it reaches 180F, I pull it off the heat and allow it to cool to 115F. Here I was testing the new spoon thermometer that I got with the frugal yogurt maker and it worked perfectly!

When it reaches 115F, I skim off the top layer of "skin" that is on the milk and discard it. Then I take about half a cup of the milk and stir it into the 3 tablespoons of store bought yogurt (which is your "starter") to temper it.

Then this starter mixture goes back in the pot and is mixed well.

This I pour into the glasses that came with the yogurt maker.*
I incubate for 8 to 10 hours.

And this is what I end up with! (Which is to be refrigerated right away, of course.)
*As I mentioned earlier, this is the first time I'd ever used a yogurt maker. I made it many, many times before I found this yogurt maker at a terrific price. The goal is to simply keep the freshly mixed yogurt a pretty constant temperature of around 110-115F for several hours.

There are many different ways to do this, but the way that was the easiest to me was with a cooler and a heating pad. I put the heating pad on low** in the bottom of the cooler and laid a towel on top if it. Then I set the yogurt on top of the towel (I used a quart mason jar, with lid) and kinda wrapped the towel around the yogurt. The top of the cooler was then closed AND LEFT CLOSED for at least 5-6 hours. Sometimes it would take just 5 hours and sometimes up to 8 or 9. I would check by tilting the jar and once "soft set" it's done and I refrigerated right away.

**(Heating pad temperatures may vary. When I changed heating pads I had a batch of yogurt that took a long time to set up. I learned with any changes to always check the temperature of the cooler/heating pad "incubator" with a candy thermometer by laying it on the towel for several minutes and adjusting the heating pad to get the temperature at a pretty stable 115F)

***As an aside, I've read that you can make yogurt from any kind of milk (even reconstituted powdered), though I've never tried it.

A quart of organic yogurt here can run as much as $4 or more. One quart will make ten or more quarts of homemade yogurt. So at most I use 40¢ worth of organic yogurt as "starter". I can get a quart of organic milk for $1.50. Adding 10¢ for electricity, I can make my own whole fat, organic yogurt for half the price I can buy it at the store. Plus, I can have it without going to the store. Which is another huge bonus for me.

I am posting this for my own information, not as any how-to guide. Though I have made it for months now, I am no expert. There are many, many places on the web that you can find information on making yogurt at home. I suggest that you check out them out before trying to make yogurt on your own.

I got my recipe here.

For more frugal inspiration, be sure to check out Frugal Friday hosted by Biblical Womanhood.


Andrea said...

I am going to have to do this. I will admit that I have yet to make my own yogurt yet. Thank You for sharing this because it makes it seem so easy.
Still haven't got the rolls to work yet. I halfed the ingredients, then ended up adding a quarter cup more flour because it just wasn't forming dough. When I took it out of the machine it was still soggy but I didn't want to dump it so I threw it in a loaf pan and baked it as is. Tasted pretty good. Now, if I could just make it into rolls! :)

"My Little Wonders" said...

Thanks for letting us all know how to make it. I will be trying this one for sure. I have a question.....can you do something wrong in the making and make yourself sick or is it pretty safe to make on your own?

Stacy said...

Thanks for this information.

Your yogurt looks nice and thick.

You have encouraged me to give it a try.


My name is Michelle. said...

Andrea, I just really have no idea what's different! They always turn out perfectly here...maybe my measuring cups are not accurate and it actually takes more flour than I'm saying? I'm clueless.

Lori, I was a little skeptical about it at first too! But after trying it the first time, it was just soooo easy and economical and tasted so good that I've kept it up. As with any other thing that we eat, I keep it crazy clean, follow a good recipe to a fault (at least the first time) and use my head by checking for things like off colors or odors.

Stacy, if you try it, check out the link I posted. She is much better at describing it than me. And nice to "meet" ya!

Andrea said...

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___xxxxxxx this xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
_____xxxxxxxxx heart xxxxxxxxxxx
_________xxxx to xxxxxxxxxxx
_____________xxxxx all x
_______________the x
__x about x
____xx the xx

Lylah said...

really great post...i had just been thinking two days ago about making yogurt. blessings to you!

My name is Michelle. said...

Andrea, are you suing bread flour?

Andrea said...

No, I have been using all purpose flour and maybe that is what is causing the trouble. It did come out closer to how it should when I used my larger bread machine but the dough was still VERY sticky and the rolls cooked flat. (I cut them in half and used them for tuna sandwiches! See how frugal I am? :)
Anyway, I don't know how cost effective it will be to buy bread flour but I don't think I will get these to turn out otherwise. :(
Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!

My name is Michelle. said...

You're pretty frugal! I'm sorry that the cost of bread flour is prohibitive there, that stinks. It's not more than 5¢ or so a lb more here. :(

Alice said...

Thanks for the information. I noticed you have the same Salton yoget maker. I bought mine a couple of years ago from the Goodwill store without the manual. I have tried using it twice but the yogurt wouldn't set unless I left it in the yogurt maker over 18 hours. That's probably is too long. I heated up the milk and used a candy thermometer so temperature was not a problem. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

bugbear said...

I enjoyed your post. I also thought I would put my "2 cents" in on a good way to make yogurt that I use that has the advantages of not having to buy a yogurt maker, yet not having to monitor the temperature once you get used to the routine, and being able to make a pretty good sized amount of yogurt at once.


the milk is heated and cultured in the same pot, which cuts down on steps and reduces the possibilities for contaminating the yogurt starter/milk mixture.

the pot is then incubated in a picnic cooler that has warm water in it. As a result, you don't have to check on the temperature once you have this method down.

Ok, here we go:

I use a higher range of temperature than many people specify, between 120 to 130 F (measured with a thermometer, not "guesstimated. It hasn't failed me yet. Over 130F will kill the yogurt culture. below 120 is ok, but not so foolproof or optimal for the growth of these bacterial cultures.

1) a picnic cooler big enough to fit a small (half-gallon) pot in. Or, big enough to fit 2 mason jars in.

2) measure 2 quart mason jars full of milk.

3) a metal pot that will fit in the cooler

a thermometer.
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup starter.
a hand blender (optional but works fantastically well for this)

A) Heat up the milk in a metal pot with the temperature probe of the thermometer set in it. Set the alarm on the thermometer to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. (Or just watch it if it's a manual thermometer)
Be careful not to put the flame/heat too high, as you will scorch the milk on the bottom of the pan. Use medium heat only. It may take 15 or 20 minutes to reach 190F.

B) Once the milk is at 190 F (this temperature is not only for sterilization, but for altering the proteins in the milk in a desirable way for yogurt making), turn off the heat and take the pot off the hob. If you want, you can sterilize the working end of your hand blender in this hot milk mixture, though I don't usually bother.

C) Wait for it to cool to 125-130 degrees Fahrenheit. 130 degrees is the upper limit for the bacteria that make the yogurt to survive. Simplistically, the range for 120-130 is optimum for several of the species.

D) put the yogurt culture in (1/4-1/2 cup). Use the hand blender to mix it. I you don't have a hand blender, mix it up however, with a whisk, a fork, whatever and maybe use the idea of mixing the started in with just a cup of the warm milk in a sterilized measuring cup. But the hand blender does a really great job distributing the bacterial culture throughout the milk for maximum effectiveness.

E) put the lid on your pot. put the pot in the cooler.

F) take maybe 2 quarts of water and heat it up in a pan to 130F or a couple of degrees less. Use your thermometer! Again, if you have a battery powered one with a probe and an alarm, it makes this so easy--you just do other stuff in the kitchen until the alarm goes off.

G ) pour this water into the cooler so it surrounds the pan, but not so high that it would spill into the pan.

close the cooler and wait. If you want, set a timer for 4 or 5 hours.

The yogurt will probably set within 4 or 5 hours. I measure the temperature of the water bath at that point to see how far it has dropped. In my old 50s styrofoam cooler, I get a drop to 108 F from 130 F over 4 to 5 hours.
Take the yogurt out and put it in the mason jars. I label them with the date and let them sit out on the counter until they're room temperature, then refrigerate.

You're done!

Some people (more nervous than me) would put them in the fridge right away, worried about spoilage. Remember, though, yogurt is a preservation technique for milk. It's not going to go bad right away once it is a) set and b) has developed acidity (the tart taste). The acidity deters many forms of bacteria that would cause spoilage.

You can also try emptying the cooler of water at 4-5 hours, pouring it into a pan, and reheating to 130F, in order to incubate at that temperature for another 4 hour period.

The truth is, once the yogurt is set, it's pretty foolproof. In most cases, if you leave it out the yogurt culture will continue to make more acidity, which strongly inhibits spoiling (Think pickles).

You can put the yogurt in jars now, or you can forget about it for a few hours, which is what I often do. I often start making yogurt at night around 7 or 8, set it into the cooler, then don't bother looking in until I wake up in the morning.

Using this method I've never had a problem with a bad batch or it not setting correctly. And I don't have to "baby" it --I can do other stuff. That's why I use this method. Plus, I had the materials on hand.

One tip for getting a pan to fit in your cooler--

I use a pan that has a removable handle. (removable using my Phillips head screwdriver--takes about 10 seconds) This is an old Revere stainless steel saucepan from maybe the 60s. Again, if you need to you can incubate the yogurt in two mason jars instead of a pan.

Be Well! And happy yogurt making!

Ok, have fun!

PS once you do this, you can do things like strain it (which is what Greek yogurt is) too.

One favorite way I eat my yogurt is with a little bit of ground cardamom and a sprinkle of sugar or (my preference) raisins and a couple tablespoons of raw oatmeal.