I haven't made this for about two years due to the workload of my last two jobs. However, now that I'm Chief Bargain Hunter, it seems like a great time to dust off the old crock-pot and try it again.
- Food-grade thermometer
- Crock-pot (I use a 5.5 quart to make a gallon of yogurt - feel free to adjust accordingly, just make sure you have 1.0-1.5 quarts more crock-pot than yogurt)
- 3-4 good thick towels, or 6-8 thinner ones
- A large bowl or measuring cup - something that can hold 4 cups of liquid easily and pour back into the crock-pot without a mess
- A ladle is helpful, but not required
- Lots of intermittent hovering time - start around 10 am or so on a weekend or day off where you're planning to be home and do other things (it pairs really well with laundry day)
- 1 gallon organic whole milk (the organic is MUCH creamier and the taste is SO much better - I use Meijer's or Target's brand)
- Yogurt starter (available at health food stores) OR 12 oz of yogurt from your last batch
- Pour gallon of milk into crock pot, cover with lid
- Heat (use high or low settings, depending on your time constraints) up to 180 degrees F
- After the milk measures just over 180, shut off the crock pot. Cool milk down to between 110 and 115. You can speed this up by leaving the top off, but don't cook or chop anything near it or the yogurt will pick up that flavor (yes, I once had green pepper flavored yogurt by accident!)
- Once it cools to 110-115, spoon out 2-3 cups of the warm milk into a 4-cup measuring cup (or large bowl). Add in yogurt starter or yogurt from prior batch. Mix in well, especially if it is the starter -- those powders take a bit of mixing to dissolve. After it is mixed well, pour slowly back into the crock pot, stirring into the warm milk as you do so.
- Once it's all back in, stir again gently, replace the top, and cover the top and sides with thick towels. Let sit overnight and in the morning place the crock and lid into the refrigerator. By evening your yogurt will be ready to eat - just stir and enjoy - it's really that easy!
- Organic whole milk really is best. If you use non-organic, you'll want to pull out some of the milk and replace it with heavy cream.
- Homemade yogurt is runnier than store-bought because it doesn't have artificial thickeners. But the taste is well worth it. You can strain the yogurt if you like, which will give you "Greek Style" yogurt, but then you lose out on the nutrients from the whey that's drained off. Some people like to drink the whey -- it's a little weird, but not too bad.
WARNING: Drinking whey can leave you susceptible to nursery rhymes regarding eating curds and whey dancing in your head.
- Pick a day when you'll be home with other things to do, like laundry. The heating and cooling takes hours, and once you make a few batches you'll get a better feel for what parts take what amount of time. The overnight part can be up to 24 hours if need-be, but the longer it sits like that, the more tart/sour the yogurt will be. I prefer 10-12 hours personally.
- I really like to place fruit in my yogurt when I eat it. Grapes are my favorite. Some people also like to drizzle honey or fruit jams in their yogurt.
- Don't let the milk cool lower than 110 -- doing so will not "re-awaken" the yogurt cultures. If it gets this low in temp, reheat to 180 and start again. For this reason, I always work very quickly once it drops under 120 on my thermometer. Have all your supplies ready and on hand so you're not fumbling with the lid off for long periods of time.
- When you're getting close on your temps, set a timer to take with you for your other activities so you don't forget to check the temp again. I usually set it for 15-30 mins depending how close it is on temps. This is another thing you'll get a feel for after you have several batches under your belt.
- If you're adjusting amounts for smaller crock pots, make sure you have 1-1.5 extra quarts room. What they claim as quart capacity in the crock pots does not always match the volume of quarts when the milk is poured in! Especially after you add in the yogurt from your prior batch.