Homemade yogurt is one of those tricky foods that only expert cooks can make, right? Wrong. I am always amazed at how easy it is to turn a gallon of milk into a thick, creamy treat.
Why bother making yogurt? Homemade yogurt is about a quarter of the cost for us. One gallon of milk costs $6 BZD, which is about the same price as one quart of store-bought yogurt. Another reason is the amount of added sugar and the artificial ingredients added to the yogurt. While there are some great healthy options available in the States, we basically have one brand of yogurt, and it has 19 grams of sugar per serving. But most of all, I enjoy the process, and I love giving my children a bowl of homemade granola and yogurt topped with fruit.
To get started, pour half a gallon of milk into a kettle and turn the burner on medium heat. I use whole, unpasteurized cow's milk, which makes the thickest, creamiest yogurt. I've already made yogurt with powdered milk when fresh milk wasn't available. If you're mixing up your milk, add an extra half cup of powdered milk to make the yogurt thicker.
You'll need to keep track of the temperature of the milk, so insert a candy thermometer or check the temperature with an instant read thermometer (affiliate links). As the milk is heating, add ½ cup of sugar. Stir the milk occasionally as it heats to avoid scorching. When the milk reaches 180 degrees, turn off the burner. As the milk cools, add half a can of sweetened condensed milk. To cool the milk more quickly, set the kettle in a sink filled with ice water.
When the milk reaches 120 degrees, add the yogurt starter. If it's the first time you're making yogurt, use 6-8 oz of plain, store-bought yogurt (not Greek yogurt). Make sure the yogurt you're using for starter contains live active cultures. Stir well to spread the starter throughout the milk, then pour into glass quart jars.
Next comes the incubation process, which will allow those live cultures to do their magic. I have an old gas stove in which the pilot always stays lit. The oven is always warm from the lit pilot, making it the perfect place to incubate yogurt. I usually put a piece of colored tape on the oven knob so I don't forget that my yogurt is there and accidentally start preheating the oven. If you are not privileged with this old-time convenience, place the jars in a cooler and pour 120-130° water around them, up to the neck of the jars.
After 4-8 hours, the yogurt is finished. Take out about 1/3 cup of yogurt for your next starter and place it in the freezer. After making yogurt about 8-10 times, I've sometimes noticed that my starter is getting weak, and my yogurt doesn't get as thick. Then I buy another cup of plain yogurt to use for new starter.
I have not found a good, natural way to flavor our yogurt so we usually eat it as is, or stir in 1 tablespoon of high-quality vanilla extract per quart of yogurt. Once a friend gave me a jar of homemade blueberry pie filling. We stirred that into a jar of yogurt and enjoyed the most amazing blueberry yogurt I've ever eaten. I still crave that yogurt!
½ gallon of milk
½ C sugar
½ of a 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
Yogurt starter (6-8 oz. plain store-bought yogurt or 1/3 C reserved yogurt)
Pour milk into kettle and turn on medium heat. Add sugar. Heat to 180°. Remove from heat. Add sweetened condensed milk. Cool to 120°. Add yogurt starter. Incubate 4-8 hours. Reserve 1/3 C yogurt for starter for the next batch of yogurt. Place starter in freezer. Stir 1 tbsp vanilla into each quart of yogurt if desired. Enjoy!