I thought making my own yogurt was beyond my busy lifestyle and cooking abilities when a farming friend suggested I give it a whirl. I’m a busy full-time working mom with two active kids, and I initially thought that if yogurt making were easy, everyone would be doing it.

There were a couple of aspects of the recipe that intimidated me:

1. It requires a candy thermometer.

2. The six to eight hours of “incubation” for the yogurt to set.

But I found these things were easily managed. Plus, knowing exactly what was in my yogurt — as well as the cost-savings — made homemade yogurt worth the effort.

I get my milk from a friend who raises Jersey dairy cows. My recipe reflects my own family’s taste for a thick and creamy, but less-sweet, yogurt.

HOMEMADE VANILLA YOGURT

1 gallon of milk

¾ cup of sugar

¾ cup of dry milk

1 tablespoon of Madagascar vanilla bean powder (found at a natural food store)

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of plain active-culture yogurt

Candy thermometer

Mason jars with lids

Heat the milk in a large pot on medium high heat. Do not set the heat on high, as it could scald the bottom of the pan. Attach your candy thermometer to the side of the pot to monitor the milk’s temperature. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat when the temperature reaches 180 degrees. Depending on your stovetop, this can take 20 to 30 minutes. When the temperature climbs to 150 degrees, keep a close eye on the milk, as the jump to 180 degrees happens quickly. It is important not to allow the milk to boil.

Once at 180 degrees, submerge the bottom of your pot in a pan with cold water and ice cubes to cool the milk quickly. Add sugar, dry milk and vanilla bean powder and stir well. The mixture needs to cool until it is 110 degrees, so keep the thermometer in the pan to monitor.

At 110 degrees, add the plain yogurt.

Mix the yogurt starter well before pouring into your mason jars. Place jars in a pot of warm water so that the water is just below the top of the jar. Then put the pot in the oven.

Set your oven at 110 degrees to incubate. This process can take 6 to 8 hours, depending on your taste preference. I prefer removing mine at the 6-hour mark to put in my refrigerator.

Recipe makes about 5 quarts of yogurt.

TIPS

Yogurt cultures like bacteria, so avoid using commercial milk labeled “ultra-pasteurized.” Local dairies typically offer less-processed (called flash pasteurized) milk, or you can connect with a local farmer to buy raw milk.

Be sure to use only plain active-culture yogurt for your starter, and choose a quality yogurt. Using a vanilla or added-sugar yogurt will not work correctly.

The dry milk I use makes my recipe into a thick, creamy yogurt that my kids like because it’s similar to a commercial-brand consistency. You can use less for a thinner result. Another common thickener for yogurt is unflavored gelatin, but I prefer dry milk for the additional protein it offers.

There are two ways to affect the sweetness of your yogurt. One is how much sugar you add, and the other is how long you incubate. Experiment with both to find a combination that suits your family’s tastes.

I use a combination of quart, pint and half-pint sized mason jars. This requires that I use a couple of different pots in the oven while incubating in the water bath, but the variation offers convenience for my family’s lunch boxes.

Fruit should not be added to homemade yogurt until after it is incubated and ready to eat.

I use powdered vanilla bean because it is cheaper than an actual vanilla bean, and my family doesn’t care for the faint alcohol taste of liquid pure vanilla extract.

To make Greek-style yogurt, use a strainer lined with muslin and fill with yogurt. Put the strainer into a bowl and set in the refrigerator for about two hours. Scoop out the drained yogurt and add to single-serving containers. This method works for homemade or commercially processed yogurt. And if you have a dog, the drained liquid is a great healthy treat for your canine friend.

To make frozen yogurt, add two cups of drained Greek-style yogurt along with one cup of milk, one cup of frozen fruit and two tablespoons of jam into a blender. Blend until smooth and pour into single serving containers (smaller containers freeze more quickly and minimize crystallization). Then place containers in the freezer overnight. My daughter packs one of these in her lunch box and by the time the lunch hour arrives, her container is a slush consistency, which she likes.

 

Assistant City Editor Wendy Almeida can be contacted at 791-6334 or at: wea@mainetoday.com

Twitter: wea1021