Friday, February 15, 2013

Fact: Yogurt is more fun when it's spelled "Yoghurt".

   It's true! I'm a yoghurt-making hippie. Sue me!
   Yoghurt, or yogurt as it's spelled by boring people who don't like to throw in a silent H whenever opportunity presents, is a delicious concoction that can be made by stirring a starter culture into milk and letting it sit in a warm place for a few hours. You can then refrigerate it for a little while and then insert it into your face with a spoon. Yay! You could also hang it in cheesecloth until it gets thick and creamy and pudding-like or even longer until it resembles cream cheese, then sprinkle it with a pinch of course salt and chives and why aren't you already scrolling down for a recipe??
   The thing about yoghurt is that these days it is sold in your supermarkets under the hazy and guilt-laden grey cloud of "health food." Whether you spring for the wee little cartons of fruit-on-the-bottom fancy-arsed greek fancy lowfat whatever else fancy yoghurt, or settle for the even more miniscule cartons of Yoplait that advertise themselves as a weight loss plan in and of themselves, you are spending too much money on inferior yoghurt!
   You are spending too much money because you can make really high quality yoghurt with a gallon of milk and a starter culture. And by starter culture I mean one of those little plastic cartons of yoghurt. You need yoghurt to make yoghurt! I don't know about you but I find that hilarious.
   Not only is it cheaper, but homemade yoghurt it is also much better for you than Yoplait. This may or may not matter to you, and I sometimes have doubts about the merits of vilifying certain ingredients, but if you're one of those people who cares: some of the ingredients in Yoplait are a little disturbing if not downright vile. Your average carton contains:
  • Kosher gelatin- This is typically make from the bones and hooves of large mammals, like cows and horses, although I've heard it can be derived from plants. This makes Yoplait unsuitable for many vegetarians. My dad points out that somewhere in the world there is a rabbi who spends his free time standing around blessing gelatin.
  • HFCS- High fructose corn syrup has been getting a lot of media coverage lately. It is basically a corn product containing high amounts of a type of sugar that your body stores right quick in your muffin tops. 
  • Artificial food dyes- These particular ones are usually derived from petroleum. 
  • Natural and artificial flavors. Created from god-knows-what in a lab somewhere by someone with the job title of "Flavorist." Ever met somebody at speed-dating who tells you they're a Flavorist? Me neither. I can only assume they spend all their time in dimly lit, cavernous stainless-steel labs, grinning maniacally over flasks of bubbling natural and artificial flavors. I have never used natural and artificial flavors as an ingredient in any kind of home cooking. I don't know how to make it. I can't find it at my grocery store. I don't even know where to look! So I found a yoghurt making method that doesn't require it. What a relief, right?
   Making yoghurt at home is super easy. It's hardly even fair to call it cooking. It would, however, help to have a thermometer around with temperatures ranging at least from 75 to 170 degrees. This isn't necessary, but I find it helpful since I make yoghurt often. I will give you a temperature guide as well as some sensory clues, so there's no need for anyone to panic. There are a couple methods that I use interchangeably, so this is less of a recipe and more of a guide. Also, there are a lot of numbers and options and things. Don't get scared! Be super brave and try the recipe. If today is not a super-brave kind of day, bake cookies instead. I won't judge you.

As for lessons learned today... You can actually make all kinds of things at home you normally would have to shell out for at the store. You don't have to be superman/superwoman to impress yourself and others (mom) with your culinary talent.
Let's make some yoghurt.

Yoghurt making a la Starving Artists
What do I need?
  • Some milk. I usually end up using about a half gallon at a time. Whole milk is said to work best and it tastes rich and yummy. If you want to experiment with 2% be my guest, however it will come out  little runnier and not so creamy. You should probably really be honing your technique before working with skim. Goat's and sheep's milk are excellent. I have read that for soy yoghurt you need to buy powdered cultures. I am not that dedicated, but please tell me your soy yoghurt stories.
  • Some mason jars would be great... they can be reused. Really, any reasonably heatproof container with a tight-fitting lid should work. However, I kind of am maybe a little in love with mason jars so that's what I use. *A quick note on sterilizing* If you are afraid of scary bacteria, you can sterilize your jars, lids, pots, spoons, and life with a very diluted bleach solution (please do not attempt to actually sterilize your life as that would be really time-consuming and probably disastrous). I don't find this necessary. For me, washing them in hot water with dish soap and allowing them to air-dry is plenty good enough. The choice is yours.
  • A medium saucepan (Or possibly a big stockpot, or both. I'll explain, I promise.)
  • Some yoghurt. Buy one of those miniscule cartons, you don't need much. Make sure it has "Live and active cultures" in the ingredients list! You only need this the first time you make yoghurt, after which you can use your own homemade yoghurt as a starter.
  • A thermometer. Optional but I like mine. It was cheap and I actually use it pretty regularly.
  • Sugar, vanilla, and/or any flavors or fruit you want in your yoghurt. All this is optional but I always have to make a jar of oversweetened gloppy vanilla for boyfriend.
  • Some way of incubating your yoghurt. This might be a heating pad and a blanket, a really low temp oven, a dehydrator, or the aforementioned giant pot and a blanket. I have actually scavenged our soft cozy heated blankie for hours for my foul yoghurt-making schemes. Find what works for you.
How do I make all this junk I gathered into yoghurt?
  1. Heat your milk. There are a couple of ways to do this. You could do it in the microwave (I assume, I've never actually done that) already distributed in mason jars. You could pour it into your medium saucepan, measured out by the mason jar full, and heat it on the stove. One of my favorite ways is to pour your milk into your jars and set them, lids off, in a big stock pot with enough cool water to come most of the way up the sides (the water needs to be cool so you don't crack your jars) and then stick it on the stove. Whatever method you choose, you want your milk to reach a temperature between 160 and 180 degrees F. If you don't have a thermometer, the water will be beginning to boil. The milk will be starting to get foamy like a latte (mmm) and a skin may form on the top. At this point, turn off whatever was heating your milk. 
  2. Stir in your sugar now or forever hold your peace. Pour the hot milk into your jars if it is not there already. Cap your jars tightly.
  3. Let your jars cool. There are also a couple of options for this. You could put them in the fridge but then you put whatever other food you have in there at a risk. You could put them on the counter but it takes forever for them to cool there and when it comes to delicious tangy yoghurt I don't have that kind of patience. My favorite is to put them out on the porch since I live in the Northwest and it never stops raining and is friggin cold all the friggin time. Occasionally check on the jars' temperature. You want them to cool down to between 90 and 120 degrees farenheit. At this point the jars are quite comfortable to handle and you should be confident you could hold one for a few minutes without it being uncomfortably hot.
  4. At this point, you stir in the yoghurt starter. Stir it in REALLY WELL. I had a whole batch not take once because my starter just hung out in a chunk at the bottom. You want to stir in a round teaspoonful. I don't particularly measure this, I just use my regular flatware teaspon. The yoghurt should now be between 80 and 110 degrees and very comfortable to handle. Cap your jars tightly.
  5. Incubate!! Your yoghurt needs to maintain a temperature betweeen 80 and 115 degrees F (I have best luck around 95) for between 4 and 24 hours. Occasionally check the temperature of your yoghurt: notably warm but very comfortable to handle, or 80-115 degrees F. A temperature above 120 degrees F might kill your hungry little yoghurt bacteria. I leave mine be for as long as I can stand, usually about 12 hours. You have a lot of options for this, and I haven't thought of them all. Here are some that I have had success with:
    • If you heated your milk in jars in a big pot, keep that pot of hot water warm. When your jars are ready to be incubated, adjust the water temperature in the pot to 80-120 degrees F and put your jars back in. Cover your pot and wrap it in a blanket.
    • Put your jars on a heating pad on a low setting and wrap them in a towel.
    • Wrap them in your heated blanket set on a low setting (I use low, 2 or 3 out of 10)and then shiver and regret it all night.
    • Put them in a dehydrator... I don't have a dehydrator so the logistics of that are up to you.
    • If your oven has a low enough setting, use your oven. Alternately, some people say their oven gets warm enough with just the light on.
    • Use a yoghurt incubator. 
  6. Refrigerate your yoghurt. You want to chill it for an hour or so to thicken it up.
  7. Extra credit: Strain your yoghurt into greek yoghurt or yoghurt cheese. Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth, set it over a bowl, and dump your yoghurt into it. Rubberband the cheesecloth over the yoghurt and put it in the fridge. Let it strain until desired thickness is reached... anywhere from 15 minutes for a creamier yoghurt to a few hours for yoghurt cheese. 
  8. Put it in your face with a spoon. YAY!



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