Friday, March 23, 2012
Make Thick Yogurt
It has taken me far too long to get yogurt making down. I've been making homemade yogurt for about four years now. My main complaint up until this past year is that my yogurt was never as thick as I liked it. Every once in a while I'd make a fairly thick batch, but it was sporadic. I tried different yogurt cultures, different incubation methods and heated the milk different lengths of time. I make a half gallon of yogurt every week or two. We use it in smoothies and in exchange for buttermilk in recipes. I use it to make our weekly bread. My kids eat the majority of the yogurt with homemade jam. Until recently, they usually drank it, once I'd stirred in the jam it was usually the consistency of kefir or a little thicker. I can proudly say that these days I can stir jam into the yogurt and the kids can eat it with a spoon without dripping it all over the table and their shirts.
So what am I doing differently? Adding nonfat dried milk powder. Now I'm not necessarily recommending that everyone add milk powder to their yogurt. However, if your yogurt is always runny, and you find yourself buying store bought yogurt because you like how thick it is... well, how do you think they get the store bought yogurt so thick? Nonfat dried milk powder among other thickeners.
My yogurt process now is to stir one cup of nonfat dried milk powder in one half gallon of milk then heat it to around 160F, then I put a lid on the pot and let it sit for a while, 20-30 minutes. Not enough to kill off all the bacteria but enough that the yogurt thickens well. Then I take the lid off and let the milk cool to 120F. I use yogurt cultures from the Dairy Connection. Sometimes I use a spoonful of yogurt from the last batch. You can use store bought yogurt as well if that is what you've got. Then I place my half gallon jar into a small lunch cooler and pour in water that is about 120F. I place the lid on and set it in a warm place, near the wood stove or in the sun. I add water once or twice to the cooler to bring it back up to temperature. In six to eight hours I've got thick yogurt. Then I place it in the refrigerator where it thickens more.
In the past I tried incubating the yogurt in the oven with the pilot light on and my oven kept it too warm, as did using the crock pot. I've used my food dehydrator but that seems a waste of electricity. Initially I wanted the yogurt to be raw milk and I wanted to heat the milk as little as possible. The less the milk is heated the runnier it is. I had read that nonfat dry milk powder would help the yogurt to be thicker, but I felt like it was such a forbidden ingredient, something I not only felt ridiculous for buying when we have so much quality milk, but also a potentially harmful ingredient. But I felt even sillier buying yogurt at the store, especially when I realized all the various thickeners in it.
A few other tricks I tried to thicken up my yogurt were draining the whey off it after incubating it. Some folks make a yogurt cheese this way. It does work, but if you do it at room temperature over a long period of time your yogurt gets tangier. If you do it in the fridge, it takes up a lot of room. Either way it never has the same texture as store bought yogurt. I also tried using rennet to thicken the yogurt - didn't work. I've also heard of people using gelatin - not really my thing.
Molly's fiasco farm dairy site is a good source for yogurt recipes, both for raw milk or heated yogurt with or without nonfat dried milk powder. On a side note, I recall complaining to my dad about how my yogurt was never thick enough and he was saying as how he'd never had such problems. His yogurt always got nice and thick just fine. Recently I told my dad I'd started putting nonfat dried milk powder in the yogurt and it has finally been turning out consistently thick, and he was like, "Oh yeah, we always used dry milk powder to make yogurt." Go figure.