Saturday, October 19, 2013

Homemade Greek Yogurt for Dummies (Crock Pot)




I mean, really. It's so easy it will change your life forever.

And it will save you a stinking butt load of money if you like Greek yogurt. For $2 (TWO DOLLARS!) I got no less than 10 cups (TEN CUPS!) Greek yogurt--that's $.20/cup if you're math impaired (don't worry--math unnecessary for this recipe; brains in general unnecessary for this recipe). Twenty cents for creamy, perfect Greek yogurt.

You can eat it with anything. I like it for breakfast with some jam mixed it. My kids like it best blended with jam and put into popsicle molds and frozen. My friend serves it as a dessert. She mixes it with jam and then adds a squirt of whipped cream to the top. But don't think it can only be served sweet. This thick Greek yogurt can be used as a substitute for sour cream and cream cheese. It can be used in savory dips, for ranch dressing, with tacos.

And in case you missed the whole Greek yogurt bandwagon (or were maybe too poor to buy a ticket), Greek yogurt is awesome and loveable because it is a) delicious and creamy, b) higher in protein, lower in sugar (lactose), and lower than sodium than regular yogurt. And did I mention creamy awesomeness? It's also just way versatile--it can really be subbed for a lot of things.

Let me say that making yogurt is not entirely new to me. I even have a yogurt maker (which I may now sell) that has cute little cups with lids. I used it faithfully when we lived in California, but when we moved here, it became cost INeffective. I couldn't find small amounts of plain yogurt and after I'd bought 32 oz of plain yogurt, well then it seemed silly to bother making little cupfuls of yogurt. And my homemade yogurt always came out somewhat runny. This is true of yogurt. Most (if not all) of what we find in the store has been artificially thickened--cornstarch and gluten are both in Dannon. Homemade yogurt tends to be thinner. Real Greek yogurt, on the other hand, is thick because much of the whey has been strained out of it. But because of that, it is often very expensive. Thus, for the last several years I haven't made my yogurt; I've just bought it. Until the fateful day when my friend (the dessert yogurt making one) brought over some yogurt with raspberry jam in it. It was better than ice cream. Oh, yes, it was. Thick, creamy, and beautiful. And it had cost her almost nothing. And it had been stupidly easy. Now that's what I'm talking about. Because many of the other homemade yogurt recipes I knew of (the ones without the handy yogurt-maker) seemed hard. There seemed to be lots of variables that could cause it to fail. Some required you to double boil your milk (I double boil nothing, people, nothing). Some gave detailed instructions for putting it in a cooler or oven and then keeping it consistently warm but not hot. If you got too cool or too hot, you'd wind up with curdled, runny nasties instead of yogurt. Yes, it was all too frightening. I needed fail proof. I needed dummy proof. I needed distracted mom proof. My friend provided that.

She had used a pot to make the yogurt. You can too if you don't have a crock pot. A regular pot works great, but it requires more of your attention. A crock pot, on the other hand, requires only a one-minute attention span and perhaps and IQ of 32 or so.

Now, what do you do? Let me pull back the curtain so you can be amazed.

1. Put 1 gallon whole milk into your crock pot. Put lid on. Heat until 180 degrees. This should take between two and four hours (depending on your crock pot). If you don't have a thermometer (though one is useful), it will be bubbly/foamy all over on top without actually boiling.
2. Remove lid and let cool to 110-115 degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, this will feel warm when you stick your finger in, but not hot--this is the temperature you'd kind of want to get baby formula to--warm, but nothing that would scald a baby's throat).
3. Add 1/2 C PLAIN yogurt and whisk it in. (I add yogurt to a small amount of milk and whisk in order to keep it from lumping up. Then I put that into the big pot of milk and whisk.)
4. Put lid back on.
5. Put crock pot in oven for 6-8 hours. You don't have to heat your oven or leave the oven light on. You don't have to do ANYTHING. The crock pot provides natural insulation, so it doesn't cool too quickly and the oven provides a space to trap the necessary warmth for your yogurt to yogurtify (it should be kept at a fairly stable 110 degrees; it does this naturally in a crock pot in the oven, so don't worry). That said, I would not recommend you put it into a cold oven (not a problem for us in the summer, but in winter it gets chilly around here). If your oven is cold, turn it on for 1 minute BEFORE you put the yogurt in. Then turn it off. Then put the yogurt in. (Ah, now the IQ requirements have moved up to 45). It will need 6-8 hours to yogurtify. It's nice if you can time this overnight. If you do it during the day, you may want to put a little post it note on your oven that says, "Do not turn on." I do this (yes, I do) because if you or someone you love comes in and decides to make cookies and pre-heats the oven before realizing there's yogurt in there, your yogurt will be ruined and you will be sad.
6. When you take it out, you'll have regular yogurt. Reserve 1/2 C of this for your next batch of yogurt and put that 1/2 C in the fridge.

 (It will look like this.)


7. Now: You can eat the rest of the yogurt regular-style if you want (it was actually a little thicker than that which my yogurt maker used to make). But I HIGHLY recommend straining it and making Greek yogurt (because it's awesome, that's why). Get a tea towel. Put it over a colander, and strain your yogurt. You can do this in the sink if you don't want the whey. Or you can strain it over a pan or large pot/bowl if you want the whey (Note: Whey can be used as a milk or buttermilk substitute in some recipes. It works well in muffins and things like that. That said, I throw my whey away most of the time (unless I know I'm making muffins or something soon). Lazy, I know. Straining will take between two and six hours depending on how thick you want your yogurt. I like mine thick. You might give it a stir after 2 hours to get it to strain more quickly.

And you're done. You will have a TON of Greek yogurt. In Evansville, we can currently get milk for $1.69 at Aldi. And then you'll need a bit of plain yogurt as a starter. Greek yogurt from the store occasionally goes on sale for $1.00/6 oz., but is usually much more. The nice brands can cost as much as $5.00(ish) for 16 oz. or so.

Now to answer some questions:

1. Do I need an instant read thermometer? No, but it is helpful; it takes any and all guesswork away from the process. And you will pretty much earn back the cost of your $9 thermometer in the first yogurt making, so it's a reasonable purchase. Still you don't have to have one. You just might need an IQ slightly higher than 32.
2. What will I do with all that yogurt? The sky is the limit. If you make this stuff, you can stop buying yogurt, sour cream, and (in some cases) cream cheese. You can make amazing smoothies and popsicles. You can do tons of stuff with it. 
3. Do I have to use whole milk? Probably not, but I always do. Still, I'm pretty sure you can make it with any type of cow's milk . However, I won't vouch for taste. True Greek yogurt is whole fat. It's only us Americans who've freaked out about that and developed lower fat versions. It is my opinion that skim Greek yogurt isn't really Greek yogurt at all. It is skim, strained yogurt. Eat it if you want. But my other opinion is that fat (without a lot of sugar) is NOT the enemy. I think natural fats are healthy and filling and great.
4. Why do I heat it and then let it cool? I don't have a complete scientific answer for you. All I know is that if you heat it to 180 you wind up with thicker yogurt than if you don't. I imagine you don't have to heat it that much. I know there are even raw yogurt recipes out there. You'll just likely end up with thinner yogurt. Of course, you'll be straining it, so will still end up with thick Greek yogurt--you'll just have a bit less of it because more will have strained out.
5. How do I make it on the stove top? Let's say you don't have a crock pot. You can still make this stove top. It's best to do when you have other jobs to do in the kitchen because it takes a while to heat and needs to be stirred occasionally so you don't want to burn on the bottom. (You can cook it faster, but you'll have to stir frequently or even constantly so it doesn't burn on the bottom.) Also, you'll want to make it in a heavy pot. The time I made it on the stove top, I used a porcelain-covered Dutch oven pot (WITH A LID). You need to do this because when you put it in the oven, it needs a sort of heat-holding pot. Otherwise it will cool too quickly and not set properly. I suppose you could use a normal pot and insulate it with towels or something, but for me the IQ requirements and fail factor get too high with that.
6. Can I make less? Probably. The problem you're going to come up against with this no fail method is that if you only have a little milk/yogurt in your pot, it will cool off faster. If it cools off too fast in your oven, you'll wind up with runny, curdled mess, not yogurt. If you really really want to make less, I recommend putting it in a small cooler instead of an oven. Or you might just have to babysit your oven a bit more and turn it on here or there throughout the setting process to ensure that your yogurt doesn't get too cool. Anyway, I'd really encourage you to make more simply because yogurt lasts a long time, which leads to...
7. How long does it last? I don't know. Ha. Because it's never gone bad on us and we've kept it in the fridge for upwards of two weeks. I imagine it would last a good month, maybe two, but can't promise that. I will try to do a little experiment next time I make yogurt and set some aside and see how long it takes for it to go bad.

42 comments:

  1. Looks awesome! I can't wait to try it!

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    1. I have made Greek Yogurt using your technique for a month - it always comes out thick and luscious. I have tried 2% and it turns out great. Thank you for an easy, healthy and less expensive way to enjoy Greek Yogurt.

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    2. I'm so glad you like it. I make this several times a month and my family gobbles it up.

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  2. I make full cream yogurt with either half & half or heavy whipping cream, or a mix of the two. You can mix milk and half & half too. I use a yogurt maker, but may use the slow cooker method as our consumption of yogurt has more than quadrupled, since I started,
    If I let it cook for 8 to 9 hours, it will be gelid, thick-ish, so I drain it for a couple of hours.
    If I let it cook for 11 hours, it comes out like custard.
    I add two to three Tsp of sugar to the heated milk before I put in the starter culture, to offset the tartness. The result is thick, like cream cheese, very creamy, and smooth, without any draining. Except for water lost during heating the milk and cream, nothing is lost to whey, so 5 cups of cream or cream and milk, gives me 5 cups of yogurt. Everyone who has tried it, loves it.

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    1. Fascinating. I might try this. Thanks.

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    2. Sounds delicious, but I wonder what the increase calories and fat are?

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    3. Interesting question. Europeans are supposedly much less worried about those things that we are. Per serving, using half and half would probably not up the amounts too awfully much, but yes, it'd definitely be more.

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  3. Mine tasted great but was not smooth...any ideas...

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    1. I wish I knew. Mine has always been smooth. Is there anything that might have curdled it at all? Did it ever get above boiling temps?

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    2. I made this for the first time yesterday, and mine was not smooth either, but it tastes delicious. My milk formed a skin as it cooled down. When I added in my culture (stirred in with some milk) I did not remove the milk skin; I just stirred it in. Now every bite has a piece of rubbery milk skin in it. I thought about straining the milk next time but am afraid it would lose too much heat or spill every where as I clumsily lift my crockpot full of milk. Anyone else have a milk skin problem?

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    3. Mine sometimes develops a skin also. I just skim it off with a slotted spoon and this works pretty well for me. Hope that helps. I should put it in the notes.

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  4. I skimmed off the milk skin a few times as the milk cooled down. Turned out great.

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  5. I've made this 3 or 4 times now. While it tastes great, each time, I get less yogurt & more whey. Today, I think I only got about 4 cups of yogurt from a gallon of whole milk, and I got at least that or more of the whey. I'm wondering if the fact that it's getting warmer out has anything to do with it, as that's the only thing that's different.

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    1. Hmmmm. I have no idea. I wouldn't think that warmer weather would cause that to happen, but I'm not sure. You might try starting with a fresh yogurt culture (so if you've been using a bit of leftover yogurt to make the next batch, you might try buying a new container of plain yogurt as your starter and using that). Otherwise, I'm stumped. Let me know if you discover anything.

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  6. You can use the whey in smoothies or add to soup.

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    1. I've used it in smoothies, but never soup. Will have to try.

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  7. I was wondering if you could use almond milk to make Greek yogurt? Is the processing methodthe same?

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    1. I do not believe you can. At its heart, yogurt is sour milk--milk that has been soured just so that its bacteria is balanced and it thickens into a tangy thick creation. Almond milk would not sour in the same way and so I doubt you could make almond milk yogurt. if you did something it would probably be much different--I'm guessing (totally guessing) that you'd have to use some kind of thickener to get something that is like yogurt in texture, but not really yogurt at the end of the day. Hope that helps.

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  8. I am too inspired from this blog thanks for share this informative blog post with us keep it up for share more information with us.

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  9. VERY helpful..and fun to read. Thank you for posting! :)

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  11. Sorry to be such a dummy, but I don't get the straining part. Wouldn't you need to do it in the fridge if it takes hours?

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    1. I agree with jodyk2. Historically, making yogurt is just a way to preserve your milk. In essence, it is spoiled milk--granted it's been spoiled in a very controlled environment--one in which the good bacterias have been allowed to grow and not the bad. At any rate, I always strain mine at room temperature (often for a good long time) and have never ever had any issues. Once I even forgot about my yogurt in the oven until the next morning (so it'd been there for two days) and then I strained it. Still fine. It's a very hardy food in that way. I would say the only danger is that you wouldn't want to cross contaminate it. So if you were preparing meat or something, you would want your yogurt well away from anything like that that might also be on your counter. Hope this helps.

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  12. You can do it in the fridge if you want to, like if you're going to be gone for a long time. But seeing as yogurt is basically spoiled milk, it's not necessary. I've done it both ways with no problems. Keep in mind that it's just been sitting in your oven with neither heat nor refrigeration. I think that here in the U.S., people are overly concerned with spoilage when there's no need to be.

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  14. Love this recipe. I make it with 2% milk about every 2-3 weeks. We live in Central America and milk costs almost $5 per gallon and yogurt much more, so I still save money! I also like mine thick, but get nearly 64 ounces with every batch.

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  16. After making this yogurt for about a year and a half now, I've finally got it more or less perfected. I use one of those thermometers that you leave inside meat or whatever and set the temperature for 181*, which seems to work best for me. I cool it to 110* before adding the starter yogurt (I usually use commercial yogurt, but will use the "old" yogurt that I previously made if the commercial yogurt wasn't available.) I've also found that, for whatever reason, it is imperative to have 2 towels over the crockpot, one horizontally & one vertically; when I haven't done that, it hasn't set right. And it also ferments best if I leave it for at least 12 hours.

    When I "Greek" (i.e., strain) it, I've found it's much thicker if I let this happen in the fridge.

    I've also been working with making ricotta from the whey. I seem to get the best ratio of whey/yogurt if I use 2% milkfat milk -- enough to make both (for me, anyhow -- I'm just one person, after all). I put the whey in a pot with ye olde thermometer set for 180*, try to remember to add salt & maybe a bit of lemon juice or vinegar (I usually forget that part, though) let it sit for at least 15 minutes after it reaches that temperature & then strain it through cheesecloth again. I actually hang the cheesecloth from the faucet for a while & then squeeze out the excess liquid. I usually get about a baseball size ball of ricotta, which I tend to use in place of feta.

    I have now become a yogurt snob and pretty much can't stand commercial yogurt now!

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    1. Yeah for yogurt snobbery, and I totally know how you feel. Thank you for the tips!

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  17. Never throw away the whey! If nothing else, dilute it 50/50 and use it to water your plants. Most acid-loving plants (like tomatoes) love it! Hydrangeas that have turned pink will become a pleasant blue if fed enough whey water.

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  18. Do you take the crock part out of the metal to fill down?

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    1. I'm not sure I understand your question. I do take the crock out when I put it in the oven to set. Is that what you meant?

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  19. So, I did everything as you instructed, but after 15 hours in the oven, it had not thickened at all. The yogurt I put in had sunk to the bottom. Maybe it wasn't warm enough? Our kitchen is around 50 degrees (no heat in there), so maybe I should turn the oven on for a minute every hour or so next time? I really want this to work! Help?

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    1. Yes. My guess is that with it that cold in the kitchen, it just wasn't warm enough in the oven. I would turn the heat on to low for one minute every hour or so. Just be sure to set a timer, or you might forget and leave the heat on and then it won't work either.

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