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Misadventures in Yogurt Making (Or, How Not to Make Yogurt)

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 16:14:41 PM PDT

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I found instructions for making yogurt and decided to give it a try. After all, I had a bunch of milk that I really only use in coffee and I was running out of my yogurt. Perfect time to try it! Well... in my attempt to be Barbara Kingsolver, I ended up more like Bridget Jones. Photos of my misadventures are below.
Jill Richardson :: Misadventures in Yogurt Making (Or, How Not to Make Yogurt)
Step 1 was easy: Milk. I got the milk out of the fridge and put it in a pot. One admission here? The recipe called for whole milk, and this was whole milk (non-homogenized), but I scooped out the cream and gave it to the cats. I suppose that makes it skim milk now.

Step 2, add a thermometer and heat the milk to 165F degrees. This kills anything that might have been living in the milk. I stirred constantly to keep the temperature consistent throughout the milk and to avoid allowing it to boil.

Then bring the temp down to 110F. This took a while. Go surf the internet and check it every 5-10 minutes. Then add yogurt. The recipe said 1 cup for every half gallon of milk. I estimated that I needed maybe 1/3 cup or so.

Then I covered it (as instructed) and left it in the oven (turned off) overnight.

When I woke up, I was so excited to see my yogurt! And... it was lumpy and had yellowy stuff floating on top. It was disgusting. I think I just ruined a bunch of good milk and good yogurt for no good reason.

Maybe straining it with cheesecloth would help? I got some cheesecloth and tied it around a bowl with string and poured the yogurt on top.

...And it all strained through into the bowl. Mostly.

So I guess this is it. My final product. Great.

It didn't even make that much!

I decided to give my yogurt connoisseurs a taste to see if they knew anything I didn't. Cat #1 meowed with joy that she was getting a treat, took a sniff, backed away, and stared at me.

Cat #2... too a sniff, then decided the cardboard from the cheesecloth was better than the yogurt.

And Cat #3? She didn't even want to go take a sniff at it.

What to do next? Well... Maybe I can use it in a smoothie?

Mmm. That worked. 1 ripe banana, "yogurt," a cup of frozen blueberries, and some maple syrup. Delicious. I hope this doesn't kill me.

From now on, I'm buying yogurt from the store.

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I'm guessing the problem was the base yogurt (4.00 / 4)
you used as a culture; it might have been invaded by foreign agents.

As far as strainging, I strain yogurt all the time. The stuff left in the cloth is cream cheese (with a distinct yogurt tang,) and the stuff in the bowl is whey. I do this for the whey. I use a few tablespoons in the water I use to soak grains in for bread; I use a few tablespoons in bean soaking water, etc. Helps break down the complex carbs and proteins in the grains, resulting in loftier bread, easier-to-digest beans. It does much of the work up front, so that my stomach doesn't have to.

The other problem may have been your oven temp.; lactobacilli (the bacteria that turns milk into yogurt) likes the same temperatures as are found in your body -- that's why they thrive in your stomach -- about 100-degrees F.

Does your oven have a pilot light? Mine's electric, but it's got a proofing setting that works well. Also, a toaster oven with a 100-deg. setting is good, since it's smaller and uses less electricity. The other option is just to leave the yogurt longer; the lactobacilli will do their work, they just need more time.

Next time, make sure you start with a very fresh yogurt for your starter culture.

And I just love the pooties!

I agree (4.00 / 5)
Most likely the base yogurt. Whenever I buy yogurt I try to get the furthermost forward expiration date, a habit I got into when I used to make it and had to get starter.  One time I tried to make yogurt from a starter that was past its expiration date, and got something like you did.

Once you get your own batch going and if you eat a fair amount of it, you can use starter from one batch to make another.

And the pilot light is a definite plus.  Just putting it the oven alone may not keep it warm enough.  In Turkey they cook it on the back of the stove in little pots. As I remember from my yogurt making days (over 35 years ago, actually) I had a gas stove with a pilot light and I think preheated the oven to about 160F, then put the yogurt in in a bowl in the oven starting at a cooler temperature and it would warm up to the right temperature and do its thing overnight.

[ Parent ]
One other idea -- is the milk ultra pastureized? (4.00 / 3)
Because that changes it, somehow, and I know it won't work for cheese, perhaps it won't work well for yogurt either.

Should she have retained the cream? (4.00 / 3)
I haven't read my instructions for awhile, but I'm pretty sure it said the fatter the milk the better and suggested powdered milk if using less than whole milk. I use a creamline milk for my yogurt (extra cream not skimmed by the dairy, YUM!) and have no problems. I sometimes start with a dry starter, and then batches after, my yogurt as I'm so not trusting of "store" stuff anymore. I could pick up the yogurt at the farmers market from the same dairy who's milk I use come to think of it, lol!~

[ Parent ]
I don't know. (4.00 / 3)
I just use whole milk, but my son prefers lowfat.

[ Parent ]
I made yogurt a few weeks back (4.00 / 5)
with ultra pasteurized whole organic milk (OV), a couple of teaspoons of Brown Cow plain yogurt, and a Salton yogurt maker, which is just a glorified heater.

I mixed it up and let it set for about 12 hours and it made quite serviceable yogurt. No yellow stuff.

It's cheese that's the problem with high-temp pasteurized milk; the proteins get broken down. Also isn't 165 too high for low-temp? I thought 165 is high-temp. I'd have to check back but I think you're supposed to heat the milk to about 145 or somewhere along those lines when you make yogurt out of low-temp pasteurized milk.

"If God were to appear to starving people, he would not dare to appear in any other form than food." - Mahatma Gandhi

[ Parent ]
Thanks, good to know. (4.00 / 4)
I wasn't sure.

[ Parent ]
My usual method (4.00 / 6)
is to heat the milk to 180 degrees - it's foaming, at this temp. Then I cool it to 110-115, mix in the live yogurt, and then put it into my yogurt maker and maintain temp for 6-8 hours. When I used to do it in the oven, I'd heat the oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off, and put the pan/bowl/whatever in the oven, covered and wrapped in a towel to help hold in the heat, and leave it for 8 hours or so.

If you use room temperature milk, or don't heat to boiling/foaming stage, you will get much more liquid yogurt as an end product.

We are about to make another batch of yogurt, as we are nearly out.

[ Parent ]
aha! (4.00 / 7)
the turning on the oven to 200 and then turning it off. That's what I missed.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Happy to be of assistance (4.00 / 4)
Let us know how the next batch works out, k? I also do the oven trick when I am proofing bread dough. It keeps drafts out and helps maintain the temperature so my breads rise nicely.

[ Parent ]
Lol... (4.00 / 5)
Sorry, not laughing at the outcome - just the way you wrote it up...



Yeah, me too...roflmao (4.00 / 3)
Very funny post & great pics.

I noticed that a couple of commenters mentioned yogurt makers...and back in college when my lover & I used to make it we had one.  They aren't strictly necessary, but they sure do simplify the process.  

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. -- Calvin Trillin

[ Parent ]
simple is good (4.00 / 3)
i have a yogurt maker...Salton. works a treat, never misses.
but i've never heated the milk. i let it get room temp then add starter & pour it up into the jars. 12 hrs later i have yogurt.
i like brown cow yogurt for starter best.

come firefly-dreaming with me....

[ Parent ]
oh, and I like the shot (4.00 / 6)
of the cat lying by the mail...looking like the mail is some kind of imposition, like "Why is this here? You can't even make yogurt right for me and now you insult my presence with this mail??"

"If God were to appear to starving people, he would not dare to appear in any other form than food." - Mahatma Gandhi

more yogurt advice (4.00 / 2)
looks like you've gotten most of the advice i would have given... i follow the procedure in here pretty closely:

it's very precise and clean.  i figure start with that and then you can figure out a routine that works for you with maybe a little more wiggle room.  he recommends you start with an unopened container of milk and yogurt, and that you sterilize your jars.  i do a half gallon of milk at a time and pour into a couple quart wide-mouth mason jars plus a half cup into a small mason jar for the starter for the next batch to stay untouched.  i wrote "starter" on the lid for the little jar so my husband will remember not to open it and eat it ;)

his directions say to keep it warm in a cooler of warm water.  not having a cooler, i put it in the oven, pre-heated to 170 (my lowest setting) and then turned off once i put the yogurt in.  i have a pizza stone in my oven that helps retain heat... also i'll put leftover hot water from boiling the jars to sterilize them into another mason jar to snuggle in with the yogurt jars to keep them warmer.  i put the jars all upright, with the metal lids on, and jars touching each other - with the little starter jar in the middle since it will lose heat faster than the bigger jars.  they incubate over night in the oven, then in the morning i put them in the fridge to firm up a bit more and keep there.

one of my favorite things about making yogurt - using milk from a local dairy in a glass jar as you seem to have - so little waste packaging required for your yogurt!!  unfortunately i can't get organic milk in glass in my area, though.

I've finally figured out how to make yogurt reliably. (4.00 / 2)
I make a quart of yogurt every week now, I'm happy to say.  It really is much more the method -- specifically the temperatures -- than anything else.

Since reading the yogurt section in the new edition of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, I've had almost no dud batches (more on the one dud in a minute).  Remember that yogurt is an ancient food -- it's been around a lot longer than the idea of, say, sterilization.  

I do take some liberties with McGee's method, but my method has been really reliable.  

Here's what I do.

1 sm. container plain Brown Cow yogurt
1 sm. container plain Fage (Greek) yogurt, either 2% or whole milk
1 qt. 1% milk -- organic or not

1 saucepan
1 kitchen thermometer
1 medium mixing bowl, rinsed in hot water and dried with a paper towel
1 whisk, rinsed in hot water
1 fine-mesh strainer, rinsed in hot water
an oven with a pilot light, OR
an oven with a light bulb you can change -- change it to a 60 watt bulb to generate more heat
NOTE:  the oven temperature should be about 104 degrees.  If it's much hotter, the yogurt will have a nasty, grainy, watery texture.

Pour the milk into the saucepan and scald it, bringing it to 195 degrees.  Take it off the heat right away after it hits that temperature.  The heat actually denatures the proteins or something (you can read the McGee on this).  You could also bring the milk to just 185 degrees, but you'd have to keep it there for 30 minutes in order to get the same denaturing of the proteins.  I say just go with the 195 degree method.  Keep the thermometer in the milk while it cools.

Meanwhile, empty both containers of store-bought yogurt into the bowl and whisk them together.

When the milk cools to the 107 - 112 degree range,  pour it through the prepared strainer into the store-bought yogurt mixture, whisking as you go.  No need to be overzealous with the whisking -- just be sure it's well-blended.

Cover the top of the bowl with a cloth and put it in the oven.  Check it in about 5 hours.  It should have a jelly-like consistency.  It will thicken as it cools, but it should look pretty convincingly like a bowlful of store-bought yogurt.  If it still looks runny, give it another couple of hours.  I've gone as long as 10 hours without the texture breaking down.

If I start this in the afternoon and take the yogurt out near bedtime, I'll often just leave it out at room temperature overnight -- it seems to get a little thicker when I do this.  Otherwise, I just put it into the fridge.

The one dud batch I made after reading the McGee was caused by the VERY slight residue left by the antibacterial dishsoap we'd been using.  That antibacterial stuff lingers, and it really does keep the good bacteria from colonizing the milk, so the yogurt never "yoges".  We no longer have any antibacterial anything in the house, BTW.  

The only reason I use the Brown Cow and the Fage yogurts is that I like the tang of the bacteria in the former and the sweetness of the bacteria in the latter (see the labels for the specific varieties of bacteria).  I've made perfectly fine yogurt using all of one or all of the other, or two containers of random live-culture plain yogurt.  Also, the fat content of the products here is strictly my preference.  I've done all whole milk everything, and it's delicious -- just a bit rich for a small person like me to be eating by the quart ;)

Here's a link to the section of the McGee book I mentioned.  This is the actual text of the yogurt section (from a book-content search):

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