Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making Yogurt in the Crock Pot!

Okay, I had to try it again.  I have had three 'iffy' and one totally failed try at making yogurt.  What a pain in the caboose! BUT!  In the deep recesses of my teeny brain, I remembered reading that you could make yogurt in your slow cooker without all the hassle.  Here's the recipe that I followed at Stephanie's blog, A Year of Slow Cooking:

http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html
Take the time to read the comments.  I added powdered milk because that's what I had around here and I think that helped me to have better than usual results.

My results?  Ta-dah!  Yogurt!  Almost.  It's in the frig now, and although it looks like yogurt, tastes like really fresh yogurt, it's still on the runny side, but just a bit.  Maybe after it chills for a bit, it will be a little firmer, so I'll update this result later.  But hey!  It just tastes so good that I keep going back to the frig and getting another spoonful.  I have a pile of spoons in the sink now, I should just fill up a bowl and chow down!

I crunched my own numbers on the cost of my homemade yogurt:
24 oz tub of cheapest yogurt at our local store - $2.66, making it $5.50 for a half gallon (64 oz).
64 oz of 2% milk - $1.65, $0.05 worth of electricity, and maybe $0.10 worth of powdered milk = $1.80 for a half gallon of the absolutely most fresh, yummy tasting yogurt ever!  And so easy!

If you have a hankering for some cream cheese on a bagel, you can plop some of the yogurt into a strainer lined with a double layer of cheese cloth or a paper coffee filter.  Cover it, put it over a bowl in the frig and let it drain for several hours.  But most of the time I just take one of Bill's clean hankerchiefs, soak it in some bleach water for a few minutes, rinse well again and let it dry.  I've even used it wet, just squeezed out as much moisture out as I could. Using my colander, there's always enough to fold back over the yogurt and then I can put a saucer on the top.  The added weight helps it drain a little faster.  So does putting a can of green beans on top of the saucer for a weight.  No, don't open the can.  :o)  Use more yogurt than what you want to have for cream cheese.  It shrinks down a lot after the whey drains out.
My slow cookers are ancient, even my newer one is pretty old.  I have a hunch that the newer ones run a bit hotter and are probably better insulated, so if yours isn't 20 years old, you might have perfect results.
But while you are there checking out the recipe, hang around and do some reading at Stephanie's blog.  Her humor, style of writing and recipes - good and failed ones - make it a good read.
Later:  It's still pretty runny!  Tastes really good, though.  I put mine over pineapple tidbits and made Bill the banana cream smoothie.  Both of us were happy.  I honestly think it's my ancient slow cooker that's not keeping it warm enough as it sits, even with the towels around it. 

I did find a great blog that lists several ways of making yogurt  - http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/recipes-with-yogurt/more-than-six-ways-to-incubate-yogurt-without-a-yogurt-maker

Added 8-14:  I finally got it tweaked for the results I wanted.  I use my big slow cooker, about 3/4 gallon of milk and let it heat on low for about 5 hours.  I give it a stir every once in a while, at least once an hour.  Let it cool for a couple hours, whisk in the yogurt starter and ladel into jars & lid.  The only cooler that I currently have available is a big round one, so three quart jars fit perfectly.  I have my ancient heating pad on medium heat at the bottom, put a trivet on top of that, then sit the jars on top of the trivet.  You could use a pot holder, too.  I then wrap a couple of old towels around the top and set the lid of the cooler back on the top of that.  6 hours later, it's setting up and not too tangy for me.  The longer it's in the cooler, the more tangy it will be.  I let it go 12 - 14 hours one time.  Talk about TWANG!  I ended up draining some of the whey off of it and adding fresh milk so I could eat it without cringing.

I no longer add the dry milk.  It also suddenly dawned on me that since I was using more milk in the slow cooker, I'd have to let it heat longer.  Duh.  So I let it get good and steamy, then proceed.

Added 11-17-11:   I have made changes throughout the months and finally got something that works the best for nice and thick yogurt.  Now I make a gallon at a time in my heavy bottom pot.  I have the heat set at medium, and give it a stir every so often until it starts getting pretty warm.  Then I lower the heat a bit, and stir constantly until it's really hot.  If a little spoonful of milk almost scalds my tongue, it's hot enough!  Then I lower the heat a bit more to the 'simmer' setting on my stove and stir constantly for 20 minutes.  Maybe that's overkill, but I'm alway afraid that I'll scald the milk.
At the end of the 20 minutes, I move the pan off the heat and let it cool for about 1-1/2 hours.  It will still be pretty hot. Stir in the starter, jar and lid.
My old heating pad bit the dust and the new one doesn't get hot enough to incubate the yogurt.  I pre-warm a big cooler by placing a bowl of hot water into it while the milk is cooling.  I have enough room to put all the jars around the bowl.  I put fresh hot water into the bowl, back into the cooler and shut the lid.  A couple hours later, I change the water again.
4-1/2 to 5-1/2 hours later (when I remember it), I take the jars out and put them all into the frig.  The next day it's really thick yogurt, not too twangy, no draining whey.  Yes!  It makes the sheer boredom of standing there stirring the pot for-e-ver worth every minute of it.  Your yogurt will keep 2 to 3 weeks in the frig.  Don't forget to take some out of that first jar for your starter for the next batch.  You can freeze it if you want to.

I didn't have good luck trying to incubate it in the oven.  My oven light wasn't warm enough to keep the temperature up.  I also don't have an oven thermometer that goes down that low, so it was a constant guess.  It's a guess in the cooler too, but the hot water keeps it warm enough.  The heating pad was definitely hotter, but it still worked.

This site truly has all the basic info you need, plain and simple:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/nchfp/factsheets/yogurt.html