I’m not gonna lie I feel sort of like an expert on Greek Yogurt , not because I’m the best at making it but I am Greek and my Yiayia has been making it for me and I have been eating it from the time I was little.
There are a million different methods you can use to make your own and most of them work most of the time. But my Yiayia’s is super simple, requires no special equipment, and always turns out perfectly.
My history in yogurt making hasn’t been quite as successful. When I was learning it seemed like every website I looked at guaranteed success every time. And that was just not my experience.
So I’m just going to go ahead and say this, for every three or four times my yogurt comes out To Die For Perfect, there is a time in between when it comes out too runny or just doesn’t set right. I know I’m not alone in this and so if you are like me and your first attempt doesn’t turn out or your first three attempts are perfect so you decide to do a big batch for when family is coming into town and it is an utter flop, know you aren’t alone. This is both a science and an art and it takes some practice to get just right.
So with that out of the way I’ll say that my most recent method has been the most consistently successful one that I’ve tried. I think it is a good place to start and will likely give you success most if not all of the time.
The process is simple. First you heat milk to break down the proteins, then cool it so you don’t bur your culture. Next add the culture and incubate it at a temperature where the culture are active. The culture does the work for you. Once it is done, cool and strain off the whey to make a nice thick Greek Yogurt.
Okay so let’s get down to it.
You will need:
1. Milk. I’d go with whole milk (not only does it make a better tasting yogurt, but all of the new research is showing that all of our low fat dieting has done us no good, we can go into the details of this somewhere else, but if you have a little half and half go ahead and mix that in too). I usually make about a half gallon at a time but the volume is pretty flexible, you can easily make up to a gallon at once. You will strain off some liquid so your final volume will be less than your starting volume of milk.
2. Yogurt starter. You can buy a starter culture, or just use plain yogurt from the grocery that has live active cultures. The cultures vary a bit between brands so pick one you like and your yogurt is more likely to come out tasting like that one.
Use about a half a cup of yogurt per half a gallon of milk. You can increase or decrease your amount as long as you maintain that general proportion. No need to measure.
3. Sauce pan for heating milk. You can use a double boiler to prevent scalding at the bottom of your pan. Personally I don’t like dealing with an extra pan of hot water in my small kitchen. I’d rather spend 10 minutes at the stove stirring to prevent scalding. You can do it either way.
4. Thermometer. This is optional, I used to go without it but after a few failed batches here and there I use one now. My Yiayia does it without one and hers is perfect every time so I don’t know that the thermometer is what makes the difference. Try it either way.
I use a long meat thermometer, (like for cooking turkeys) because I can leave it in and check the temperature while it is incubating, for warming the milk a candy thermometer would actually work better.
5. Heating pad or some other method for incubation. There are a million ways you can do this. Your goal is to hold your milk between 109-115 degrees for several hours to let the culture do its thing.
I have tried a bunch of different methods. Here is a quick overview
– Wrap it in a heating pad set to high and cover with towels. This is my favorite and most reliable method.
– Wrap it in a towel and place in a warm spot in the house. This is all my Yiayia does and hers always turns out. I’ve had trouble keeping mine warm enough this way.
– Place it in a cooler along with some jars filled with hot water.
– Warm oven to 200 degrees then shut off and place yogurt in there.
Or place in the oven, wrapped in a towel, with just the oven light on for extra warmth.
After a few close calls with either accidentally baking my yogurt or almost lighting the towel on fire because I forgot it was in there and started preheating the oven for something else, I strictly avoid any method that has to do with the oven.
– Pour it in a thermos
– Use a warmed crock pot.
All of these will work as long as you are able to keep the temperature in the desired range for several hours. Do what makes the most sense to you.
6. Fine strainer. You can use a store bought one or make your own from a tee shirt and rubber band stretched over a jar or just line a colander with a cheese cloth.
Okay so now that you have your supplies let’s go through the steps again.
1. Warm the milk. Use a plain old sauce pan (or double boiler, see above discussion), until milk reaches 185 degrees, or if you are not using a thermometer, until it is just on the verge of a low boil but isn’t actually boiling. Keep at this temperature for about 5 minutes. If not using a double boiler, stir to keep from scalding.
2. Cool milk. Your goal is to introduce your culture at about 110 degrees. You can either make an ice water bath in the sink and stick the base of your pan in there or just wait and stir occassionally. For me the ice water would often cool mine too fast and I would miss the temperature range I was aiming for and have to heat it back up again. Now I just wait for it to cool, I stir and check the temperature occasionally.
If you aren’t using a thermometer this is the temperature where you can put your finger in for a full 10 seconds and not get burned but at 10 seconds will start to feel too hot and need to remove your finger.
Keep in mind that waiting for your milk to warm and then to cool can be time consuming especially if you are doing a large batch. Give yourself plenty of time.
3. Once you get to the right temperature remove one cup of warm milk. You don’t have to measure this, just use a large mug or a measuring cup and scoop some out. Take this and mix it with the yogurt you are using for your culture. This is “activating” your culture.
4. Stir the yogurt and warm milk mixture back into your pot of milk.
5. Incubate your milk. I use a heating pad and towels, see discussion above for more options. Don’t shake or stir especially during the first few hours, the yogurt needs to set
6. Incubate for about 6 hours. You can check it after four hours or so, if it is still milky leave it longer. It will get more acidic the longer it sits so you can taste it and decide if it tastes done or not. When done it should be firm and congealed and you should notice some separation between the yogurt and the cloudy watery whey.
I have found the time that it takes to incubate can be really variable. As I was getting ready to write this I checked my most recent batch and after 6 hours it was still milk. I was disappointed but decided to let it set longer, after 12 hours it finally set and turned out great.
7. Remove from incubation and stick in the fridge until cooled.
8. Strain. this will give you the thick Greek Yogurt texture.
It is normal for the yogurt to separate from the watery whey liquid. For thick yogurt you will want to strain as much of this liquid off as possible. I use a fine strainer which isn’t large enough to do all my yogurt at once. So in batches I fill the strainer and set it over a large measuring cup. Don’t stir it or anything just let it sit for a few hours 2-3 hours (if you are patient enough to wait that long, mine is usually 1-2 hours), preferably in the fridge. You will get about 4 cups strained off of about a half gallon of milk.
10. Whip. This is optional but gives a lovely texture. Remove the yogurt from the strainer and place in the bowel of a mixer and whip until texture is smooth and creamy. You could also just whisk by hand or skip this step all together and just place in a container and stick back in the fridge.
11. Use your whey. The whey will be a little sour but it can still be used to soak grains, frozen into cubes and used in smoothies, or to replace water for baking bread. If I really can’t find a use for all mine I’ll at least feed the left over to our dog who loves it.
12. Serve. I always make plain yogurt and usually top with honey and granola. If you want to do flavors I’d wait until the end after your yogurt is strained to add some crushed fruit or vanilla and honey or whatever else you would like. Not only is this a great breakfast food or mid-day snack but is great in smoothies, sauces and dips.
Enjoy! And feel free to comment with questions or tips.