Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Years ago, my mother-in-law, the mother of all great-garage-sale-finders, showed up at my door with a yogurt maker. I was excited because I have fond memories of my mother making homemade yogurt in her pale yellow yogurt maker when I was a little girl. It was a simple treat yet I used to get so excited when she'd make it. Yet for some reason, I slid the yogurt maker my mother-in-law bought me on a shelf in my cabinet and promptly forgot about it.
My friend Melissa had seen the yogurt maker before I stored it away and was very interested in how it worked. She'd ask me periodically if I'd used and I'd say, "No, but I'm going to soon!" A couple of years later, as a joke I pulled the yogurt maker out from my cabinet, wrapped it up, and gave it to Melissa for her birthday. She laughed but was excited to make her own yogurt. Yet for some reason, she slid the yogurt maker on a shelf in her cabinet and promptly forgot about it.
Last year on my birthday, Melissa came bearing a present. Anyone want to guess what it was? Yes, it was the yogurt maker. No, she'd never used it! We got a good laugh out of it and I . . . slid the yogurt maker on a shelf in my cabinet and promptly forgot about it!
I used to eat a lot of yogurt but since I had Caelan, I haven't cared for it. I thought I had just tired of it. I didn't like the consistency of it anymore. Didn't like the flavor. Until it started getting so expensive, I bought it regularly for the boys. As it approached 75 cents for one of those small containers and the containers began to shrink in size, I stopped. Most of it is loaded with carbohydrates and if you have to put crumbled up Oreos or candy in it (thanks a lot, Breyers,) is it really a healthy snack?
I recently discovered Greek yogurt. Curiosity got the best of me so I bought some. And was taken back to what yogurt was like when I was a kid! This stuff is thick, not runny. It's tart (like plain yogurt but missing the slimy texture), not sweet. I remember having to stir the fruit from the bottom of the cup into the yogurt and how the yogurt was tart with an occasional chunk of sweet fruit. If I stirred a teaspoon of strawberry preserves into this Greek yogurt, I found I really do still like yogurt. I just don't like what yogurt makers have done to yogurt.
Last week I got out my yogurt maker, determined to use it. I found it had a spoon in it with a thermometer built into the handle. Instead of temperatures, there was simply an "add starter" range. My grampy taught me as a young girl that "idiot lights" (the indicator lights for engine trouble and such) on cars are really worthless. You can simply either drive or stop if they come on. And they can easily malfunction. You need real gauges to help you make decisions. I feel the same way about cooking. I want to have as much control over the whatever I spend my time on in the kitchen as I can to allow for a better chance of success.
I got out the owner's manual for the yogurt maker to see what temperatures the milk needed to be at various stages so I could rely on my candy thermometer. It simply said to bring the milk to a boil, cool it to the "add starter" range on the spoon/thermometer, and add the starter.
I Googled "homemade yogurt" and found what I was looking for. I also discovered that you don't need a yogurt maker! All you need is a heating pad. As Forrest Gump says, "That's one less thing." So I decided to make a batch using the yogurt maker and a batch using my heating pad. If the heating pad worked as well, I planned to get rid of the yogurt maker.
I also discovered 2 other things from my Google search. First, if you bring your milk to a boil, it lowers the quality of the yogurt. Second, the "add starter" range on the spoon/thermometer was too high which also lowers the quality of the yogurt.
To get started, I measured out 1/2 gallon (2 quarts) of 2% milk and poured them into a pan.
Using a sterilized pan and utensils, I heated the milk to 185 degrees, stirring constantly and monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer. 185 degrees is the stage when milk gets frothy. I found a site that recommended using a double boiler to prevent burning the milk. I just stirred constantly and didn't have a problem. (If you've been around here long enough, you may remember I do not polish my copper pans regularly, nor do I polish them irregularly. I decided long ago that I'm a "patina" kind-of-girl.)
When the milk reaches 185 degrees, partially fill your sink with ice water. Not too deep, though!
Set the pan in the water with the thermometer clipped to the side and cool the milk to 110 degrees.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of starter. Apparently you can buy starter from health food stores but since this was an experiment I wasn't sure I would like, I just used store-bought yogurt. This will work just fine as long as it has active yogurt cultures in it. After this, you can use your homemade yogurt as your starter.
Stir the starter in until throughly mixed. Yes, my pan is more full in this photo than the previous photos! This photo is from the heating pad batch. The others are from the yogurt maker batch, which made less.
Place your heating pad on a heat-safe surface. If you're a germophobe like me, place a towel over the heating pad, the pan of milk and starter (covered with a lid) on top of that, and cover the pan with a towel. Germs are similar to cooties. There are secrets ways to stop them from infecting you. If the pan touches the germ on the heating pad, the germ will run up the side of the pan, squeeze between the lid and the lip of the pan and jump into the yogurt but it cannot pass through a permeable towel. This is because the towel has an invisible shield built in that stops germs. The invisible shield completely encases whatever is sitting on the towel. Just be sure when the yogurt is finished, you stomp your foot 3 times and clap your hands to scare the germs away before you remove the pan from the towel.
Turn the heating pad on medium and leave it for 7 hours.
When 7 hours have passed, stir the yogurt vigorously and store it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, you'll have yogurt the way it's supposed to be, thick and creamy with a bit of texture to it.
Next time I plan to leave it on the heating pad longer to achieve a bit thicker consistency.
If you want more detailed instructions or more information on what's happening as the yogurt sits on the heating pad, you can find it on this great website that I used to help me.
Oh, and by the way, the yogurt maker didn't even work when I plugged it into the outlet! I had to throw it away and was glad I'd already decided to try the heating pad method.