Little house in the Green Field

4 Jan

As I mentioned in my first 2012 post a week of intense nothing has reinvigorated my spirit and revved up my desire to play around with projects worthy of Laura Ingalls in the kitchen. Little house in the Green Field; it has a ring to it!

Jennifer Reese’s new book Make the Bread Buy the Butter looks to play no small part in my winter projects.  On the bonus day off that was January 2 I started my adventures by making yogurt.

“It’s SO EASY” purred Reese.

“Piece of CAKE!” I chortled.


It totally failed.

It sounds easy enough.  You start with a half gallon of milk– I of course bought expensive organic milk so we would have lovely organic hormone free yogurt. A dollar more expensive, the yogurt would still be cheaper than dannon–and 1/4 cup of yogurt with live cultures. Remember back in the day when yogurt touted it’s live cultures front and center on the label? Not anymore, the current fad is GREEK.  The live cultures are in there still, but you have to read the tiny print label with your glasses all down on your nose like an old person to make sure.

So you take your fancy scmancy milk, or whatever you get, and heat it to just before boiling, which is 212 degrees for water.  I wasn’t sure if boiling it was a big problem so I was a little paranoid. I put my candy thermometer in the milk and watched it like a hawk.  At about 175 degrees it started making that noise water (or milk) makes before it boils so I took it off the heat.

Pour it into a bowl and let it cool to between 110 and 115 degrees. As with the step before (more on that later) temperature is critical.  It must be warm enough to activate the cultures but not so hot it kills them. Reese suggests, if you do not have a candy thermometer, sticking a clean finger in the milk. When you can hold it in for 10 seconds and it feels warm but not hot, it should be good. I actually tried this at 120 and at 113ish and the difference in temperature is indeed palpable, however  I suggest  spending $3 and buying a candy thermometer.

Once it is at the right temperature, add 1/4 cup of yogurt with live cultures. General consensus seems to be that you add store bought the first time you make it and then after that just keep adding the last bit of what you made previously.  That of course assumes you eat yogurt on a pretty continual basis. We’ll see.

Stir it, then cover it with a damp kitchen towel and leave in a warm spot overnight (or all afternoon/evening in my case).

Look how sexy that is:

The only problem is…it failed. It completely and utterly failed to turn into yogurt. Ugh. So I posted my dismay on facebook and wouldn’t you know it the lovely and talented @twinmamateb came to the rescue!  (Her husband is the man behind 2 amazing Pittsburgh restaurants Toast and Brix btw, so they know something about making good food in that family!)

She makes her yogurt in the crock pot according to these directions, adding 2 TBS of powdered milk and filtering it through a coffee filter to get it thicker.

I also did my own research and found this really helpful guide to homemade yogurt.

Between the two I figured out the critical information to understand why my yogurt failed and how to fix it.

TEMPERATURE is critical.

First: the milk must reach 180 degrees, that is where the proteins begin to break down.

Second: we know that you add the yogurt at 110-115 degrees

Third: you need to keep it warm while it sits.

Not unlike the time I decided to can during a heat wave with broken air conditioner, yesterday I decided to make yogurt on the coldest day of the winter so far…

So last night I proceeded- despite the cold- to try again armed with a lot more understanding of what I was doing.

This time, no expensive milk, if it’s going to fail I’m not wasting that extra dollar.

I added dry milk powder (which I happened to have.)

…See my keys on the counter? I literally threw this into the crockpot before I took off my coat after work.

The crock pot instructions are to heat for 2 1/2 hours, unplug and let sit for 3 hours, add yogurt, let sit some more.  Really, you just need to get it up to the magic 180+ degrees and back down to 110-115 degrees.  Some comments on the crock pot post said they started it on the stove. That would be faster and I might try it in the future but last night I was busy making dinner and helping the kid with her homework so letting it sit for 2 hours was perfect.

Once it came up to temperature I removed the crock from the pot and moved it to a drafty spot to cool to 113 degrees then added my starter…

The non crock pot method sits the bowl on top of a heating pad. The crock pot method swaddles the unplugged pot in towels.  My heating pad is new (after the dog ate the old one!) so I didn’t want to risk spilling milk on it.

I swaddled my crock pot, turned it back on to low for about 5 minutes, and put my empty dehydrator next to it on 165 degrees. Why? It’s freaking freezing out and my kitchen has no direct heat. I wanted to make sure the yogurt had enough heat to properly culture. You don’t need to do this. In fact, I think the trick is to make sure it is warm, in whatever way works for you, your kitchen and the season.

So I let that sit overnight and awoke with Christmas morning-like anticipation. I leaped out of bed and ran downstairs (really it was more of a groan and a reluctant amble) to find…


It totally worked!

Tonight after work I’ll drain it to get it more along the consistency of Greek yogurt (I’ll save the whey for baking) and flavor half of it for Riley to eat (vanilla) and leave half plain for cooking.

I’m so very excited I don’t have to pay $4 for a pint of Greek yogurt and another $3ish for a pint of vanilla yogurt every week anymore!

And it’s homemade! FTMFW.


4 Responses to “Little house in the Green Field”

  1. TwinMamaTeb January 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    aw, thanks for the credit, but Paul is not the Chef (that would be Chet Garland)…hubs is the front of the house/sommelier/shmoozer/allthings paperwork guy.

    • Jennifer England January 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

      I’ll fix that. Regardless, lovely restaurants everyone should patronize!

  2. laura January 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    if you like you can soak grains in the whey that’s leftover after straining for enzyme boost–good post on the whys and hows of yogurt making

    • Jennifer England January 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

      Thanks for the tip! I’ll try it. I was thinking about using it to bake bread, but I like this idea better.

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