Tuesday, March 3, 2009


(Or: Adventures With Bacteria!)

Dear Friends,

You are all idiots. Or at least that's what I'm going to tell myself for the purposes of the first part of this post, because it's going to be a pictorial, step-by-step guide to making your very own homemade yogurt, and the only reason anyone would need such a guide is if he or she were an idiot, because it is JUST THAT STINKING EASY, PEOPLE. But humor me.

First. Obtain a crock pot. Place into said crock pot a half-gallon (two quarts, four pints, eight cups) of milk. Any kind you like. Go ahead.

Shout-out to my college dorm neighbor, Jenn, who got two of these as wedding presents and gave me one! Thanks, Jenn!

Turn your crock pot to low. I will demonstrate:

Yet another of my needlessly complicated culinary techniques. Tony Bourdain's got nothin' on me.

Got it? OK. Now, let the milk heat on low for three hours. Then unplug the crock pot.

Sigh... this was so hard, you guys. Maybe it's too difficult for you?

Clear enough? Great. Now, let the milk slowly cool for about three MORE hours.

Now obtain a half-cup of powdered milk. This is not strictly necessary, but it makes the yogurt thicker. And thick is good.

Shut up, I am fully aware that this is a 1/4 cup measure. My half cup was in the dishwasher. So sue me.

A teeny-tiny six-ounce cup of plain, unflavored yogurt, your favorite variety. I happen to luuurve this here Brown Cow cream top kind. It's so delicious it makes my eyes roll back in my head.

I doooooo, cherish yoooooooou...

And stir them together in a bowl with some of the milk from the crock pot, thusly:

Isn't my disgustingly stained rubber spatula... well... disgusting? I blame Indian food. Curse you, turmeric!!

Now. Here comes the tough part. Pour the yogurt mixture back into the milk, and stir it gently. Wrap your crock pot in a great big bath towel (or two, if your house gets really cold at night).

Cozy! (And boy, the edge of that counter's pretty over-exposed, isn't it? Hello, white balance!)

And walk away. That's right. Just walk away. Pretend that crock pot doesn't exist for the next twelve hours, or even the next eighteen hours. And then the next day, unwrap that lovely present, take the lid off, and squeal like a little girl, because you just made homemade yogurt. Put in mason jars or your old yogurt containers, refrigerate, and use within a week.

Ah, hippie-tacular. Homemade yogurt, represent! Woo-wooo!!

Now, for the non-dairy portion of this post. Check out THIS super-simple recipe for homemade almond milk.

"Homemade almond milk, Laura?"
you might ask. "I thought almond milk was for, like, weirdo hippie vegans from 1968 who never shave their pits!"

Well, at one time, my friend, I felt the same way that you do. Also, ew.

But I couldn't have been more wrong! You know who almond milk is for? It is for ME, you guys. This stuff is crazy good heated up with a smidge of honey, poured over cereal, as ice cream... mmmmmm.... it's so rich and almondy and creamy, and honestly, how did I ever get to be twenty *mumble mumble* years old without ever tasting this stuff?? It's rockin. PLUS, the ground almonds left over from the almond-milk-making process... well, I'm dreaming of almond macaroons, or some sort of crispy tuile, or a fruit tart with an almond crust? YES!

Now, friends, go and be fruitful and multiply (good) bacteria!


The Santos Family said...

You know... even though I like yogurt (I've also been hitting up some Brown Cow lately), my skin crawls thinking about letting milk sit out for 12-18hrs... I know, I know... What do I think yogurt, cheese, etc., is, right? Well...I don't SEE it being made. ;) hehe... Not sure if I'll brave this one but thanks for sharing! ;)

Laura's Mom said...

Isn't there a step between "stir them together in a bowl" and "wrap your crock pot in a great big bath towel"? Something like "put the milk and yogurt BACK into the crock pot" or some such step?

otherwise, I'm all good.

Laura said...

Mom, duly edited to reflect the necessity of putting milk and yogurt back into crock pot.

Terra... you are so funny! I thought of exactly that yesterday as I was pondering this whole process. I think we've been told so many times by manufacturers and factory farmers, "Our product is safe! You'll probably kill someone if you try it at home! Food poisoning! AAAAHHHH!!" that we just have no confidence even to give it a shot. I feel ya.

BUT... ;)

I had some of this stuff for breakfast this morning and it was delicious, creamy and rich... It's definitely going to be made again and again.

Besides which, I got to thinking about how often things get recalled in the factory farming/mass production system, for causing horrifying and sometimes deadly illness. And having grown up around feed lots and factory farms, I can tell you that not being able to see how something is made does NOT inspire my confidence!! :)

If you want a (semi-) scientific explanation of why this is safe, it's because:

a) you've killed a lot of the bad bacteria by heating the milk.
b) the good bacteria in the starter yogurt are stronger than the bad
c) the good bacteria overwhelm the bad bacteria in the yogurt-ifying process, as it sits. So all you're left with is good-bacteria-full yogurt without the bad stuff that'll make you sick.

Anyways, you can try it with a quart of milk (or even a pint!) if you're so inclined -- that way if it freaks you out, it's not such a big investment!

The Santos Family said...

hehe... thanks for the lovely response... I guess being put on IVs for dehydration thanks to food poisoning back in November still has me frightened. :) Maybe one day I'll be brave.

amelia.gordon said...

Just one little clarification - the crock pot is turned off for the final yogurtification?
I think Suzanne just leaves hers sitting out all night. - Also - you only have to buy the starter culture once - you can just save a little from each batch to make the next.

Laura said...

Hey Amy!! Yes, the crock pot is OFF for the final yogurtification. I like that word.

I read that you can save the starter for 4 or 5 batches, and then it starts to lose its yogurtifying power. I guess we'll find out!

Christi Lee said...

sweet! Ok, so recently, I've been trying to get a better balance of good bacteria in my body and, *cringe*, I've started eating YOGURT once a day. eep! And you know what? It didn't make me sick. yay! So, my question: from starter to final product, does the good bacteria stay at basically the same percentage it did in the starter, or more, or less? If one yogurt lists 4 different active cultures, do all of those stay alive and happy? I'm really excited about this, 'cause yogurt starts to get expensive having it once a day. Thanks, friend!

Laura said...

Well, if I had to guess, I would say it probably stays at a pretty similar percentage. We're talking about a process that's similar to bread-baking -- you're just creating an environment where all those little critters can do their thing and eat and grow and reproduce. So unless one strain is really sensitive, I can't imagine you'd end up with something vastly different from the proportion in the starter.

Yay for good bacteria!

Laura said...

Oh, and whatever you do, use a good yogurt as a starter! I.e., not Dannon. Use a good organic or all-natural brand that doesn't have thickeners or gums in it.

Donners said...

Hmm, Laura I have some perfect starter youghurt and I'm keen but have no crockpot ( its on my list but our white goods budget took a beating recently with other things).

Would a rice cooker on low work do you think? It only has "cook" and "keep warm" settings, which is practically the same as a crockpot - hmm, actually, the cook setting might be higher than a usual crocky....

If you don't know, I may have to experiment.

Laura said...

Donners, if you can set it to just warm without it having to go through the cook setting, my guess is that it would work. This isn't hard science -- the idea is just to warm the milk and then cool it to bloodwarm to make a happy little growing environment for all those yummy bacteria. You might try checking the temp now and then with a little thermometer. You definitely do not want it to boil in the first step.

Let me know how it goes! :)

Laura's Mom said...

You can also use an oven set to 150F. That's the way I did it when you were a wee lass.

Brianna @ Heart(h) Management said...

Oh my goodness, I laughed the whole way through your post! And I might just be one of the complete idiots who really does need this kind of detailed tutorial. Putting this in my Delicious bookmarks. . .

Laura Lee said...

Okay, Laura's mom needs a post of her own. The oven--I'm intrigued!!

Laura said...

Brianna, thanks so much! Hope you enjoy it!

Laura Lee, she basically needs a whole blog of her own. She's got every kind of frugal-hacking skill you could possibly imagine, plus thirty more years of experience than I have. I've totally invited her to guest post up in here, but I haven't heard anything yet (ahem, MOM!).


Laura's Dad said...

Laura's mom is the wife of Laura's dad (me), and the tips I have on her behalf are:

1. have a garden (Laura has posted detailed info on this elsewhere);

2. learn to bake your own bread (Laura is all over this one, and as she points out, it's EASY!);

3. learn to can (better ingredients, more quality control, and once you've bought the jars, WAY cheaper than buying).

Two of the best things we've ever learned to can are:

1. our own chili.
You know how much better chili is when made in BIG batches and allowed to simmer a LONG time? Well, the problem is, if you make the right size batch, you get tired of eating chili every meal for 3 straight days. So, make a ginormous batch, get the flavors all adjusted the way you want them, and CAN the stuff. In quart jars, can at 15 pounds for 75 minutes. It's great to come home at 5:00 o'clock on a cold day, longing for slow-simmered home-made chili, open up a quart, reheat and presto! While it's reheating, you get out the crackers, sour cream, sweet pickles, and pour the milk: home-made chili in 15 minutes!

2. beans.
By this, I mean any kind of dried beans that usually take 24 hours to prepare. Soak five pounds of great northerns or pintos (our faves) overnight in a clean sink filled with warm water, nicely salted. Add some some baking soda to the soaking water, to reduce "emissions" after eating. (Caution -- this will FILL your sink, since beans expand 2 to 3 times as they soak up water). Rinse and simmer the beans for one hour in your tasty home-made veggie stock, add ham (and a quarter of a small onion per jar if you want). Check the beans, and if they are still firm, you'll want to fill the jars only three-fourths full and fill with stock: the beans will expand and absorb the liquid during canning. Then pressure-can at 15 pounds for one hour. They store well for up to a couple of years. You come home from a long day of work wanting some real down-home comfort food, and in the time it takes to mix and bake the corn-bread (30 minutes), you've got the (ham-and-)beans warmed up, the onion chopped and the table set. Eating this over rice makes it stretch a lot, and drinking milk with it completes a lovely combo of protein and enzymes that enhances the nutritional strengths of each part. Besides, it's all whole-grain, leguminous, close-to-the-soil stuff that just has a lovely round-mouth fullness.
Add home-made youghurt (a nod to Donners) for dessert, and you can almost feel yourself becoming a 1970's hippy.

Laura, is that enough for a guest post? I didn't mean for it to be so long. I'm home for lunch, warming up some curried lentils and rice: mmmmmm.

Jeremy & Kristin Perrine said...

ooohhh I am so trying my own yogurt!! I've been thinking about it for a while but your tutorial made it seem so easy! :)

Jeremy & Kristin Perrine said...

So, I tried and apparently cannot follow step by step instructions with pics b/c mine is still milk. It doesn't smell sour or anything.

Laura said...

Oh no!

My first thought is, what kind of yogurt did you use?

Jeremy & Kristin Perrine said...

Brown Cow!!! I think maybe I should use the powdered milk, that's the only thing I didn't do.

Radagast said...

Presumably all this only works with live culture yogurt -- as in http://www.ehow.com/how_4474665_select-live-culture-yogurt.html

Donners said...

I wonder if your crocky was too hot? ( or too cold) This is, I know, why my rice cooker did not have the goods for yoghurt making...

Bobble said...

I just found your blog and I love it! The "how to make yogurt" post was really funny, especially when I got to the part where you cover it with a towel. I had scrolled down to about 1/3 of the picture, and I read, "Now. Here comes the tough part." I looked at the picture and saw... A Cow! and thought, "you have to put it back into the cow?"
And then I read the rest. (My mom used to make yogurt, so I knew better.)
I will be using lots of your tips and recipes. :-)