Making Homemade Yogurt, Using Cooler for Incubation; Recipe

 

 

Homemade, plain yogurt is easy enough to make. But how do you make sweetened vanilla yogurt without turning it into a runny mess? In this post, I will take you through just that.

Is yogurt good for you, I mean, really?
Yogurt is good and good for you, isn’t that what we’ve leaned? Looking at the ingredients list at the grocery store, one can begin to wonder if this is really true after all. What had me wonder was the sugar content, “other” ingredients, and live cultures, or rather, the lack thereof. As I’ve read about it and looked more closely at ingredients lists, I have found that store bought yogurt often contains loads of sugar, artificial colors and flavorings, and not all of them contain live cultures. Sure, the culture is alive when it first starts out, but not necessarily by the time the yogurt ends up at the store. According to an article by Dr. Weil, MD, yogurt is sometimes heat treated after the fact to increase shelf life, which kills the precious living bacteria that we need. “Made with” doesn’t mean “still alive”. Look for “active” or “living” cultures. OR: simply make it at home!! It’s easy, cheap, absolutely delicious, and you decide what goes into it. Even though I do believe plain is better for you, personally I love sweetened vanilla yogurt. I have found that it doesn’t take near the amount of sugar to satisfy me as what I’ll find in a container from the store. I’m OK with adding a little sugar at home.

Do you need to purchase an incubator for culturing?
Absolutely not! There are many ways of culturing without the use of yet another expensive machine (incubator) to take up room in your kitchen. Personally I have used my cooler with great success.

The Recipe
You also need a great recipe, which I will provide for you with the help of two lovely ladies who not only gave me permission to use their recipe, but also took the time to go through a lot of details in how to make sweetened vanilla yogurt. I’ll be forever grateful for all of your help and advice, thank you so much, Joyce Vogel and Martha Artyomenko!

Plain yogurt is easy to make, using a tiny bit of yogurt containing live, beneficial bacteria as a culture. Sweetened yogurt is harder to make, but this recipe helps you make sweet vanilla yogurt that keeps its shape and doesn’t end up a runny mess. Adding pectin powder is one of the secrets!

The Process
I like to make a gallon at a time, because it tastes so good that we go through it pretty quickly. This recipe can easily be halved as well.

I start out by pouring a gallon of whole milk into a big pot with a heavy bottom. (You might be able to use low fat milk as well, but it is said that whole milk will produce a thicker, creamier yogurt.)
I heat the milk to 190° F, using a digital thermometer to guide me along. This is basically the point where the milk is really steaming, but definitely not boiling.

 

Then I let the milk cool to 130°, while I prepare other steps.

While I wait, I measure up sugar (reserving 2 Tbsp) and vanilla; I just pour the vanilla into the sugar to get rid of stuff from my counters.

Then I whisk together the remaining 2 Tbsp of sugar along with 1 Tbsp pectin powder in a tiny pot. 2 Tbsp gelatin powder can be used in place for pectin powder, plain or flavored, though Mrs. Vogel and Mrs. Artyomenko recommends pectin as it gives the nicest texture.

Without heating it yet, add 1/2 c cold water, whisking well until completely dissolved. I set this aside for now; I’ll heat it up later.

Next I measure 4 Tbsp (1/4 c) yogurt from the store that I’ll use for a starter. Your own yogurt can be used next time, but reading comments from people who have done this several times, it seems as if the effect only lasts a few times. Then they start having problems with their yogurt setting properly, until they use store bought yogurt again. So far I’ve only used starter from the store, I’ve never tried homemade yogurt as a starter.

This time I used plain yogurt. Flavored yogurt will work as well, as long as there are no berries or jam involved, also as long as the yogurt contains live and active cultures. I usually use a mixture of Dannon and Activa, because I like the idea of the combination of the types of bacteria used in these yogurts.

A word of caution: More starter is not better when it comes to culturing. Stick to the amounts given; if you add much more, it can cause problems with the culturing process.

I’m still waiting for the milk to cool down, so I’ll gather the jars and the rest of the equipment: Large and small measuring cups (not necessary, but helpful), strainer, pot holder. I purchased plastic lids for my glass jars because I found that the metal rings rusted when placed in water for several hours. I’ve been very happy with these plastic lids, they work well and look pretty. I have found, though, that they need to be screwed on very tightly if the jars are inserted under water in the cooler. These are the lids I use: Ball Plastic Storage Caps and Wide Mouth Caps.

I prepare the jars ahead of time; measuring a gallons’ worth and figuring out how many jars I need. They need to be properly cleaned to avoid trouble with strange bacteria growth during the fermentation process.

When the thermometer shows 130° F, the milk is very warm but no longer hot. According to Joyce Vogel and Martha Artyomenko, anywhere from 110-130° will do.  It’s time to add some ingredients to get going on the yogurt making. This will be fun!

I add the sugar and vanilla…

…and stir for two minutes. I have had some trouble in the past with grainy yogurt on the bottom of my jars, which is a rather unpleasant texture. I have found that stirring really well after adding various ingredients solved this problem. So, stir for two minutes.

Now I heat up the little pot containing the pectin mix to a full rolling boil. Keep it boiling well for one minute.

 

When the minute is up, I pour the pectin mixture into the milk in a thin stream while stirring the milk very well.

At this point I also add the yogurt starter, and stir well to blend it completely with the milk. It is very important to not add this culture before the milk has cooled down enough, otherwise the live bacteria will die and the culture will not work.

In fact, I start the timer again for two more minutes. I think this step is very important, in order to incorporate the pectin and yogurt completely.

Now the milk is ready to be poured into jars. One time, but only once, did I try to pour it directly from the pot. It didn’t go very well. I won’t share more details than that. After that I’ve been using a little measuring cup to get milk from the pot. Then, and this is another very important step, I pour the milk into a large measuring cup through a strainer. Even after all this stirring, I still find little lumps and grains of stuff in the strainer afterward, which probably comes from the pectin mix and likely accounts for the grainy consistency my yogurt had in the past.

You really could strain the milk directly into the jars, but I think it’s easier and faster if I use a large measuring cup.

With a measuring cup, it’s an easy job to pour the milk into the jars. I pour up to 1/2 inch from the top of the jar. I don’t know if this is necessary or not, but it keeps my jars looking clean.

Up to here, then I stop:

When all the jars are filled, I step back and admire my work. Wow! Look at that!

But I only take a few seconds to admire my jars, then I quickly put them into my large cooler. Because I worry about any drops of water from the cooler leaking into the jars, I try to keep the smaller ones at the same height as the larger jars. So I put other, empty containers on the bottom to give them a little shelf to sit on. This time I forgot what will happen once I add the water. The air inside the empty containers will cause my jars to tip, that’s what. So I had to reach into the very warm water to straighten things out after-the-fact. It isn’t hot-hot, but it feels hot enough when you stick your arms in there. Next time I’ll try to remember to place the small ones inside the cooler after a bit of the water is in there, to empty out the air from the “shelf”.

Just for your info, should you decide to get these nice plastic lids: When I tested them, I found that they would leak if they were not secured very tightly. After tightening more than usual, the jars wouldn’t leak, but little air bubbles came out from the sides of the lids when empty jars were placed under water, looking like water was entering. The insides of the jars stayed dry, so that must mean the air came from the sides of the lids, not from inside the jars. I still worry when I see the bubbles though, so I like my lids over the water’s edge.

The water in the cooler should measure 130°; it can be a little bit cooler than that, but keep in mind that the water will probably cool down even more as it sits. So I like to start out with 130 degrees. The cooler will act as in insulator to keep the yogurt warm, which is necessary for the bacteria culture to multiply and grow. Just like you and I, bacteria thrive in warm temperatures; cold will make them sleepy and slow, while hot will kill them. The multiplying beneficial bacteria is what makes the yogurt, and this is why it is essential to keep the culture living. They can’t multiply if they’re dead, right?

I fill water up to the lids of the jars. I found that the hot water from my faucet, by the time it’s in the cooler, measures a little over 130°, so that’s been quite convenient for me. Even though a little bit over 130°, since the milk is in separate containers, it’s been OK.

I close the lid, and let the jars sit for 6-8 hours. The longer the milk sits, the more tart the yogurt will be. The last time I made it, I actually forgot all about it; I made it early during the day and was going to take the jars out before I went to bed. Since I forgot, they were left to culture overnight, a total of 18 hours or so. I feared the worst, but it ended up just fine. The yogurt was a bit more tart than usual, but still very good.

This yogurt is now done. Very nice and warm straight from the cooler. Since we use raw milk (very clean and from free range, well cared for, tested, and vaccinated cows), the top layer of the yogurt is milk fat that rises to the top. It looks a little funny, but it tastes nice and super creamy!

While still warm from the cooler, the yogurt is a bit soft and fragile, but will firm up more as it cools down. All jars are now placed in the refrigerator and used little by little.

This yogurt has had the time to firm up in the refrigerator:

 

 

 

 

Ways to keep your yogurt culture warm
Other alternatives to keep your yogurt warm for incubation:

*The oven, keeping the oven light on for warmth. My oven light doesn’t produce enough heat, so it wouldn’t work for me.
*Some people will pour the milk into a crock pot and keep it warm (unplugged) by covering with towels. With any yogurt, but especially homemade, whey will leak out whenever you stir or cut into it with a spoon, which you have to do a lot of when removing it from a crock pot into jars. So I prefer to keep it in jars from the beginning, to keep it nice and together and minimize leaking of whey. The whey is the watery stuff you’ll often see in yogurt. It is edible and you can stir it back in, but stirring does ruin the consistency somewhat.
*You can also purchase a yogurt maker, but I really don’t see the point if you already own a cooler. More money to spend, and more stuff to store. I will stick to my cooler.

 

3.0 from 2 reviews
Homemade Yogurt
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Yogurt is fun to make, and requires no extra machine for culturing. A cooler works well for incubation.
Author:
Recipe type: Sides
Serves: 1 gallon
Ingredients
  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1½ c sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp pectin powder
  • ½ c cold water
  • ¼ c fresh Dannon yogurt, plain or vanilla (no jam)
Instructions
  1. Heat milk in a heavy pot, to 190° F.
  2. Cool to 130° F (110-130° is OK)
  3. While milk is cooling, measure up sugar (reserving 2 Tbsp for later) and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. Mix together the remaining sugar, and pectin power in a small pot; whisk in cold water and mix well until dissolved. Set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, set aside the yogurt culture needed.
  6. When milk has reached 130° F, add sugar and vanilla, and stir for 2 minutes until dissolved.
  7. Bring the pot of pectin mixture to a full rolling boil. Keep boiling for 1 minute.
  8. In a thin stream, pour the pectin mixture into the milk, stirring well while pouring.
  9. Add yogurt. Keep stirring well for 2 more minutes.
  10. Pour into clean jars through a strainer.
  11. Place jars in a cooler, then pour very warm water into cooler (130°F) until it reaches the lids of the jars.
  12. Close the lid of the cooler, and keep the temperature at 110-130° for 6-8 hours, or until your preferred tartness has been reached.
  13. Place jars in refrigerator to cool down.

 

About Terese

32 Responses to “Making Homemade Yogurt, Using Cooler for Incubation; Recipe”

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  1. Rose says:

    I just made this yogurt today and it is sooooo incredibly delicious!!!! Thank you so much!

  2. Rose says:

    I let it go for seven hours and it was perfectly done…I will definitely make this again and share this recipe, it’s too good not to and easy! Thanks again : )

  3. Vicki says:

    Hi Terese i only want to make 1 litre of yoghurt as im the only one that eats it, can you tell me if i have converted it correctly.1 litre milk, 95g sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp pectin powder or 2 tsp gelatine, 32mls water, 1tbs frest yoghurt.also is jam set the same thing as pectin powder havnt seen pectin powder in Australia but im only new at this and havnt made it before but eager to try.Thanks. Vicki.

    • Terese says:

      Hi Vicki,
      Your measurements look pretty good to me. If you want the exact measurements, they are: just shy of 1 liter milk (950 ml), 85 grams sugar (6 Tbsp), 1 1 /2 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp pectin, 2 Tbsp water (30 ml), 1 Tbsp yogurt w/ active cultures.)
      I don’t think your measurements are different enough to matter. I think you’ll be fine either way, so don’t worry too much about it. I don’t know what “jam set” is, but sounds like it may be the same thing or close. I would go ahead and try it, I don’t believe it will mess things up regardless (yogurt will set without it also, but not as well.) The only concern is whether you’ll be able to cook the pectin in such a small amount of water. Definitely use the very smallest pot you have to avoid evaporation, and even add a bit extra water just to avoid evaporation. Shouldn’t matter for the outcome. Hope all goes well!

      • Vicki says:

        Hi Terese,
        I made the yoghurt on the weekend tasted good but very runny.Is there anything i can do now to thicken it. I did use the pectin powder.

        • Terese says:

          I’m sorry you’re having some trouble. Several things can contribute to
          runny yogurt or other problems. I’ll include a link to check out for
          trouble shooting, which also gives you a recipe for how to fix runny
          yogurt by adding gelatine. My initial thoughts are: Was the temperature
          correct when you incubated? Too hot or too cold? And did you make sure
          to use a starter that has live cultures in it, not just “made with” but
          actually CONTAINS live cultures? And this culture must not be added to
          milk of too high temperature, otherwise you’ll kill the bacteria. You
          may even want to try to lower it to a bit less than 130 degrees next
          time and see if that helps. Here’s that link: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2012/06/01/what-did-i-do-wrong-the-definitive-homemade-yogurt-troubleshooting-guide/

        • Rose says:

          I put mine through paper coffee filters and it was thick like Greek yogurt!

          • Terese says:

            That’s a good idea, Rose! I’ve heard of straining it to make Greek yogurt, but never tried it myself. Did it take a long time?

          • Rose says:

            It was pretty time consuming so I went out and bought a few more strainers at the dollar store to make it go a bit faster :)

          • Rose says:

            Terese, I wanted you to know that everyone who has tried your recipe says it’s the best yogurt they have ever had!!! I just love this recipe i’ve made it about three times now and it always turns out perfect!

          • Terese says:

            That’s very nice to hear, thanks for letting me know! :D

          • Terese says:

            Awesome!!!! Thanks for letting me know that!

    • Terese says:

      I’m sorry you’re having some trouble. Several things can contribute to runny yogurt or other problems. I’ll include a link to check out for trouble shooting, which also gives you a recipe for how to fix runny yogurt by adding gelatine. My initial thoughts are: Was the temperature correct when you incubated? Too hot or too cold? And did you make sure to use a starter that has live cultures in it, not just “made with” but actually CONTAINS live cultures? And this culture must not be added to milk of too high temperature, otherwise you’ll kill the bacteria. You may even want to try to lower it to a bit less than 130 degrees next time and see if that helps. Here’s that link: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2012/06/01/what-did-i-do-wrong-the-definitive-homemade-yogurt-troubleshooting-guide/

  4. Terese says:

    Here’s a helpful comment from Selin, who sent her comment to me via the contact form:

    “Hi there, I just found your web site and read your post on making
    yogurt.

    I wanted to share a few things with you in yogurt making as I come from
    the country where yogurt was invented, Turkey. In Turkey we did not
    even have store bought yogurts only until very recently. Everyone I
    know, knew makes their yogurt at home. I live in the US now but I make
    my own at hone just as my grandma and mom taught me.

    Because the milk is pasteurized, we boil the milk then cool down for
    about 30 min, until it is lukewarm. We check it with our pinky as no
    fancy gadgets were available at the time. You dip your pinky in the milk
    , it is ready if it is warm but does not burn your finger. Then we add
    the starter, for a gallon Id say about 5-6 TBS and stir, then close the
    lid. Then we wrap the jar or the container you are using in 2-3 layers
    of towels, blankets, whatever you have handy so they stay warm for 6
    hours. Then we out them in the fridge (we dint open) they are ready by
    morning. This is how we make it and yogurt is stiff, but if you want it
    creamier and more stiff we use a cheesecloth to get rid of the access
    water, then you get what we call suzme yogurt. And when I am low on
    yogurt I always scoop enough amount to use as a starter aside and make
    it again so I never use a store bought yogurt as a starter.

    One more thing, if you live in a state that you can get goat milk the yogurt becomes even tastier. :)

  5. Brenda says:

    Don’t know what happened. I followed the instructions, but when I started pouring into the strainer to fill the jars the pectin was staying in the strainer. It was jelled. Any ideas as to why this happened? I am incubating it in my dehydrator and hoping it will set anyway.

    • Terese says:

      A small amount of pectin always stays in my strainer as well. It’s never affected the outcome, and normally yogurt sets without it as well, so it should be fine. The pectin helps to give it more reliable texture; the yogurt sets better and gets a little bit thicker from it, but a lot of yogurt recipes do not use pectin at all. I always make sure to stir well after adding it to the milk, but like I said, I always have little lumps of gelled pectin in my strainer, and that is precisely WHY I strain. ;) Hope that makes sense and that your yogurt turns out great.

  6. Jessica says:

    How long does the yogurt last? Like expiration date???

  7. Jessica says:

    Can you freeze the yogurt?

    • Terese says:

      I believe you can, but I think freezing does affect the life span of the yogurt culture. Unfortunately I can not say for sure though, since I have not found good and reliable information on the life span of the culture and how different conditions affect these living micro organisms.

      • Dawn says:

        I make a gallon of yogurt at a time from my own goat’s milk. My husband puts 1/2 the batch in the freezer and it comes out fine. He eats it like ice cream. One thing I will suggest as an alternative. My husband is diabetic. I make my yogurt with no sugar or flavoring, just cultures. When it is done, I add 1 cup Splenda per 1 quart of yogurt. It makes the yogurt nice and sweet. You can put fruit in the bottom of the containers before you add yogurt and then refrigerate or freeze.

    • Terese says:

      I believe you can, although it might alter the life span of the micro organisms, so it’s probably best if you don’t. It’s hard to find good information on these things, wish I could give you a better answer.

  8. Jen Nyce says:

    Can you stir in a little strawberry preserves just before you eat your serving? I want to try this so bad, but I’m not a fan of plain or vanilla yogurt. I have done this with plain store bought and its delicious..,just wondering

    • Terese says:

      You can mix in anything you want right before serving. I will sometimes mix in newly mashed strawberries with a little sugar, which is SO yummy!! When making the yogurt, however, they do not recommend stirring in fruit before culturing. Also, if you stir the yogurt at all after it has set, it will start separating and will not hold its shape as well. So only stir up and mix whatever you will be eating right then.

  9. Rebecca says:

    I put mine in the oven with the light on for 8 to 10 hours and it turns out great every time. One habit I have may aid in this though. I always store my cast iron skillets in the oven. So when I start the process of warming the milk, I turn my oven on to the lowest setting which is 170. When it reaches this level, I turn it off. It takes at least an hour for the milk to warm and then cool in the yogurt making process. Between the preheated cast iron and the oven light, the oven stays quite warm and the yogurt turns out fantastic.

    • Terese says:

      Sounds like a great way to do it! Thanks for letting us know, it’s always nice to know about different options, to find what works the best for ourselves. Wonderful!

  10. Hermione Hairpie says:

    Gosh, what a simple recipe — and so few steps! I’ve been a fool all these years buying ready made yogurt at the store when all I needed to do was buy all the separate ingredients, take a day off of work, create a mess in my kitchen, use every dish and bowl in my pantry and then measure and stir and measure and stir and take the temperature and then check the temperature again and lastly check the temperature again — for 15 more times. Easy peasy!

    Thanks so much! :)

    • Terese says:

      Well, making yogurt from scratch certainly isn’t for everyone. Some people get milk from other sources than the local super market, maybe it’s non-homogenized or the cows have been fed a different diet etc. It is very nice to have a way to make your own yogurt using the alternative milk that these people already have on hand. In addition, it allows you to control the ingredients; I, for one thing, like my yogurt a little bit sweetened, but not as much the pre-mixed ones at the store, and other ingredients can be avoided altogether. There are plenty of people willing to go to the extra work of making your own, and though it may seem a daunting task when you first look at it, it really isn’t that bad and it’s quite fun for those who like to make their food from scratch. Again, it isn’t for everyone, so it certainly is nice to have the option of buying it at the store. :)

  11. Megan says:

    Crazy good!!! Second time making it in a week! Had I known that it would be this easy I would have done this years ago. I cannot believe how much money you save making it yourself, the serving size (LOTS), and it tastes BETTER.My 3 children enjoy it plain, with fruit, and with little treats. Thanks so much for your post!! Our family loves it!

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