Yoghurt

Little kids love to cook, and we were no exception. I remember making my very first dish at the age of about four – it was “peanut butter cake,” and consisted of peanut butter, mixed with flour (because, cake) and sugar (because, sugar) and molded into something puck-shaped. To her credit, mom tried it and declared, “yum.”

A year later, my kindergarten class made a cookbook out of recipes brought in by the students, typed out nicely and professionally bound with the finest red yarn. My first publication. Mom of course held on to the book, and I saw it a few years later. The other kids had submitted recipes like “Ham sandwich. Step 1: Ask your mom to make you a ham sandwich. Step 2: Eat ham sandwich.” My recipe was for deep fried wontons, and was pretty spot on, even including precautions for handling raw pork.

Soon after, I started cooking with my mom’s sisters. Typical kid stuff like spaghetti, but soon moving up to baklava and grape leaves. Tedious, but not completely unskilled.

That was cooking. But yoghurt was different. Yoghurt was magic.

Think about it – one day it’s milk, the next day it’s yoghurt, and not that weird tasting stuff in the supermarket. Proper yoghurt, made from cultures that had to be brought in from the Arabic supermarkets on State Street in Chicago (Indiana in the late 1970s was a fairly bland place…)

It’s still magic, although live culture yoghurt is pretty much the standard now.

A few weeks ago, Misa bought a Instapot, which is a pressure cooker that among much else has a yoghurt setting (i.e., warm but not hot for 8 hours), and we have been making yoghurt pretty constantly since then. The basic recipe is the same one that Aunt Clem taught us as kids: heat milk up to just below boiling, let it cool, add a spoon of live yoghurt as starter, cover and let it sit overnight. Beyond that, there is a lot of tweaking — whole or low fat milk, how long to cook it, what kind of culture to use as starter, etc. One of the big problems has been getting it to the right consistency. After leaving it for eight hours in the pot, our yoghurt was tasty but still too thin. We tried adding pectin, which seemed like an unnecessary step, and in any case didn’t work – it all just sank to the bottom.

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First attempts: Looks nice, but not quite there. Notice how the liquid separates

The secret, we discovered, was two things. First, was to add about three tablespoons of evaporated milk to one liter (one big mason jar) of milk. For the last batch we doubled that, and the result was incredibly rich.  The second was to give the yoghurt a couple of extra days in the fridge. We had been letting it cook during the day and then set up overnight in the fridge. We now have it to a system to let it set for a few days–we eat one big jar, while the other one sits in reserve. We also started adding honey.

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Success! Much creamier and more solid.

Does it taste different from store bought? Oh boy, does it ever. Even good store bought yoghurt doesn’t have the same fresh taste, not to mention that we make organic yoghurt for about half the cost.

Here’s the how:

Recipe:
Heat 1000ml whole milk (scale this to suit the size of your container) in the microwave to just under boiling. This may take a few minutes, and you’ll need to keep an eye on it. Remove the milk and let it cool until it is just above lukewarm. Add six tablespoons evaporated milk.

Whisk in three tablespoons of live culture yoghurt to the milk – you’ll need to experiment with the brand, but anything that says probiotic or live cultures should do the job. Note that adding more won’t make the yoghurt set better. You can also add a few tablespoons of honey at this stage.

Pour the milk into a clean jar with a lid, and place somewhere warm. If you don’t have a yoghurt maker or a proofing cycle in your oven, any warm place will do–next to a heater, on a sunny windowsill, under your cat–be creative. Room temperature is fine, but very hot or cold are not. Resist the urge to peek, and definitely do not shake or stir.

After about 8 hours, place the jar in the fridge and leave it there for at least two days (yes, you can peek now). There may be a small amount of liquid (whey) that pools up, but if you did it right, you should have something creamy and beautiful.

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