2013/07/14

Daring Cooks July '13 Challenge: Yogurt!

Okay, long post here today.

But there's a reason, so hang with me...


 

(These are fig yogurt parfaits - will post on them in a few days). 





Howdy, Cher here, from The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler. I started with the Daring Cooks late in 2011 and it has been loads of fun. I am both tickled and nervous to be hosting this month’s recipe challenge. When Lisa asked me if I would be interested in hosting, there was really only one choice in my mind: yogurt. I started making yogurt a couple of years ago after I realized that I didn’t like the ingredient list of most store yogurts – and that the yogurts that weren’t filled with “all that stuff” were crazy expensive. At first, I was discouraged because I thought that I would have to buy an expensive incubator; but after researching for a while, I discovered how simple it could be.

Yep, I braved it and agreed to host a DC Challenge.  Thanks to everyone who cooked along this month - all of the results I have seen so far have been amazing! Very inspirational.

So, let’s do this thing!

Recipe Sources: 

Cuisine at Home - June 2011 edition
Go Dairy Free by Alisa Marie Fleming
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Learn to Make Yogurt by Cultures for Health

Blog-checking lines:  The lovely Cher of The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler was our July Daring  Cooks’ hostess and she asked us to create homemade yogurt in our own kitchens!  No incubators needed, no expensive equipment or ingredients, just a few items and we had delicious yogurt for a fraction of the cost and a whole lot healthier than what you buy in the stores!

Posting Date:  July 14, 2013

Note:  At its most basic, yogurt is fermented milk. While there can be great variations in yogurt, the essentials remain the same – milk (dairy or not), a culture, and a thickener (not mandatory, but helpful). The process itself is very basic as well: 1) the milk based is prepared (heated to a temperature hot enough to kill any unbeneficial bacteria and then cooled to a temperature low enough to support the starter); 2) the culture is added; 3) the yogurt is incubated; and 4) the yogurt is cooled (refrigerated).  

When I began the journey into yogurt making, I found a wide and varying amount of information out there. What I have outlined is here is what works for me. I realize there are lots of options & variations – here is the condensed version.

Let’s talk about some of the components of yogurt making:
1)      Milk (or “milk”, if you are making a dairy free version) – If you are using an animal-based milk (i.e. cow, goat), any milk will work, but milks with higher fat contents tend to yield a creamier product. Also, the less pasteurized your milk, the creamier the end result. If you can get ahold of milk that hasn’t been ultra-pasteurized.

For people following a dairy free or vegan diet, yogurt can be made successfully with alternative milks - seed and nut based milks or coconut milk. I have had the most success with coconut milk and varying degrees of success with other milks (soy, almond, hemp, and sunflower seed). Non-dairy milks are more likely to need the help of a thickening agent & may also require a little extra sugar to promote fermentation.

2)      Culture – The culture is the beneficial bacteria that makes yogurt oh-so-good for you. Here are three options. They each have their pluses and minuses – it’s really about what you have the best access to or the most success with. One note about starters – you want to take your starter out of the refrigerator when you begin heating the milk – this way, it will not cool down your yogurt base when you add it in.

a.      Commercial yogurt: Most people have access to commercial (store bought) yogurt. It produces a slightly milder & thinner product, but I have had good results with using store yogurt. The key to using commercial yogurts is: 1) make sure you pick a plain yogurt (i.e. not vanilla, not with fruit or other flavorings) & buy the freshest you can get; 2) whole milk yogurts seem to have the best end result; 3) read the label of the yogurt before buying – the label should clearly list active live cultures (and it should have at least three types listed). Dannon, Stonyfield & Fage are a few brands that are readily available in the United States that I have personally had good success with.

b.     Freeze-dried yogurt culture – This is a yogurt culture that has been freeze-dried. YoGourmet brand is the one that I have seen that most commonly in the United States. These can often be found in larger grocery stores or at most health food/ whole food stores. A wide variety of both regular and vegan versions are available by mail order if you can’t find them locally. (For example, here is one on Amazon.com)

c.       Pro-biotic capsules (~25-30 billion pro-biotics are needed per quart-sized batch of yogurt) – These are the “healthy” bacteria in capsulated powdered form. I have found this to be a good option when making dairy-free/ vegan yogurts. Many health food stores will carry dairy-free pro-biotic capsules (look for the capsules, as you will need to break them open and pour the contents into your milk base).  The brand I use is NOW 8 Billion Acidophilus & Bifidus.

3)      Thickening agents – When just milk and starter are used, the result can be a somewhat thin/ runny end product. Often times, thickening agents are used to help produce a thicker product. When making a cow/ goat milk based yogurt, I will generally use non-fat dry milk as a thickening agent (1/4 cup of non-fat dry milk per quart of milk). For non-dairy yogurts, gelatin, pectin or agar-agar flakes softened in water may be used (two teaspoons of thickener soaked in 2 Tablespoons water).

4)      Sweeteners - This is optional but personally, I like a little sweet in my yogurt. Sweetener should be added in with the milk prior to heating it. I normally use agave nectar, but have also used regular (granulated white) sugar and honey. A wide variety of sweeteners will work (coconut sugar, maple syrup, etc.)

5)      Preparing & cooking the milk – In this first step, you combine your main liquid (i.e. milk or milk alternative) and mix it with any thickener you may be using and the sweetener (if using). Once they are combined in the vessel that you will be heating your mixture in, you want to bring it up to temperature (185ºF) slowly – and stirring frequently to prevent any scalding. The purpose of the heating step is to kill off any bacteria that may compete with the cultures that will be introduced later on.

6)      Incubation - When incubating your yogurt, temperature matters, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. You want to keep the yogurt in a temperature range – depending on what culture you started with. If you started with a commercial yogurt or a freeze-dried starter, you probably want to keep your mixture between 115ºF and 125ºF at all times. Temperatures above 130ºF will kill your culture. If you are using pro-biotics as a starter, their temperature tolerance is lower. You want to let those incubate at 95ºF to 105ºF. If your starter comes with a temperature range recommended on the package – follow it!

There are a few different options for incubating your yogurt:

·         “Old School” – if you want to incubate it “old school”, find a warm spot in your kitchen (or if you have a proofing box/ dehydrator or proofing setting on your oven that is capable of maintaining low temperatures) and place your yogurt there for the incubation period.
·         Yogurt maker – if you have a yogurt maker already, then you probably don’t need me to tell you what to do here. This is the lowest maintenance option – it keeps the yogurt at the perfect ~122ºF temperature) for the incubation period.
·         Heating pad – I have only tried this method once or twice, but it does work well. This method is best if you are using a larger bowl to incubate you milk, instead of individual containers. To incubate using the heating pad method, place the covered container of yogurt on the pre-heated pad and cover the bowl containing the yogurt with a towel and incubate. You can check the temperature by placing an instant read thermometer between the bowl and the pad and adjust the heat settings up or down as needed. (The actual setting will depend on your heating pad. Mine works best on a low-medium setting).
·         Slow cooker – This is the method that I use the most. To use a slow cooker, place the cooker on its “warm” setting and pour in enough hot water to come half way off the jars. Place the cover on the cooker and check the temperature of the water every ½ hour to hour to make sure it isn’t getting too hot (actual temperature range will depend on the starter type you chose). If the water starts to get too hot, unplug the machine and wrap the crock pot in a large towel to hold the temperature for the rest of the incubation period.

7)      Refrigeration - I know, I know – at this stage in the game it’s a matter of so close, but so far… But this step is just as important to the success of your yogurt as the other steps. The refrigeration period 1) stops the bacteria from feeding (stops the yogurt from getting tangier) and 2) helps the yogurt to thicken.

8)      Stir–Ins - One of the fun things about making your own yogurt is the ability to customize. If you are feeling “Daring” enough, you can layer some add-ins in the bottom of your incubating container before ladling in the yogurt (for that “fruit on the bottom” effect). I have had good success with different types of preserves or fruit that has been tossed in sugar (Keep in mind that whatever you add in the bottom of the jar will be “cooked” for several hours while the yogurt incubates).

Mandatory Items: For this month’s challenge, you are required to make a yogurt (dairy based or non-dairy based) using a culture. If you really want to let your creative juices flow, then it is encouraged that you use your homemade yogurt in a tasty creation of your choice. 

Variations allowed:  I have provided two recipes – one is milk based and one coconut milk based; but feel free to use an alternate yogurt recipe. There are links to some alternate milk based yogurt recipes at the bottom of this challenge (I have also added a link to a super-easy basic yogurt from Bon-Appetit that requires almost no equipment – just a jar and a warm space). If you are making a non-dairy yogurt and cannot find a dairy free culture, you may make a non-cultured based yogurt of your choice. The goal is to have fun with it!

Preparation time: 

Preparing/ heating the milk: About 30 minutes
Cooling the milk: About 5-10 minutes
Incubation: 5-12+ hours
Refrigeration: 8 hours or overnight

Equipment required:
  • A double boiler or a bowl that can be nested in a pot without touching the bottom or a microwavable glass bowl*
  • A whisk, for stirring together ingredients*
  • Food thermometer
  • A large bowl (or other container) for an ice bath (2-4 cups of ice and 1-2 cups of water – depending on the size of your bowl. You want to be able to cool the bottom and sides of the bowl you cooked your milk in)
  • A heat source for incubating yogurt
  • Glass jars (five to six ½-pint jars) or a glass bowl for culturing yogurt*
  • Pot holders

*All equipment that will come in direct contact with the yogurt should be thoroughly washed before using, to mitigate the potential of any non-beneficial bacteria entering the equation. I run my equipment through the dishwasher and use the heated dry cycle. Some sources recommend sterilizing in boiling water.

Traditional Milk Yogurt
Servings: 4-6 servings
Adapted from “Cuisine at Home” June 2011

Ingredients
One quart (4 cups) whole milk
¼ cup non-fat dry (powdered) milk (optional, but recommended) (may substitute other thickening agent as noted above)
Sweetener (optional – 1 Tbs of agave nectar, honey or sugar)
¼ cup plain yogurt or 1 packet of yogurt starter or other starter

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a double boiler* (or in a microwave-safe bowl), stir together the milk, powdered milk and sweetener (if using).


  1. Place the bowl over the simmering water (medium heat) and heat until the mixture reaches 185F. Be sure to stir frequently during this time. You can also opt to microwave the mixture until it reaches the desired temperature, but I have found that the double boiler method seems to produce the best results for me when making a milk-based yogurt.


  1. While your milk is heating, prepare an ice bath. (I place ~4 cups of ice and 2-4 cups of water in a large bowl – the goal is to cool down the heated mixture as quickly as possible).
  2. Once the mixture reaches 185F, remove the bowl from heat and place in the ice bath. Stir constantly until the temperature of the liquid drops to ~115F.


  1. When the liquid cools to 110F, stir in the starter. (If you are using a freeze-dried culture or pro-biotic capsules, make sure the liquid has cooled to the temperature recommended for that particular culture).

       


  1. Ladle the yogurt mixture into ½ pint glass jars (should be ~5-6 jars depending on how full you fill them), secure the cover and place into your incubator. (If you are using a large glass bowl or some other vessel, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap and proceed as below). 


  1. Incubate the yogurt for about 5-10 hours. Longer incubating times will result in a tangier yogurt. The optimal incubating temperature is ~122F for yogurt starters (if you are using a freeze-dried starter or pro-biotic capsules, follow the recommended temperatures for those starters). Ideally, you want to keep the temperature as close to that as possible for the incubating period. Realizing that may not be possible – I try to target keeping the mixture between 115F and 125F.

  1. Once the yogurt is done incubating, carefully transfer the containers to the refrigerator and chill for at least 8 hours. This step helps to thicken the yogurt and lulls those ravenous friendly bacteria back to their sluggish state.
  2. After the cooling period, the yogurt is ready to be enjoyed.
*If you do not have a double boiler, you can use a large heat safe (i.e. glass or metal) bowl that will nestle on top of a pan of simmering water. You don’t want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. More detailed instructions can be found here.

Coconut Milk Yogurt
Servings: 4-6 servings
Adapted from Go Dairy Free by Alisa Marie Fleming

Ingredients
Two (2) 14-ounce cans of coconut milk (can be light or regular)
½ cup of water
1 Tbs sweetener (agave is nice here)
1 tsp agar-agar powder or 1 Tbs agar flakes (or other thickening agent as noted above)
1 packet of vegan yogurt starter or ¼ cup of dairy free yogurt containing live active cultures or other starter of choice

Directions:

  1. Place the coconut milk, ½ cup of water and sweetener in a bowl and stir until well blended.
  2. Sprinkle the agar over top of the liquid and allow it to soften for a few minutes (~5 minutes).
  3. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat in one minute intervals until the mixture comes to a boil. (After each minute, remove bowl from microwave and stir). Depending on the strength of your microwave, this may take 4-7 minutes. (Alternately, you can heat the mixture using the double boiler method). 
  4. Once the mixture reaches a boil, remove from the microwave and place the bowl in an ice bath. Stir until the temperature of the mixture drops to 115F (or 90F is you are using a pro-biotic starter).
  5. When the liquid cools to 110F, stir in the starter. (If you are using a freeze-dried culture or pro-biotic capsules, make sure the liquid has cooled to the temperature recommended for that particular culture).
  6. Ladle the yogurt mixture into ½ pint glass jars (should be ~5-6 jars depending on how full you fill them), secure the cover and place into your incubator. (If you are using a large glass bowl or some other vessel, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap and proceed as below). 
  7. Incubate the yogurt for about 5-8 hours. Longer incubating times will result in a tangier yogurt. The optimal incubating temperature is ~122F for yogurt starters (if you are using a freeze-dried starter or pro-biotic capsules, follow the recommended temperatures for those starters). Ideally, you want to keep the temperature as close to that as possible for the incubating period. Realizing that may not be possible – I try to target keeping the mixture between 115F and 125F (95F to 105F if I am using pro-biotic capsules).
  8. Once the yogurt is done incubating, carefully transfer the containers to the refrigerator and chill for at least 8 hours. This step helps to thicken the yogurt and lulls those ravenous friendly bacteria back to their sluggish state.
  9. After the cooling period, the yogurt is ready to be enjoyed.

Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips:  

Once processed & tightly sealed, most yogurts will keep, refrigerated for one to two weeks. I have had success with some yogurts keeping for longer, but it usually doesn’t last long enough for me to test that theory.

Additional Information: 
In case you get stuck along the way, here are a couple of trouble-shooting items from The Art of Fermentation. 
  • Yogurt did not set: starter may not have been viable; milk may have been too hot; or incubation temperatures were too hot or too cold.
  • Runny yogurt: usually this is indicative of the yogurt getting too cool at some time during the incubation. Also, alternate milks (non-dairy) may result in a thinner mixture due to their nature.
  • Grainy yogurt: Milk was heated too quickly.
  • Yogurt curdled: The use of a thickening agent usually will keep the yogurt from coagulating.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Learn to Make Yogurt by Cultures for Health (Cultures for Health offers a variety of starters – including vegan options)
Go Dairy Free by Alisa Marie Fleming
Natural Yogurt by Liz Vidal

Link to Bon Appetit very basic yogurt recipe.

Resources for vegan/ non-dairy yogurts:

Go-dairy Free.Org – discussion around non-dairy starters
Here is a recipe for a Cashew Milk based Yogurt from The Spunky Coconut

12 comments:

  1. Thank you for a wonderful challenge. It was a real fun way to ease into daring cook challenges.

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  2. Hi Cher, thanks so much for hosting the challenge. I enjoyed it alot. It was first time for me to make yogurt and I will keep doing them from now on :)
    have a nice sunday!

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  3. Now I know where to link if I ever make yogurt again!

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  4. Cher, this is so fabulous and informative - shared (er, "chered" ... [hangs head at pun]) on all my interwebs outlets, and bookmarked for myself.

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  5. Cher, thanks again for the challenge! The coconut milk yogurt was amazing and I am attempting almond milk yogurt today. Thank you!!!

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  6. I love making yogurt and I have made it for a few years now. Creating or trying new recipes using yogurt is always a pleasure. Cher, your array of recipes is amazing! Thanks for hosting such a great (and healthy) challenge!

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  7. Cher thank you so much for the wonderful challenge. I have been making yogurt at home for years yet I learned so much from your challenge and you got me to try things that have been on my list for a long time. Thank you

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  8. Hi Cher, thanks for hosting this month's challenge! Your instructions were great, and the pictures in your post above look mouthwatering...

    Unfortunately we couldn't participate - our first attempt using our slow cooker was an epic fail, and although we hoped to try again, other events in our lives conspired against us... I am sure we'll try making our own yogurt one of these days!

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  9. A great challenge, Cher, thank you! At first I thought I would have to sit this one out, but then I decided to have a go & I'm so glad I did. The yoghurt was a great success: thick, smooth and delicious. Thank you for your brilliant instructions and tips. They were really helpful.

    p.s. your fig yoghurt parfaits look dreamy!

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  10. Thanks for hosting such a wonderful challenge. It was the push I needed to get back to making yogurt again.

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