Full disclosure: I have already made yogurt in my slow cooker with mediocre success. Mediocre because the recipe turned out just fine but my family refused to eat something grown on the counter overnight. I can’t say that I blame them.
So here is the deal with me and yogurt. I love yogurt, I really, really love Greek yogurt. I hate paying for it, man that stuff is pricey. I stopped buying the sweetened flavored yogurt a long time ago because of all of the added sugar and whatnot. That and because if I buy what my family affectionately calls “the good yogurt” they eat it so fast it barely has time to go into the fridge. I can’t afford to supply their habit so they are stuck with healthier plain yogurt that they can spruce up with fruit and honey any time they like. We still go through a lot, and I almost never buy Greek yogurt unless it’s on sale.
As I said before I like easy recipes with stuff I already have on hand using appliances I already own. I found a recipe for making yogurt in a slow cooker that looked ridiculously easy over at http://www.ayearofslowcooking.com and I’ve made this recipe three of the last four times exactly as presented. It works well, the yogurt tasted ok, but it was a little runnier than I had hoped. This past weekend I tweaked it a little bit and this time it was the bomb! Thicker, creamy and very nice. I still strained it because I wanted it to be like Greek yogurt. I’ve had it for breakfast all week. My family still isn’t eating it, but whatever, haters gotta hate. I’ll win them over.
So here is my tweaked version:
- 8 cups of milk (I used 3% and the internet says not to use the ultrafiltered kind)
- 1/2 ish cup of yogurt with active cultures. I can save it from a previous batch and use that in the future
- slow cooker
- candy thermometer
I put the yogurt in the slow cooker and left it on low for three hours, I used a candy thermometer and it was close to 180 degrees. Again the internet says it needs to go to 185, but I was born to break the rules and said it was close enough. I turned off the slow cooker.
I let it cool for about three hours and I say about because I kind of forgot to check the time when I actually turned it off, but I waited until the temperature was a hair under 110. This is when you need to pull out about two cups of the warm milk and add the yogurt with active cultures to it, mix it up, and pour it all back into the slow cooker. Before I did so, I performed a little taste test to see which starter I wanted to use.
The Liberte is my standard brand, I get it at Costco and it’s usually the best price per serving. The Oikos was because my coworker said that it was the best tasting yogurt, the Olympia was from the organic section of the grocery store, and the fourth was what I had reserved from my last batch.
The Oikos did taste the best, but I went with the Olympia because it actually listed every bacterial strain by name on the package and I’m a nerd that way. Of note: my reserved yogurt was made from Oikos originally but didn’t taste so great. Ok but not great. My family probably made a good choice. I froze my Oikos starter and a cup of the Olympia for another day of yogurt making. The interenet said that was ok. Also, when I was in college studying microbiology (see, now you know why I like culturing and fermenting things) we kept stock specimens in the -80 freezer so a few weeks in my -20 shouldn’t be a problem.
Decision made, I mixed my two cups of warm milk with the yogurt, gave it a good stir, poured the whole thing back in the slow cooker, stirred it again and put the lid back on.
Now for the magic part.
I turned my oven on for a hair less than a minute and turned it off. I removed the stone crock from the slow cooker and put it in my oven (that is now off, you have to turn it off), wrapped a towel lovingly around it for warmth, shut the oven door, turned the oven light on, (Stove off, light on) and walked away.
Twelve hours later, ie the next morning, we had a pot full of creamy yogurt that tasted pretty darn good. I wanted thick Greek style yogurt so that meant a little bit of work and more time. I lined a strainer with cheesecloth, set it over a bowl and poured the yogurt into the strainer. This time I put the whole thing in the fridge and walked away for another four hours. You don’t have to wait that long, two might do it but I was out and couldn’t get home.
After fours hours a lot of liquid had drained off and I was left with some pretty awesome Greek yogurt.
The liquid that drained off of it is whey, as in Little Miss Muffet and the liquid that Feta cheese is stored in so it doesn’t go skunky. Life lesson: If you are not certain whether or not your dry feta cheese has gone skunky in the fridge, DON’T TASTE IT, just throw it out. And buy Feta cheese stored in whey.
I have no idea what the connection/difference is between whey from strained yogurt and whey in protein shakes, but my sources tell me that this whey is healthy and good for you and can be used a plethora of ways. Also, depending on where you look it lasts in your fridge for a week….or up to six months so I have a side experiment going on to get that definitive answer. I have about 5 cups of it in my fridge waiting for inspiration. I used a cup to make pizza dough, and I’ll let you know how that turns out. Interestingly I strained the yogurt from my first batch exactly the same way I strained the yogurt in my second batch (double layers of cheesecloth) but the Oikos batch had clear whey and the Olympia batch had some milkiness to it. No idea why, just another mystery to solve.
I’m pretty happy with this, but I have a coworker (the same one who is going to hook me up with a fermenting crock) who says that her yogurt maker makes yogurt that comes out thick like Greek yogurt and doesn’t need to be strained. I’m going to have to look into it, plus she uses it for fresh cheese, keffir, and sour cream.
Next time friends.