Long ago, lost in the mists of time, I used to make my own yogurt. The first apparatus I had as a 70s newlywed was given me by my Swedish stepma-in-law. It consisted of a kind of insulated aluminium cloche set over an aluminium tray. On top of the tray sat – was it 5? 6? – glasses, which were of such a shape that they assembled themselves neatly into a sort of honeycomb formation around the central glass.
The idea was to heat the milk, let it cool a bit and then add ready-made, shop-bought yogurt. The glasses were laid out on the tray, the milk-yogurt mixture was divided equally between the glasses and the cloche was placed on top. Then you left it on the counter or beside the stove (Aga, for preference) and went away and forgot about it for several hours or overnight until it set firm. The whole business was a bit hit-and-miss. Sometimes it firmed up obediently, other times it remained resolutely liquid. You never knew. It was a bit like my novice bread baking efforts, when I couldn’t be sure of a reliable rise. (And I remember using plenty of those un-set yogurts in my bread – it gives a lovely soft crumb and a good rise.) A bonus if you used whole, unhomogenised milk was that the yogurt came crowned with a thick crust of cream, mmmm.
Years later, by which time my Heath Robinsonish yogurt kit had fallen by the wayside in one of our many moves, I started making yogurt again, prompted by a friend living in Switzerland. Her recipe was similar, only you didn’t need any special kit and she counselled the addition of a little powdered milk, which gave the end result a rather pleasing, firm consistency, more like a Greek yogurt. I did it regularly for ages, then forsook it once more and took off in other directions (bread-baking, probably).
Recently, nudged by a piece in the NYT on the joys of home-made yogurt, I decided it was time to renew acquaintance with the DIY variety. I combed my files, both paper and electronic, for Kathy’s recipe but it had gone AWOL. Never mind. From memory, it involved full-cream milk, a little milk powder and some natural, unsweetened yogurt (bought, or kept from the previous time).
I had a little practice and here’s how it went. It’s dead simple. Okay, I admit it requires two saucepans, one jug, a wire whisk and 9 small glass jars (or a large wide-necked Thermos jug). It wouldn’t be any good for our millennials (whatever or whoever they are) – I read recently that this generation (also known as Generation Y, defined as idle, whiney and entitled) no longer eat cereal for breakfast. Why? Because they can’t be fagged to wash up a cereal bowl. Nuff said.
Here we go: pour 1 litre of milk into a saucepan, insert a thermometer and heat the milk to just above 80C. The top will start to wrinkle into a semblance of a skin but it’s still got a way to go before boiling (over) and at this temperature it won’t burn on the bottom of the pan. UPDATE #1: If you prefer, pour the milk into a large microwave-safe bowl and heat it without the thermometer in the microwave @ 900w for 10 minutes – take it out, check the temperature and give it a little longer if necessary for it to reach 80C.
Transfer the milk into a large jug, stir in 2 tablespoons [about 20g] of powdered milk and leave the thermometer in so you can see when the temperature has descended to 45C. On the counter in my kitchen in winter, this takes about 25 minutes.
Whisk it up again to distribute any skin that has formed and whisk in half a carton (60g in our part of the world or 2 to 3 tablespoons) of bought yogurt. UPDATE #2: I now add the whole carton, as it’s a pain having half a carton loafing about in the fridge. On the vexed question of which kind to buy, look carefully at the label for the magic word bifidus. This is the culture that gives yogurt its setting qualities and gentle acidity. Not all yogurts have bifidus. Or maybe they do, they just don’t declare it. Activia is one that does.
Place some glass jars in a large saucepan with a lid, into which they will fit snugly. I use recycled glass yogurt pots from Ferme Climont, a small farm up in the Vosges whose gorgeous fruit yogurt (love, love that myrtille/bilberry one) comes in these very handy sized (125g), single-serving glass jars – but use whatever glasses you have to hand. (Or pour the soon-to-be-yogurt into a large, wide-necked Thermos jug and let it set in that.)
If using the saucepan/glasses method, divide the yogurt between the glasses, cover the pan with a cloth, place the saucepan lid on top and leave it in a cosy place for however long it takes to get a good set. UDATE #3: I’ve found it’s a good idea to put the pan in a very cool oven (50C max.) or in the turned-off oven after you’ve finished baking something else. This speeds things up and gives a better set. If using a Thermos jug, just pour it in, screw the lid shut and leave on the counter. Resist the temptation to look before at least 6 hours have passed. Then take a peek to see if you have lift-off. If not, leave for another couple of hours.
When the yogurt is set, cover the glasses with lids or foil and refrigerate till needed.
And that’s it. It’s about as natural as you can get, no additives, no added sugar, just good, real food. Eat it straight from the pot, nature, or add a lick of honey or home-made jam or jelly and/or some yummy cubes of fresh fruit. Or use it in sauces (always adding a little cornflour/cornstarch to make sure the sauce doesn’t split), or vinaigrettes to give a creamy effect without the cream. You can even blend a little of it into baba ghanoush in place of tahini – less rich and nice and tangy. And on the pudding front, use it to make home-made panna cotta, combined with cream, sugar or honey and a little gelatine to ensure a good set.