Monday, February 8, 2010

Week Two: Yogurt, again, still

Last week’s semi-debacle stoked my fires with stubbornness and made me determined to succeed at making yogurt. And let me tell you, the stubbornness came in handy.

It wasn’t that the yogurt I made last weekend was inedible; I ate every last bit of it. Every last, gritty, charmless bit. As I noted at the time, the flavor was fine, but the texture was way off, and I suspected that had something to do with the skim milk I used.

So for the next round, I used 2%, just like the recipe recommended for beginners such as myself. Into the pot went four cups of organic 2%, up to 170 it went, into the ice bath, and then really, truly into the ice bath. I still don’t know exactly what happened, but the lip of the milk pot slipped, and four cups of lovely, 170-degree milk infiltrated the icy waters of the big stockpot.

For a few moments, all I could do was stare in disbelief. It was actually kind of pretty, the milkiness slowly spreading through the water, reminding me of milk spreading into coffee and briefly bringing to mind that “clouds in my coffee” lyric. Then I snapped back into reality, potholders were thrown, F-bombs were dropped, and my husband came running to see what had happened, said a few reassuring words, and resumed his post on the couch.

I started again immediately, draining the quart carton of its remaining four cups of milk. This time, though, to save time (it was past my bedtime) I decided to heat the milk in the microwave. Terrified of a boil-over, I put it in for umpteen rounds of 1 or 2 minutes, then 30 seconds, and so on, taking it out to stir it and take its temperature over and over until I got it to 170. The rest of the process was completed without incident. At some point, my husband wandered in, kissed me and said, “From failure comes great things!” and pumped his fists in the air triumphantly.

And now we get to the part where I had a simultaneously brilliant and stupid idea. Earlier in the week, while making rice, I thought, “Shazam! We have a rice cooker!” It’s a fancy modern one, too, because I accidentally and regrettably killed the old one. It seemed like the perfect incubator. Surely the “keep warm” setting would do the trick.

Ladies and germs, it did not do the trick. I left it on “warm” all night, and in the morning, it was jelled in random globs, and it was way hotter than the recommended 110 degrees. Ever hopeful, I put it in the fridge, in a strainer lined with paper towels set over a big pot, and went to work. When I got home, not one drop of liquid had seeped through. It tasted yogurty, but way too sweet, and way too milky. Waves of guilt and inadequacy washed over me as I poured the stuff down the drain, but I really couldn’t think of a way to consume it.

The rice cooker failure got me thinking about the possibilities of using the crock-pot, and then a friend commented with the same suggestion, and it was like “shazam!” all over again, because one quick online search revealed scads of crock-pot yogurt recipes. One of the first that popped up was from the consistently awesome Crockpot365 lady, which I found greatly reassuring.

My big beef with these recipes, though, is that they call for leaving the milk in there on “high” for two and a half hours, which makes no sense to me in terms of either efficiency or energy use. If the primary advantage of the crock-pot is to keep the proto-yogurt warm enough to gel overnight, then why not just pre-heat it?

So that’s what I did. While I was heating, cooling and prepping the milk and otherwise puttering around, I filled the crock with water and turned it to “high.” It was on for perhaps half an hour. When the milk and yogurt mixture was ready, I turned it off, emptied the water and dried the crock (with a paper towel to minimize introduction of new bacteria), put it back in the base unit, added the prepped liquid, put the lid on, and wrapped the whole thing in three bath towels. (One folded on top, one folded in thirds lengthwise around the circumference, and one unfolded under the entire pot, wrapped up and over to hold the others in place.)

Back on the couch, my husband asked if there was more to do, and I said, no, this is the part where I hope fervently that it works, go to bed, and check it in the morning.

It’s a good thing it’s not possible to OD on yogurt. It’s gorgeous, creamy, delicious and definitely full-on yogurty. I stirred, refrigerated, and strained it, and immediately had some, warm, with bananas and cereal. I’ll definitely be making yogurt on a regular basis – not only is it at least four times cheaper than buying it, but I’ll know exactly what’s in it, and it will be mild enough to eat plain.

A few final notes for those who will want to know:

- When I finally succeeded, I used ultra-pasteurized milk, which isn’t supposed to work.

- I used one 8-oz. tub of Greek-style honey vanilla yogurt as starter. Now that I’ve been successful, I’ll be using my own yogurt as starter.

- To strain it, I used paper-towel-lined strainers over stockpots and bowls.

- I didn’t time the straining process, just kept checking it until I was happy with it.

- I learned, during my further research, that it is important to stir the yogurt before you refrigerate it – it helps stop the bacteria from reproducing, which keeps the flavor mild.

- I did not believe it, but it’s true: the yogurt will firm up quite a bit in the fridge.

- One half-gallon of milk made roughly 32 ounces of Greek-style yogurt, but if you don't strain yours, you'll end up with as much yogurt as the amount of milk you used.

- Here are a few recipes and sites I found helpful: brief but helpful explanations of the whys and hows; great detailed step-by-step with nice photos and crisp layout; a scholarly approach from the University of Kentucky.


Anonymous said...

I had a good (though sympathetic) laugh over your efforts, probably because I can visualize the scenes about your husband coming in and offering kindly and philosophical words of counsel. I am sooo glad you finally succeeded and am looking forward to the tasty treat during my next visit. Manga Mama
PS I don't remember Helena having such troubles making yogurt when she lived with us. If my memory is correct, she used the oven method.

HMDean said...

Well, thanks, MM! It's funny, though, I remember Helena using a yogurt maker, Hm...