This morning, as I made my son and I a fruit smoothie for breakfast, I felt love toward my mason jar full of creamy fresh yogurt. I felt an ode coming on, and since I have not practiced my odes, thought a blog entry might suffice. Homemade yogurt is so sweet and delicious and easy, yet so many do not make it. My mother buys store yogurt, and the other day I tried some and it was SO sour! That's the way homemade yogurt tastes when it's really old. Which tells you that it can last a loong time!
In the summer, making yogurt is so easy because the house is nice and warm all the time. In the winter, unless you keep your house super warm and heated all the time, making yogurt is a bit trickier. If you just do it on the counter, it will probably take forever to "gel", if it does at all. You can try putting it on a heating pad, but that's usually too warm and makes the bottom part of the yogurt extra "gelled" and the top soft--not uniform. This is where the aquarium heater comes in.
I never thought an aquarium heater would come in so handy in the kitchen! The great thing about an aquarium heater is that it maintains temperatures that yogurt likes, right around 80. Most aquarium heaters maintain heat between 75 and 85, nice comfy temps for fish and plants who live in the tropics. Comfy temps for microbes too... kind of a goldilocks zone. You only need a 25W heater, which are the cheapest ones, but it's nice to have one that allows you to adjust the temperature, although that's not necessary, since the ones without adjusters are usually set at around 78, which is perfect.
The other part of this set-up involves something that won't let that heated water rapidly cool down--an insulated cooler or ice chest. I use something that is like a drink cooler that construction workers use. Fill it about a third of the way with warm water (why wait for the aquarium heater to do its job?) and then submerge your mason jar, or whatever you ferment your yogurt in, into the water. You want the water to completely surround the milk, so it will be very close to the top. Your jar won't float when it is completely full of milk. Then you just put your aquarium heater in the water and in about 12-24 hrs you got the best yogurt ever. While the yogurt is "cooking" I put the mason flat lid on, slightly ajar, don't know why, I just do. Also, I put the top on the drink cooler, but not tightly, and check on it every now and then to allow the oxygen and carbon dioxide to equalize with the air.
If you've never made yogurt before and are wondering about *that* part of the operation, it couldn't be simpler. Bring almost a quart of milk to 180 degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, that's the point just before it's boiling, where you've got tiny bubbles around the edge and a very thin skin). The reason it's *almost* a quart is because you are going to mix in some yogurt to make a quart. Then cool your milk back down to about room temperature, or at least just barely warm. Now get your clean quart jar or clean old yogurt container and pour a little milk into it and add about 3-4 tablespoons of plain yogurt (I have had success with cheap generic brands and organic alike, just try to get some without any additives, like gelatin) and mix it together. Then add the rest of your cooled milk and give it a good stir. Now you are ready to incubate!