Vanilla Yogurt, a No-Fail Updated Guide to Making It Yourself

It’s time to update my yogurt recipe.  I’ve found a method that, for me, is completely no-fail!

At it’s most basic, yogurt is a really simple process.

    1. Heat milk to kill pathogens.
    2. Cool milk to NOT kill yogurt cultures
    3. Add yogurt starter and flavor
    4. Keep it warm.


The recipe is here.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large pot
  • 2 clean mason quart jars with screw on lids (use wide mouth!  save your sanity trying to get that last scoop out!)
  • candy thermometer (needs to show between 100 and 185 degrees Farenheit)
  • small cooler that will hold the two jars
  • half gallon whole milk
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 8 ounces store bought yogurt

About the store bought yogurt: Yes, you can save yogurt from one batch to use in the next.  I never remember to do that, and it’s about fifty cents to pick up a little tub when I buy my milk.  Totally worth it for me.

Second, every recipe I’ve ever seen says that you need to use plain yogurt.  Lies.  I’m making vanilla yogurt, and I can use vanilla yogurt as my starter!  Just keep in mind that the store bought, flavored, yogurts are chock full of sugar and thickeners…those things will be in your final product.  Yeah, it’s just a little, but that might matter to you.  (It stopped mattering to me when my grocery store stopped carrying 8 ounce cups of plain yogurt- I didn’t want to buy a tub of starter and mess around with freezing it, then thawing it when I wanted to make yogurt.)  Whatever you get, check the container and make sure it has “live and active cultures.”  I’ve never seen a yogurt that didn’t carry this label- I’m not sure it would even BE yogurt if it didn’t have cultures in it?  But still- you need the bacteria to make new yogurt for you, make sure you’ve got ’em.  If you have a favorite brand of yogurt, try using it for your starter!  Different brands might use different cultures, and perhaps you have a preference for one over the other?  I’ve used Dannon, Tillamook, Brown Cow, Kroger…all made nice yogurts.

To start, get your milk and yogurt out of the fridge.  Leave the yogurt out to warm up, dump the milk into a big pot over low heat.  Stir it occasionally, and let it get about 185 degrees- you’ll see a skin forming on top, and you’ll see a good amount of bubbles around the edges.  This temperature will kill any bad bacteria in the milk.  (Yes, it’s a fresh carton of milk, yes it should be totally safe.  But do it anyway!)

Take the milk off the heat, and let it cool down so it won’t kill the good bacteria in your yogurt starter- you want it below 120, and 105-115 is perfect.

Stir in your vanilla, yogurt starter, and sugar.  A 1/4 cup of sugar will make a tart yogurt.  A 1/2 cup of sugar will make something my kids beg for.  And it’s still way less sugar than store bought!  I once compared the sugar in Jell-O pudding to my daughter’s favorite vanilla yogurt from the store- they.were.the.same.  (I let her eat pudding for breakfast that day.)  A half cup of sugar is 8 Tbsp, which is mixed into 8 cups of milk.  So that’s a half Tablespoon for every half cup serving of yogurt (1 and 1/2 teaspoons.)  It’s sweet, yes.  Probably treat level, but if you’re trying to show your kids that home made is yummy just like store bought…ease them into it.  You can use less next time!

The faster your yogurt sets up, the sweeter the final product will be as well.

So, let’s get it set up.  Once your milk has cooled, you stir in the sugar and vanilla and yogurt starter.  Don’t beat it silly, it will get frothy.  But do try and work the lumps of yogurt starter into the mixture, so that they can do their job.  Pour  your mixture into two very clean quarter mason jars, and screw on two very clean lids.  I find plastic lids in my canning section at the grocery store- if you don’t have a stash, get some!  (You’ll have about a half cup of the milk mixture left over- drink it while the kids aren’t looking, it’s delicious!)

Put your sealed mason jars into a small “igloo” cooler, and fill the cooler with hot tap water.  Shut the lid and walk away!  My yogurt is generally done in a few hours, perhaps 4?  Totally depends on how warm the house is, and how warm it stays in that cooler, and how warm the milk mixture was when you poured it in.  You can check it after 4 hours by picking up a jar and tilting it a bit- if it looks solid enough, it’s done!  But, if you mess around with the jars while they’re still setting up, they won’t set up properly.  When it’s done, stick it in the fridge!

Now, if you want greek yogurt, that’s easy.  Take your finished yogurt and dump it into a tea towel-lined colander over a bowl and let it drain in the fridge till it’s as thick as you like it.  If you leave it a really long time, you’ll get something that looks like cream cheese.  It’s delicious on french toast, but you’ve been warned!  Save the whey that drains out for your bread baking, or soaking grains in.  I haven’t messed around with making ricotta with it, I wonder if it would work?  It would be sweet, though, haha.

One word about your finished yogurt- it will begin to separate, and the whey will seep out.  It looks weird, it’s totally normal- you didn’t add gelatin or thickeners like the companies do.  Drain it off.  Also, if you stir your yogurt, it will get runny and won’t set back up again.  Again, no thickeners.  So serve it up in great big scoops, and enjoy!

One Response

  1. We make all our yogurt it is GREAT!!! And really cuts your food bill.

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