Making thick, delicious yogurt is a simple, rewarding kitchen project.
In five simple (anyone-can-do-it) steps you can transform fresh milk into the most thick, delicious probiotic yogurt you've ever tasted.
But not all homemade yogurt is thick, right? I've made disappointing pourable yogurt before, and truly it's just not the same as a good, thick jar of homemade.
The tips below will walk you though how to make hold-that-jar-upside-down thick yogurt that you and your family will love.
Yogurt-making is simple and rewarding. It requires no special equipment and results in a delicious product you're sure to love.
And fresher yogurt means fresher cultures, so more probiotic power for your gut. (Plus it costs far less than the stuff in the plastic tubs, and creates less waste.)
Here's how we do it around here, including tips to make your yogurt as thick as the best store-bought variety.
Foolproof (thick!) Homemade Yogurt
Ingredients (for 1 quart of yogurt)
1 quart milk (whole organic milk is best, but feel free to use what you have. Also cow or goat, raw of pasteurized – all will work.)
1 Tb yogurt starter (details on lively yogurt cultures are below)
Choose one: cooler, oven, heating pad or yogurt maker (I will explain how to use each option)
Kitchen thermometer (optional)
Step 1: Heat milk
Warm 1 Qt of milk over medium-low heat until it is below a simmer but piping hot (180 F/82 C if you are using a thermometer). A skin will form on the surface of the milk. Lift it off with as spoon and discard.
Thick Yogurt Tip: (Optional) Turn your burner to the lowest possible setting (keep it just below a simmer if you can) and keep your milk warming for 1 – 2 hours. This will evaporate some of the water and result in thicker yogurt! Remove skin periodically as it forms on the surface of the milk so that the water can evaporate. I don't always do this, but on occasion I do and it makes for crazy-thick yogurt.
Edited to add: if you are going to do the longer heating time, add an extra 1/2 pint of milk at the start as you will lose some volume due to evaporation.
Step 2: Allow to cool
Carefully transfer your still hot (but not jar-breakingly hot) milk to a clean glass jar. (I do this little by little to ensure I don't crack my jar, allowing the glass to warm slowly.) Alternatively, allow the milk to cool in the pan and pour into sterilized jars. Cool milk until it reaches 108 F/42 C. If you don't have a thermometer, simply cool until the jar is warm to the touch but not hot.
Adding your culture to hot yogurt will kill your culture, so don't hurry this step. Remove any skins that have formed on the milk using a clean spoon.
(My kids love the idea of the single serving yogurts they see at the coop, so sometimes I divide the batch up between a few pint and half pint jars for them. Any size jar will work.)
Thick Yogurt Tip:(Important!) Sterilized jars are key! Stray bacteria in your jars can upset the balance of your yogurt culture and result in thinner yogurt. Clean jars are a must.
Step 3: Culture
Add 1 Tb of unsweetened live yogurt to your quart. (If you divided into smaller jars, then divide your culture between those jars proportionally.)
Thick yogurt tip: (Important!) More is not better. Indeed, adding extra culture will result in thinner yogurt. I know. It's counter-intuitive. But it's true! Add just 1 Tb per quart and your yogurt will be as thick as can be.
A lively culture is a must! If you following all of my instructions and tips to the letter and manage to have your yogurt "flop" a sad culture is the likely cause.
Thick yogurt tip: (Important!) Be gentle about it! Don't vigorously stir in your culture. You want to baby it. If there are little blobs of yogurt floating on the surface after you stir that's a-ok. I usually press my culture against the jar with the back of my spoon, then give a very slow, gentle stir or two and call it done.
Step 4: Insulate
For the culture to work its magic, you need to keep it warm! This is the second likely culprit if your yogurt doesn't turn out.
Your goal is to keep your yogurt as warm as you would keep rising bread dough. Too cold and the starter won't take. Too hot and you'll kill it. The sweet spot is around 105 F/40 C. A little lower is okay, but don't go higher than that.
Choose one of these places to cozy up your jars:
A. A cooler filled part-way with very warm water.
A simple low-tech option. Place your jars in a small cooler, then fill with very warm/almost hot water to the neck of the jars. Cover and drape with a towel to add insulation. Check the water temp a couple of times. If cooling down, carefully scoop some out and replace with hot.
B. A warm oven.
If you have a pilot light or a "proof" setting on your oven, this can work to keep your yogurt warm, too. (If your oven gets a bit too hot you may have to crack the door.)
C. A yogurt maker.
A yogurt maker adds heat and insulates to keep your yogurt warm while it cultures. I have one. I like it. But often I still use the cooler or oven when I'm doing a larger batch.
Edited to add: since I wrote this post we moved to a house with an oven that is "meh" for making yogurt. Now I make it one jar at a time in a yogurt maker similar to this one. (afflink) I like that my yogurt is still in glass (versus plastic) and I just make a habit of making it more often. If you like having smaller jars on hand, we had one similar to this (afflink) and it worked well, too.
D. Heating pad on low heat.
This can be tricky if your heating pad gets too hot, but can work beautifully. Place heating pat in the bottom of a cooler and cover with a thick towel. Set heat to low and place yogurt on top. Cover.
Let your yogurt culture undisturbed for 4 – 12 hours. Four makes for mild, thick yogurt and the full 12 hours creates a more sour yogurt with no residual milk sugars – great for people sensitive to such things. (And legal for those on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and GAPS.)
To determine if your yogurt is ready, gently tip the jar a bit to one side. If it is still watery keep it insulated for the longer time. If it looks thick you're set.
Thick yogurt tip: (Important!) Do not disturb. Move those jars carefully. Be sure you don't jostle or stir your yogurt while it cultures or the result will be thin and disappointing yogurt with the whey separating out. Boo.
Carefully remove your jars, lid, and transfer to the fridge to cool. While it's hard to wait, if you scoop your yogurt out now it won't be thick! Cool completely before digging in. This is an important final step to thick yogurt!
(Step 6: Enjoy!)
Be sure to save a tablespoon of fresh homemade yogurt for your next batch. You can re-culture from your own yogurt for several weeks (or even months) before needing a new starter. When your yogurt become thin, excessively sour, or persnickety it's time for a fresh culture.
Also, did you notice that I didn't sweeten my yogurt? You can do that if you choose when it's time to eat. But the less time your yogurt is mingling with the sweetener the better. Sugar jacks up those probiotic cultures and weakens them a bit. So sweeten later. If you're traveling with yogurt you can pour a little maple right on top, then stir it in when it's time to eat.
Happy yogurt-making, friends. Do report back with how it goes, won't you?