Thursday, July 21, 2011

Crock Pot Yogurt

Confession time. I had a crock pot for roughly ten years before I ever used it. I just didn't know what to do with it. It was new (to me) technology and it scared me. All I knew it could do was pot roast, which I never cared for as a kid. So my motivation to learn about it was low. But I held on to it because my grandma gave it to me before she died. Yes, I'm one of those people.
Not mine, but looks like it.

So, eventually I pulled it out and looked at it. By that time I had married and had a child and needed ways to make food quickly and cheaply. I spent a lot of time looking things up online. That's when I stumbled on the idea of yogurt.

Obviously I realized that people could make their own yogurt. After all, it doesn't come from a special breed of cow. I just never realized that real people do it. At least without the aid of a special gizmo imaginatively named a yogurt maker.

So when I realized that I could "make" yogurt with nothing to purchase other than milk and yogurt, I knew I had to try it. Now I say "make" in quotes because to make yogurt you first need to buy some for a starter culture. I believe they also sell it in other forms, but that is probably more work and expense and I just never bothered to look into it.

I like ingredients that are as close to natural as possible. So I found a full-fat, Greek yogurt that had very few ingredients and got a half gallon of whole milk. (Perhaps this would be a good time to tell you that I'm not afraid of dietary fat from natural sources.) Full-fat milk makes the thickest yogurt, and it still won't be as thick as the stuff you buy without some work or additives. The way commercial low-fat yogurt get thickened is by adding stuff. This wasn't an option for me. But I'll let you know how to do it if you want to.

Here's what you'll need to make my version of Crock Pot Yogurt.  

Note: Ultra-pasteurized milk has all the bacteria in it killed. This makes it shelf stable and longer lasting. It also means the yogurt bacteria will not have anything to work with to make it into yogurt.

1 crock pot (or whatever slow cooker you have)
1/2 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/4 cup yogurt (plain, full-fat with live cultures is best, I use Greek)
towels or other cloth to wrap your crock

Put the milk in the crock pot and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours. (This kills any bad bacteria that may be present and heats the milk.) *One of the ways to make a thicker yogurt would be to add 1/2 cup powdered milk at this stage.

Turn it off for three hours. (This allows the milk to cool to a temperature that won't kill the good bacteria in your starter.)

Gently add your starter yogurt. I use a whisk with a slowish folding motion. *Another way to thicken it up would be to add an envelope of unflavored gelatin here.

Then take your towels and tuck your crock in for a long nap, at least eight hours. I usually time it so this part is taking place overnight. Often it will be twelve hours or so before I get around to tending it the next morning. I've heard that it can be left up to 24 hours. The longer it is left out, the more tangy it gets and the more lactose is eaten up. Many people with lactose issues can eat yogurt, but if you're worried, leave it out longer. After 24 hours almost all the lactose is gone.

Edit: I now leave it out for longer, it works well and does thicken up more.

Since I like thicker yogurt, I strain it. Just line a colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth. Preferably over a bowl to catch the whey. (Whey is the liquid that drains out.) I do mine in batches and scoop the yogurt into a container when it reaches the thickness I like. If you have a big enough colander you could probably do it all at once. Depending on how long you let it drain, you could end up with a lot of whey. Don't throw it out. It is great to use instead of milk or water in other recipes. I've used it in pancakes and bread with amazing results. It is also a nutritious addition to smoothies. I'm sure you can come up with many other uses that I haven't thought of.

Edit: I no longer drain it. It ends up thick enough now that I don't bother with the extra work. Plus, the runnier stuff works better for smoothies.

I honestly can't tell you how long it stays good in the fridge because it always disappears too fast.

Edit: I have since discovered that if you use a gallon of milk and 1/3 cup of starter yogurt, you can double the recipe.

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