Friday, July 13, 2012

How To Make Homemade Yogurt in a Rice Cooker

My First Batch Of Homemade Yogurt With Fruit
Do you like rich, creamy yogurt and want to control the ingredients and flavor, plus have the satisfaction of learning to do it yourself? Learning to make yogurt at home is easy and you do not need a yogurt maker or any special equipment. The process of making yogurt involves adding special bacterias to milk that turn the milk sugars (lactose) into lactic acid. The lactic acid then acts on the milk proteins, producing the characteristic thickness and tang of traditional yogurt. Most commercial yogurts have thickeners and additives, such as gelatin, so your first batch of homemade yogurt will be thinner than store bought, although using advanced techniques, you can achieve a thick homemade variety. First, let's go over the basics. As a disclaimer, I am no expert, and I only have 5 batches under my belt; however, I found it very easy to make and plan to buy a yogurt maker to do it more ofter.
Starter Cultures from New England Cheesemaking

What you need to get started:
-rice cooker or double boiler
-food thermometer
-milk (higher fat content milk makes a thicker, richer yogurt)
-yogurt starter culture
-storage containers

The best place to get your starter culture is online. I used the creamy variety from New England for my first batch. You can use store bought yogurt, but I had no luck with FAGE, Yoplait, or Stonyfield farms. I don't think they had enough of the live cultures to ferment at the same rate as the specialty yogurt culture, plus it is hard to find plain, unflavored yogurt. I used strawberry and vanilla flavors to try and start a batch and the end product tasted very "off". My batches with the specialty freeze dried cultures turned out fabulous. Now that you have all your equipment, what is the process?

1) Wash and sanitize all equipment. Fill a sink with water and add 1/4 cup regular chlorine bleach. Dip your whisk, saucepan, the interior of the rice cooker, thermometer, and storage containers in the solution for 1 minute and then let dry. This is to make sure only the "good" bacteria populate your milk.

2) Use whole, pasteurized, cow milk for your first batch. Low fat and goat milk can be tricky. Pour your milk into the saucepan and insert the food thermometer. Heat on Med until the milk reaches 180 degrees F. Turn down the temp and hold at 180 for 20 minutes. Be careful not to scald the milk.

3) After 20 minutes, let the milk cool to 110 degrees F.

4) Transfer the milk to a double boiler or rice cooker (turned off).

5) Add the yogurt bacterial culture. It is important to wait until the milk is cool to add the culture. The bacteria will not survive high heat and your product will not ferment. Stir the culture vigorously with a hand whisk.

6) You want to keep the yogurt between 90-110 degrees for 7-8 hours for it to ferment. The easiest way to do this is to keep it on the stove top in a double boiler on low, in a rice cooker in the WARM setting, or use a yogurt making appliance.

7) If you use the rice cooker, the WARM setting will exceed 110 degrees. You will need to monitor the yogurt and turn the appliance on and off to maintain the target temperature. I found that 30 mins on and 30 mins off worked well.

8) After 7 hours, you should have a thick, tangy yogurt, similar in consistency to ranch dressing. It will not be as thick as store bought. You can now add sweeteners, flavors, or seasonings and store. Save 1 cup of your first batch with no additives to use as a starter for the next batch. Use your starter within 1 week. Make sure to add all thickeners, flavors, and additives after incubating the yogurt, it can affect the texture and impart an unpleasant graininess if added too soon.

I added some Greek seasoning to one batch to make a savory yogurt salad dressing. The other batches I added sweetener and vanilla butter baking emulsion to make an awesome sweet vanilla yogurt. Finally, some I kept plain and mixed it with vanilla and chocolate whey protein powders to make drinkable high protein smoothies.

-Use higher fat milk or part heavy cream.
-Add dry, powdered, non-fat milk or a can of evaporated milk to your batch BEFORE the initial cooking; this is the one additive you add in the beginning.
-Strain the finished yogurt through cheesecloth to remove some liquid.
-Use gelatin or pectin (fruit derived thickener) after cooking. Add thickeners in small amounts slowly, or you will end up with yogurt jello or jam. Gelatin is an animal product, pectin is from fruit and used to make jam and jelly.