< beginnings of a home dairy >

Let's talk about yogurt a little, friends. As far as I'm concerned, yogurt is the substance of life. We eat it for breakfast at least twice a week, but we also have it for snacks, use it in baked goods, use it in a dessert, serve it instead of sour cream when we have tacos for dinner, the possibilities are endless in my mind. But it gets expensive. Really expensive. Especially if you're trying to avoid synthetic hormones and antibiotics in your dairy. So a couple of years ago I started making my own yogurt, with very inconsistent results. One day it would be perfect, and the next it would be a curdled mess. But then about a year ago, I remembered that a good friend of mine had given me her old 2 quart maker, so I ventured out into the abyss that is my garage and miraculously dug out the box that it was in, and disinfected it and went to work. And it's completely changed my life. Yogurt couldn't possibly be simpler or more cost effective. (I make 1 gallon of organic yogurt every other week for $6! When I strain it for Greek-style yogurt, it ends up being about 3/4 gallon for $6. Where else could you buy that much yogurt for that cost?) Especially with the right tools. But I'm assuming not everyone has a generous friend who gives you a $50 piece of equipment for only one use, so I'm going to explain the whole process using your average-equipped-kitchen materials.

Basically, it boils down to a few simple steps. But knowing why we do these steps is pretty important to your success, I think.
First, we heat the milk (0%~whole and anything in between, but if you know me I never use lowfat, so I always make whole milk yogurt) over low heat to 180°F to kill any bacteria that will interfere with the culturing process that we're trying to control. It's important that you don't mess with the milk at this stage. No stirring. So when I say low heat, I mean very low. Yogurt cultures are persnickety this way and won't like to be bothered. And though you haven't added them yet, it's like they know somehow. 
Let it cool back down to about 120°F. Safer to err on the side of too cool than too hot here. 100°F~110°F is the ideal temperature for the live active cultures to work. Too cool and it could take days. Too hot and they'll die and your yogurt will curdle.
Once cooled to just under 120°F, gently stir in the starter with about 1/4 of the warm milk. The starter will be your favorite brand of PLAIN yogurt clearly labeled "live and active cultures". I like a tangy Greek yogurt, so I started with with a true Greek cultured yogurt. But choose the ones you like, and if you love the result, you can keep reusing it indefinitely. Just store a little bit of each batch for the next.
Once well mixed, pour your mixed, tempered yogurt to the container you'll be incubating it in, add the rest of the warm milk, and give it another gentle stir, and then you incubate it in an environment that will maintain a temperature of about 100°F~110°F for 6~24 hours, depending on the result you want. 6 hours will give you a thinner, more mellow yogurt flavor, 24 hours will be completely free of lactose (which might be good for some of you) but very strong. Almost ... gamey. I have lactose issues (along with the other 99% of Asians that do), so I go somewhere in between. Around 12~18 hours. I want as much lactose gone as possible, but the 24 hour yogurt just doesn't work for my palate. At this point, if you want that thick, Greek-style yogurt, You can line a sieve with cheesecloth or muslin over a bowl and drain for 4~6 hours until your desired consistency is reached.
Relatively simple, right? The incubating part might be a little daunting, but there are ways to make it work. This time, I poured the contents into a 1/2 gallon mason jar, wrapped it in foil and a quilt, and placed it in my oven. I had heated my oven to about 100°F and turned it off before adding my yogurt. It turned out beautifully. Some people who are lucky enough to have an oven light that you can turn on and off like to just leave the light on. The heat from the light bulb in there is apparently enough to maintain a warm environment.

Other options for incubating include placing your container in a cooler and adding a few glasses full of hot water next to your yogurt. Or placing it in a preheated and turned off slow cooker. Or if you're doing it in the Summer, just leave your yogurt in the sun, believe it or not. I liked the oven, though, since it seemed reliable. Of course I prefer my yogurt maker since it's designed to maintain the perfect temperature. So if you love the results, and I think you will, you might want to someday invest in a yogurt maker.

Tools that are necessary or that I recommend:
candy thermometer or digital thermometer with an alarm. I bought mine at IKEA and love it
large, non-reactive, heavy-bottomed pot
cheesecloth or fine muslin
fine mesh strainer (sometimes when you heat up the milk, there will be little pieces. You want to start with a smooth base)
Metal spoon for stirring
large container for incubating (preferably glass. non-reactive, doesn't give off flavor, and see-through!)

Let's get started, shall we?

Homemade yogurt
makes 1/2 gallon, easily halved or doubled
1/2 gallon of good quality, homogenized milk
3 tablespoons (1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons) of your favorite plain yogurt with live and active cultures

  1. In a large, non-reactive, heavy-bottomed sauce pan or pot, heat the milk over low heat until it reached 180°F (82°C). Don't stir the milk.
  2. Once heated, let the milk cool to 120°F (48°C).  You can speed up this process by placing your saucepan inside a large bowl full of ice water, or transferring your milk into a small bowl that will fit inside a larger bowl full of ice water. Taking care not to get any water into the milk.
  3. Once the milk has cooled down to 120°F (or a little lower), put the yogurt in the container you will be using to incubate it in. Pouring through a fine mesh strainer to catch any bits or the skin that has formed, pour about 1/4 of your milk into your container with the yogurt. Stir gently with your metal spoon.
  4. Once incorporated, add the rest of the milk mixture through the strainer as well. Give it another gentle stir, cover, and incubate for 6~24 hours, depending on desired consistency. (Suggested incubation methods above)
  5. If you want a thick, Greek-style yogurt, line a sieve with a piece of clean, damp cheesecloth or muslin, place it over a bowl and pour in your yogurt. Let it strain for 4~6 hours until desired thickness is reached.
The coolest thing about this is that once you make it the first time, you never have to buy yogurt again! You can just reserve your 6 tablespoons from your last batch and use it when you're ready to make your next batch. So from now on, your gallon of half gallon of yogurt will only cost you the price of the milk. Not bad, right?

< so many uses >

Remember my chia jam? Well, I did more than put it on bread or pancakes or waffles. I put it in a tart. With lightly sweetened créme fraiche. In a crumbly and crisp and sandy and slightly sweet cornmeal browned butter tart crust. And it was fabulous. My family and I accidentally ate the entire thing for second breakfast. Totally worth it.
Usually I feel really wordy, but I'm not sure I have much else to say. You know you want to try it. And by the way, this took me from start to finish, less than an hour. The crust is unbelievably easy, thanks to no chilling or rolling (just be careful when pressing in the crust to avoid cracking), and I'm embarrassed giving you a "recipe" for the filling because it's really something anyone could figure out. But the combination is sublime. So got for it. Make it for second breakfast. Or elevenses.

Blackberry jam and créme fraiche tart in a cornmeal crust
makes 1 9-inch tart
for the crust:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
5 ounces unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal (preferably stone ground)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for the filling:
1/2 cup créme fraiche
1 tablespoon raw honey*
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup*
1/3 cup blackberry chia jam or your favorite berry jam (blackberry somehow goes especially well with the cornmeal crust, but honestly any jam will be good on this)
*use your favorite sweetener for this. And do it more to taste. I liked it very lightly sweetened, I like the tang of the créme fraiche to shine through. But it's really up to you when you eat it. Just know if you're coming to my house for lunch, it'll be tangy.

  1. Preheat the oven to 410°F. In a 4-cup or larger oven-proof bowl, combine the butter, coconut oil, water, salt, and sugar. Place in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is bubbling and the butter begins to brown. Remove the bowl from the oven and add the flour, cornmeal, and vanilla. Stir vigorously until it forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl with ease. If necessary, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time.
  2. Once the dough is cool enough to touch, form a slight disc shape and place it in the middle of your 8.5 or 9 inch tart pan. (Don't use a nonstick tart pan) Using your fingers, gently press the dough evenly throughout the pan. Use the bottom and sides of a measuring cup to continue pressing and smooth out the shape. You can use excess to piece together thin or cracking parts, but try to avoid cracks and piecing if you can, for appearance.
  3. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet, prick the base evenly with a fork, and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and shows very fine cracks. Set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, mix together the créme fraiche, honey, and maple syrup together in a small bowl. Once the tart shell has cooled completely, carefully spread the sweetened créme fraiche evenly on the bottom of the crust. Then either with a knife or the back of a spoon, spread the jam over the créme fraiche mixture. If it's too soft, chill the filled crust before adding the jam. I left a slight border around the jam to show the layers. Serve within a few hours to avoid a soggy crust. Enjoy!