Yogurt success or fail? Will know tomorrow.
I've been making yogurt just about every two to three weeks, since I made my first batch in June, and have had so much fun.
I checked the yogurt at only 3 hours of incubation, and it was quite solid. I ended up stirring the whole batch (to see if it was solid to the bottom, sometimes I've found that the yogurt is thicker on top than on the bottom - it's possible I didn't mix the yogurt well enough in prior batches).
I then left it for another two hours (after rewrapping in a towel and putting the crockpot back on the heating pad).
When I checked it the second time, I thought I had ruined the yogurt. A huge amount of whey had seperated from the yogurt and was floating on the top (it looked like the yogurt had curdled into cheese - at first glance).
Then I realized this may have been a happy accident. I got a ladel and ladeled off as much whey as I could, then I stirred the rest, until it looked smooth, and tasted (tastes good, just like it's supposed to).
I ladled the yogurt into my storage containers and put it in the fridge. We'll see what it looks, tastes, and feels like in the morning.
Usually the whey only slightly seperates (and there's only a very small amount of whey floating on top of the yogurt - and each day, I'll skim off the top layer - so my yogurt gets thicker and thicker every day).
I usually incubate about 5 hours and check it at about 3 to 4 - usually being careful not to disturb the yogurt - because that's what I read you're supposed to do. At the 3 hour checkpoint I did stir it up (mostly to see what it would do).
I'll be anxious to see what the yogurt looks, tastes, and feels like and I wonder if more whey will leech out of the yogurt.
I do like thicker yogurt, but I'm way to lazy to strain yogurt throught a sieve or cheesecloth, so if agitating the yogurt in the middle of the incubation helps get more whey out, I'll definitely be doing it every time.
So far, it seems like a happy accident, but I'll know for sure tomorrow when I serve up my first serving.
Every batch I learn something. I saw a youtube video today of a woman who made yogurt using yogurt AND sour cream as starter. Anyone hear of that?
If I had a new carton of sour cream, I would have tried it, but the sour cream I had, was already opened. And while I'm careful not to cross-contaminate I only use starter from a pristine source (as soon as the yogurt is done, I'll take out a small portion and seal it up - and it won't get unsealed except to make the next batch of yogurt). Or if I use store-bought yogurt as a starter I'll use what I need, and usually will eat the rest. This time I froze it in small tupperware containers to use as starter next time (I've never used frozen starter before, so I'll make sure to have a refrigerator backup).
So, how did it turn out???
Awesome. The flavor and texture isn't any different than normal, except that it's considerably thicker (usually it takes several days of pouring off the whey that rises to the top, to get this thick).
I still haven't tried making my own yogurt, but it's on my to-try list when I have some time. :D
It's amazingly easy in a crockpot. Most of the time expenditure is spent in waiting, not doing anything. If you have a digital thermometer with an alarm (ideally a heating up alarm and a cooling down alarm - mine can only be set for heating up. When it comes to cooling down, I have to turn the alarm off and just periodically check the thermometer).
It requires less than 5 minutes of my actual time, and the rest is just waiting (you do kind of have to be home for the whole process, at least until you know exactly how long your heat up and cool down phases take).
In my crockpot, I pour the milk into the crockpot, set the thermometer's alarm for 190 degrees (you only have to heat it to 180, but I like the thicker yogurt that 190 produces). When the alarm rings (about 3 to 4 hours later) I turn off the alarm. Turn off and unplug the crock pot, pull the crock out of the metal liner (so it cools faster). The thermometer is still in place and turned on, the alarm is just off. After about 2 hours, I start checking the temperature every 30 minutes. When it is under 120 degrees, but over 95 degrees, I stir in the starter. Then wrap the crock in a thick towel and place it on a heating pad (such as that for sore muscles) and set the thermometer's alarm back on at 115 degrees (because this is the ideal incubating temperature and if it gets past 120 degrees it will kill off the yogurt bacteria). This is more a precaution than anything, because I've only ever had the heating pad heat the milk past 115 twice. I set the alarm anyway.
Then I check the yogurt after about 5 hours (but it's safe to leave it as long as 24 hours).
The longer you incubate, the more tart the yogurt will be and the less lactose will be in the yogurt. Supposedly there will be no lactose left after 24 hours (so the yogurt incubated this long would be safe for those with lactose intolerance - in theory).
So the actual "work" time involved is probably not even a full two minutes, but you do have to be "around" for the process untill you know what to expect from your crockpot.
Eventually, I probably won't even need the thermometer (this is what most yogurt makers say) that I'll just be able to set my timer for the time it takes to heat the pot to the right temp and cool it down...
For example in my case I could probably do without the thermometer by now (because the times are pretty consistent). With my equipment I can just pour the cold milk into the crockpot, turn on high and leave cooking for 3.5 hours. Cool crock outside of liner for 2.5 hours. Add starter, wrap in towel, put on heating pad set on low for 4 to 12 hours.
Of course I had to use the thermometer and record my times to learn how long it took my crockpot and heating pad to reach the right temperatures.
You can also do without a thermometer if you want to check the pot more often (until you know your equipment). You heat it just until the milk starts to bubble around the edges. Cool it until it's warm, but not hot (comfy bath temperature should do it). Add starter, wrap in a towel or thick blanket (and if desired put on a heating pad set on low).
Unless your house is really cold, you probably don't really need the heating pad. Also, some people wrap the towel or blanket around the crock and then put it in an oven (no heat or an oven that's been heated and cooled down to warm but not hot temp). Or put the wrapped crock in a foam or plastic cooler.
Once you know how long each stage takes, you can even leave the house as long as you're back before the next stage.
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