Yogurt is a wonder food, packed with probiotics, protein, calcium, B-12, and other nutrients, and oh so easy to make yourself. Being an ardent yogurt consumer (I like mine plain, thick and very sour), I had recently become dissatisfied with the batches I made using a standard yogurt maker that incubates the yogurt in little individual jars. So I went back to the drawing board (aka the Internet), and much to my amazement, there are at least three other methods (slow-cooker, dehydrator and heating pad) that produce perfect yogurt easily, each and every time. The one that I use is the heating pad method. So for that method you’ll need a heating pad, a large two-quart size glass vessel (with lid), a digital kitchen thermometer, a wooden spoon, whisk, spatula—a couple of large bathroom towels—and then the secret to making flawless Greek-style yogurt, a Greek-yogurt strainer from Euro-Cuisine (see below). That inexpensive utensil has become indispensable in my kitchen, so it’s hard not gush about it—also excellent for making homemade ricotta and other soft cheeses like quark.
Just follow these simple steps:
1. Heat ½ gallon of pasteurized milk (I typically use 2% but you can use whole milk as well) in a heavy pot slowly until it reaches around 185 ˚ on low to med-low heat. Be careful that you do not burn the bottom of the pot, stir occasionally but when it gets close to 165˚, stir more often. (Cooking time depends on the type of pot but can take at least 30 mins.)
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2. Remove the pot from the stove and then cool the milk to 112˚. It is extremely important that it is cooled down, any higher temperature can kill the yogurt starter. This also can take at least 30 mins.
3. As the milk is cooling, remove 2 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt from the fridge (either from your previous batch, or store bought, but be sure to use plain yogurt with active bacteria, with no fillers) to get it to room temperature.
4. Using a ladle, pour about a cup of milk into a bowl or measuring cup and stir in the yogurt you’ll be using for your “starter”. Whisk to totally get it blended, add the rest of the milk and whisk again.
5. Place the container(s) on top of a pre-heated heating pad set to Medium. If you are using a pad that has a 2-hour automatic shut off (as many do), you will need to shut it back on at least 3 times during this incubation period. Or purchase a pad that does not have that shut-off feature (that type is actually less expensive). Put a top on the container, and then cover it with two thick bathroom towels, tucking the towels around the whole thing so it keeps to a reliable temperature.
Now sit back and relax, yogurt making should take 7 hours, do NOT disturb it during this time. But at the end of 7 hours, give a peak (but not before) and see if it looks like it has thickened, if it hasn’t just cover it back up and wait another hour or so.
6. For Greek style yogurt, carefully pour the thickened milk into the strainer (as explained above) or use cheese cloth placed inside of a colander or strainer and refrigerate for at least three hours. If you like a thinner style yogurt you can also just transfer it directly into pint Mason jars (with lids), but you will also need to refrigerate that for at least 3 hours to let it set.
The longer you keep the yogurt in the strainer, the more whey is produced and the thicker the yogurt will be. I typically let it strain overnight, or 8 hours or longer, but that also produces a more “sour” yogurt. You can always add some of the whey back into the yogurt if you want to thin in down. Depending on the length of straining time, it will produce at least 4 cups of thick yogurt (right) and an equal portion of whey (left). Do not throw out the nutritious whey! There are numerous uses for whey, including baking with it (substituting any recipe that calls for buttermilk, such as muffins, pancakes and waffles). Good to pour a little on your dog’s food too.
* You can halve this recipe using only a quart of milk, but use the same amount of starter, 2 to 3 tbsps.