Making my own yogurt has never occurred to me – until my good friend Yasemin in Beijing told me that she is always making hers. And her yogurt was the most delicious I have ever eaten! So I was keen to learn. And she taught me her art of home made delicious yogurt in a pot on the stove! So this recipe is actually rather a how-to-make toolkit. And it’s rather Yasemin’s than mine.
More than a year has passed since I learnt making yogurt in Beijing, and I have used the culture Yasemin gave me ever since. A culture is actually just yogurt, the same one that you eat and enjoy. Separating a batch of yogurt as a culture preserves the particular bacteria (from the Lactobacillus family) used to make this yogurt – and thus its distinct flavour.
And Yasemin’s yogurt, or yogurt culture, has actually moved around the world twice! It is originally yogurt from Turkey. Yasemin brought it on a plane from there to China when she moved to Beijing. It also survived our our own intercontinental family move last summer. I just froze it in a glass jar, which I stuffed into my suitcase before flying out of China for the last time last July. The first few batches after this journey weren’t quite the same, as the culture doesn’t particularly fancy to be frozen. But after making yogurt a few times, the culture and the resulting yogurt returned to its original creamy deliciousness. So every time I make yogurt, I think of Yasemin.
If you like the yogurt you have made, set aside a small amount in a sealed jar to be your “culture”. That’s all you need to do. Just don’t open that jar until you use it to feed the next batch.
Actually, making yogurt is also a brilliant exercise in patience. Because it takes time. While you don’t have to do anything complicated, you still need to stand by the side of your pot and pay attention. You can sip a coffee, chat on the phone or read a bit. But running around doing errands in the house, or working on the computer is not recommendable. You will know why when your pot boils over for the first time, creating a huge mess! I can tell from experience! So relax, and make your yogurt 🙂
Top tips ⚙️
So, how do we make yogurt? In general, it is fairly simple and straightforward. But it takes some time and patience, and a few times making it to get a real feel for it. At least that was the case for me!
One of the keys to yogurt-making success is the right temperature at every step. For one, the culture has to be at room temperature when you are stirring it into the warm milk. When doing this, the milk also has to have a certain temperature – around 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees F): If too hot, the heat kills the culture. If too low, it cannot grow into yogurt. More about that later.
After your milk has reached a high temperature and increased in volume, it needs to simmer for a while. It should not be cooking wildly. The longer you keep it on the stove lightly bubbling away, regularly stirring – the firmer your yogurt will become. Since I like firm yogurt, I keep the milk simmering for 30 minutes. After that, remove the pot from the stove and wait for the milk to cool down until it reaches the right temperature. In order not to miss that point, it is best if you stay nearby and check regularly.
As far as ingredients are concerned, you only need 2-3 litres of milk and your yogurt culture. When you make yogurt for the first time, your culture is most likely a store-bought yogurt. Choose your favourite full-fat creamy yogurt. And, make sure not to open it before you use it as culture for your first home made batch! Once you open a yogurt box, liquid starts to separate from the yogurt, and it loses its ultimate freshness.
We use organic milk from grass-fed cows for a lot of reasons: The cows’ well-being as much as taste and health. The amount of milk depends on how much yogurt you want to make. The amount of culture you use is the same as it will grow either way. I started with 2 litres, but due to popular demand in my family, I now usually use 3 litres of milk at a time – which will yield roughly the same volume in yogurt.
One important thing to remember is to pull the yogurt culture out of your fridge before starting to heat the milk. The culture has to be at room temperature when added to the milk for best results.
You also need a couple of larger sealable, clean glass jars. If you have, chose some with a large opening for pouring your liquid soon-to-be-yogurt in from the pot. Add to that one small sealable glass jar that will hold your culture for for the next batch.
Pour the required amount of milk into a tall saucepan. Make sure that the pot is not more than half full. You can choose whether to heat the milk quickly at high temperature or slowly at medium-low. Warning: At high temperature, you have to be on constant watch to prevent burning or boiling over. Both incidents are very annoying. Because if the milk burns, it does not taste good and becomes inedible.
The latter won’t turn the milk bad but create a mess! I normally put my stove on medium heat and usually would remain close to it throughout the process. It is still important that the milk grows in volume, frothing a little. But once that happens, remove the pot from the heat source and stir vigorously. You can put the pot back to the stove after a few minutes. This can be done earlier when you have a gas stove. An electric stove’s heat source takes a bit longer to cool down.
Issue Number One: Burning
In contrast to pure water, the proportion of water in cow’s milk is only 87 percent. The rest is made up of fat, protein and a few carbs from the lactose. These carbs in the milk sugar will caramelize on the bottom of the pot when it gets too hot. The carbs also bond with the proteins. If that happens, the result is a brown, bitter-tasting layer that sticks to the bottom of the pot. This brown layer gives off a burnt aroma to the milk in the pot above it, rendering your milk unusable. So by all means, prevent that brown layer to form by ensuring the heat is evenly distributed in the milk.
Stand by the stove and stir with a wooden spatula while the milk warms up. It is good to sometimes slowly moving to scratch along the bottom if you feel something starts to stick to it. Try to swirl the lower, warm milk layer upwards so that it mixes with the still cold, upper milk layer. This way the milk is evenly warm. The stirring is especially important when you put your stove on high heat. To begin with, I recommend using lower heat and take your time.
Issue Number Two: Boiling over
We all hate this. Watching from afar how the milk frothes over the pot’s rim, creating a mess on the stove before we are able to race over and lift up the pot. Why does milk boil over so easily? It’s because a wafer-thin skin forms on the surface of the milk when it is heated. Therefore, the excess heat and vapor underneath cannot be released into the air. The water vapor in the lower layers of the milk increases more and more due to the steadily supplied heat from below. The steam presses harder and harder against the thin skin on the milk surface until it tears. At that moment, a lot of water vapor strives to escape upwards at the same time. Due to the high pressure, liquid is pushed out of the pot as well.
So, immediately remove it from the stove, as soon as the milk is frothing and rapidly increasing in volume, Keep stirring milk, and turn down the heat. Wait for a little while before returning the pot back on the stove after a little while, constantly monitoring it.
There are two traditional remedies I have heard or found on the web.
Number one: Put a large metal spoon into the pot. Since the metal of the spoon heats up faster than the liquid, the spoon ensures that the heat is not held on the bottom. Instead, the heat can climb up the spoon and escape in the form of water vapor. The spoon thus creates an additional valve for this heat which otherwise can only rise along the pot’s wall. The milk will still rise when boiling, but the spoon slows it down a bit.
Number two: Put some butter on a paper towel, and rub the inner rim of the pot about two centimeters down. When growing, the milk liquid will not pass over the greased edge. I have never tried this remedy myself, just read about it. Go for it if it makes sense to you!
Issue Number Three: Milk skin
Another nuisance is milk skin. It is hard to prevent when making yogurt as you have to simmer the milk for so long. During the process, Coagulating proteins stick together to form the infamous milk skin. But you can try to minimise the effect.
To avoid the formation of a milk skin, you should bring the milk to the boil as slowly as possible, while stirring constantly. This prevents layers of different temperatures from forming in the milk. You also mix air into the milk this way. The coagulating proteins accumulate in that air instead of sticking together to form the milk skin.
If milk skin forms anyway, it doesn’t affect the yogurt-making success. Just leave it on the surface when you let your milk cool down (see below). Carefully scoop it off with a strainer spoon whenever you want to check the temperature. Do not stir around wildly to destroy the milk skin. Small parts of this skin would stay in the milk and be noticeable in the yogurt.
While all the wisdom for making yogurt is Yasemin’s, many of the technical and practical explanations about how to heat milk well are from a German webpage called “good household tips”.
Cooling down your milk before entering the culture 🥛
After simmering your milk, you remove it from the heat source and allow it to cool down. More often than not, milk skin will form during this cooling phase (see above). You can carefully remove it every once in a while with a strainer spoon. Again: Don’t destroy the milk skin by stirring wildly. Small pieces of this skin will remain in the milk and be noticeable in the yogurt.
How do you know the temperature is low enough to add your culture? You can either measure the temperature with a food thermometer. It’s just right when temp is around 50-52 degrees Celsius or 122-130 degrees Fahrenheit. My friend Yasemin uses a different, more intuitive method that I have come to adopt. Putting the tip of your (clean) pinkie into the milk and count to 10.
This traditional method has worked brilliantly for me. If at 10, the pinkie starts to feel the pinch of the heat and you crave to remove it from the milk, the temp is right. If you can’t touch the milk with your finger in the first place, or wanna remove it before getting to 10, it is too hot. It may happen that you pass the right point, and the milk has cooled down too much. In that case, carefully re-heat it until it reaches the right temperature.
Why does this matter? Because the culture needs a warm but not too hot environment to thrive and grow. A too hot milk kills it off. Your culture is a bit similar to yeast in this respect.
Final step – entering the yogurt culture 🥛
Once the temperature is right, enter the final step: Entering the culture. Remember that the culture has to be at room temperature at this point. Around 4 tablespoons of culture are sufficient.
Open the jar that holds your culture – or your store-bought favourite yogurt – and swiftly whisk it into the milk. For store bought yogurt, remember not to open it on the days before using it as culture.
Keep whisking for a while as you want to make sure the culture fully disperses in the milk.
After whisking the culture into the milk, you can smell it is changing. It is slowly but surely becoming yogurt. Now, pour your mix into your glass jars or bowls and cover them with a lid. Remember to reserve a smaller jar for what is going to become your culture for the next batch. The culture should measure around 1/2 to 1 cup – at least 4 heaped tablespoons of yogurt.
Spread a large towel on a wooden board and place your jars onto the towel. Then fold up the towel and tightly wrap your yogurt jars to keep them nice and warm. Let the yogurt sit and develop for at least 4 hours. After that, remove the towel and place the yogurt into the fridge where it will get a little firmer.
Place the little culture jar separate from the rest to avoid that somebody opens it accidentally. I sometimes add a sticker to it.
Once the yogurt has fully cooled down, it is ready for you to enjoy!
This yogurt tastes fantastic as it is. You can serve it alongside any Mediterranean meal. Or you can mix it with herbs and a pinch of salt, for example to go along my oven-roasted shrimps with garlic.
If you like Indian fare and spices, try my recently posted yogurt raita with pomegranate seeds.
I hope you love making yogurt as much as I do – let me know what you think, whether you have questions or have a great idea how serve your yogurt!
This is the easiest and best way to make your own delicious yogurt! All you need is milk, glass jars – and your favourite full-fat yogurt which will serve as your Lactobacillus culture.
You can find extensive details on how to boil milk, avoid mishaps and prepare yogurt in my post above.
For 2–3 mason jars
2–3 liters of full fat fresh milk – organic and from grass-feed cows if possible. The amount depends entirely on how much yogurt you would like to make. The amount of culture remains the same.
4 tablespoons full-fat natural yogurt in a still-sealed container. This acts as your yogurt culture. Use anything creamy and delicious you love – Greek or Turkish yogurt is idea.
A few tools: A large pot, whisk, strainer spoon, glass jars – several big, one small
- Pull your yogurt culture out of the fridge. The culture has to be at room temperature when you eventually mix it into your warm milk. Do not open it until you use it.
- Put a large pot onto your stove and pour in 2-3 litres of milk. Put stove to medium heat (recommended, see above).
- Carefully and slowly bring your milk to the boil, regularly stirring. This prevents burning, boiling over and milk skin. Please read my post above for details on how to avoid misshaps at this point.
- Once the milk starts to increase in volume and frothing, pull your pot from the stove and stir vigorously. Lower the heat. Put your pot back onto the stove after a few minutes: Earlier if you have a gas stove, a but later for an electric stove whose heat source needs longer to cool down. Keep your milk simmering on low heat for up to 30 minutes. The longer you simmer it, the firmer your yogurt will become. Keep monitoring and stirring.
- After 30 minutes, remove your pot from the stove and allow the milk to cool down. The milk’s temperature has to be at 50-52 degrees celsius/122-130 degrees Fahrenheit when you enter the culture. Check my post above to learn an intuitive method for checking the temperature if you don’t have a cooking thermometer. The right temperature is important, because the culture needs a warm but not too hot environment to thrive and grow. A too hot milk kills it off. If you pass the right point and the milk has cooled down too much, carefully re-heat it until it reaches the right temperature. If milk skin forms during the cooling process, carefully remove it with a strainer spoon. Don’t stir it into the milk, as the pieces will be noticeable in your yogurt.
- Once the temperature is right, open the jar that holds your culture – or your store-bought favourite yogurt – and swiftly whisk it into the milk.
- Open your jars and pour the mix inside. Make sure to divide a part for the small container as this will be your next culture! Wrap all the jars into a few towels to keep them warm for the culture to grow. After a few hours, the mix will have turned into delicious yogurt! You can remove the towels and place your yogurt jars into the fridge.
Mark the small culture jar with a sticker to prevent any loved ones to accidentally open and enjoy it!
- Category: low carb basics
- Method: mix and simmer
- Cuisine: international