Ivy Hogan was entertaining me on Facebook a few weeks ago with her adventures in homemade yogurt. Ivy uses a multi-cooker, one of those programmable jobs that performs a variety of different functions – rice cooker, slow cooker and in some cases pressure cooker. Her multi-cooker has a setting for incubating yogurt.
At the time I had my original conversation with Ivy on Facebook, I told her that Alton Brown has a method that uses an electric blanket to hold the proper 110-degree temperature while the yogurt incubates. I thought about borrowing an electric blanket and trying that method, but I’ve been busy with the play and haven’t had much time for culinary experimentation.
I got a couple different Amazon gift cards for my birthday, and I was trying to think of a fun way to use one of them. I happened to think of a multi-cooker, thinking I could replace my current rice cooker. But the multi-cookers, if you use them to make rice, make a lot more than I would eat by myself! And the price range is so broad that I was suspicious the cheapest units – the ones I could afford with my gift card – might be sub-par. (The cheaper multi-cookers do not have the pressure-cooker function, either. Someday I’ll get one of the nice multi-cookers which does include a pressure-cooker function.)
So I did something that TV chef Alton Brown would deplore and looked at a “unitasker” – a dedicated yogurt-maker. And I found several low-priced models. Most were the type that allow you to make individual jars or plastic cups of yogurt, six or seven at a time. But I liked this one, which lets you make a quart in bulk and then parcel it out however you like.
I know, it’s a gadget. But I’ve actually had good success with kitchen gadgets. And Alton Brown doesn’t have to know about it.
To make the yogurt, you heat milk on the stove, then let it cool down slightly and add some sort of culture – you can buy freeze-dried culture online, but the simplest thing to do is to use a little bit of plain yogurt (provided it’s the kind with live and active cultures) as a starter. Then you put the inoculated milk into the yogurt maker (or a multi-cooker, or a bucket lined with an electric blanket, or whatever) and hold it at 110 degrees for a period of 4-8 hours or more. Shorter times result in milder, looser yogurt; longer times result in tangier, thicker yogurt. If you like something with the even-thicker consistency of Greek yogurt, you wait until after it’s fully cultured and you put it in cheesecloth in a colander (in the fridge) to let some of the whey drain out. You can let it drain even longer to produce yogurt cheese, a good cream cheese substitute. (Try draining your favorite full-fat store-bought yogurt this way some time. Low-fat or non-fat varieties may not work as well because of the artificial thickeners.)
I am very anxious to try this and see how it works. The machine should arrive by the end of the week. Next weekend will be another busy one, but maybe I’ll have time to try a batch next Sunday.