Finding a good recipe for frozen yogurt proved to be surprisingly difficult. All I wanted when I started was a simple bowl of tangy, creamy frozen yogurt, which I was craving. Because it's summer. And because I figured making fro-yo couldn't be any more complicated than making ice cream. What I found was that, while it's not that difficult, there are a lot of ways to go about making this tasty, semi-good-for-you treat.
In the end, I tossed out all my notes, all my trials, all my errors, and I went with what seemed to me to be the simplest method: straight yogurt, churned in an ice cream maker, frozen until snack time.
Why Homemade Frozen Yogurt Is Tricky
If you want to make frozen yogurt, presumably you're expecting to use yogurt for a good portion of your recipe. (It is the "yo" in fro-yo, after all.) The problem is that yogurt, while creamy when you spoon it from the carton, actually contains a good amount of water and not a lot of fat. When you freeze it, the water forms crystals that make fro-yo icy and decidedly non-creamy. The water also makes it challenging to freeze yogurt into something that's actually scoopable and not just a solid ice cube.
There are a few ways you can solve this dilemma: You can drain the liquid from the yogurt by hanging it in some cheesecloth overnight, then mixing in some heavy cream to return the yogurt to the proper consistency. You can use Greek yogurt, and then do the same thing — mix in some cream. You can also turn this into more of a classic ice cream and work some eggs into the mix. Jeni Britton of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams even whisks cornstarch and cream cheese into her version of frozen yogurt.
These are all great methods, each with their own merit, but I really just wanted something simple, not a project. I didn't want to fuss with draining liquid from regular yogurt, and Greek yogurt, while much thicker and creamier, often makes a fro-yo that's just too tart for even my tart-loving self. Everything else just seemed to get away from the point. Which is yogurt.
So in the end, I decided to just embrace plain yogurt and turn to a few cooking tricks to ensure a spoonable, reasonably creamy, and totally satisfying dessert.
Make Fro-Yo with Whole-Milk Yogurt
Start with whole-milk yogurt. Check the nutritional info and get the yogurt with the highest fat content you can find. Yes, I totally understand that at least some of the reason we love fro-yo is its status as a "healthy treat," but fat is crucial to a non-icy frozen yogurt. And even a whole-milk yogurt is still less of a decadence than the eggs and cream going into regular ice cream, so go for this. (And if you want a truly healthy indulgence, go make One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream!)
... and a Little Cream
When I asked Cheryl Sternman Rule, author of Yogurt Culture and founder of Team Yogurt, about the dilemma of icy fro-yo, she recommended helping the yogurt out by adding another rich and creamy ingredient. "Whole-milk yogurt 'mounted' with cream, labneh, or mascarpone results in richer, creamier, and more luxurious frozen yogurt than those that use just yogurt alone. Textures are smoother and there's less iciness," she says.
This said, if you're counting your calories or just don't want to fuss with another ingredient, it's not the end of the world to leave this out. Cheryl adds, "Frozen yogurt without those added fats is just as delicious — just less over-the-top-creamy."
... and a Little Sugar
Sugar is also crucial to making a creamier frozen yogurt. It inhibits the formation of ice crystals and also keeps the frozen yogurt creamy. Plus, freezing dulls sweet flavors, so even if you're happy with the flavor of your yogurt straight from the carton, chances are you'll want some sweetener once it's frozen. Use at least 3/4 cup sugar per quart of yogurt for freezing purposes, plus more to taste.
I stick with plain sugar to keep my fro-yo simple, but you can experiment with other sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup, or agave. One more tip from Cheryl: A little bit of corn syrup can help prevent ice crystals from forming — she says she picked up this trick from ice cream makers, but it also helps for frozen yogurt.
→ Read more on from Cheryl on The Kitchn: If You Love Yogurt, Then It's Time To Explore Its Global Culture
Turning Yogurt into Fro-Yo
Since all the ingredients are already cold from the fridge — just whisk everything together until the sugar dissolves — there's no need to chill this fro-yo base before churning it like you do with traditional ice cream. Pour it into your ice cream maker and have at it.
Churn until the yogurt reaches the consistency of soft-serve ice cream — you can actually serve it right away just like this if you like! If you want harder fro-yo that's closer to the consistency of ice cream, pack it into a freezer container and freeze it until hardened.
The Best Container for Freezing Fro-Yo
I recommend freezing your frozen yogurt in a container that is fairly shallow and wide, like an 8x8-inch baking pan or a 9-inch cake pan. Not only will this freeze a little more quickly (bonus!), but I find that having a long runway is the best way to scoop frozen yogurt into tidy balls. This fro-yo is still going to be less dreamy and creamy than regular ice cream, and it can be rather brittle when you try to scoop it. The trick is to doing long, shallow scoops.
Another scooping trick is letting the frozen yogurt warm for a good 20 to 30 minutes on the counter before serving. This makes it much easier to scoop and much less icy on your tongue.
Don't want to wait for the whole container to thaw? Try this trick for freezing pre-scooped ice cream. It works like a charm when you're dishing out bowls to a big crowd:
→ Read More: Party Tip! Scoop Ice Cream Ahead of Time
How To Make Frozen Yogurt
Makes 1 quart (or slightly more)
What You Need
(about 3 cups) whole-milk plain yogurt
3/4 to 1 cup
sugar, honey, or other sweetener
corn syrup, optional for smoother frozen yogurt
Measuring cups and spoons
Ice cream maker
Freezer container, preferably something shallow and wide
Freeze the bowl of your ice cream maker 24 hours in advance.
Whisk together all the ingredients: Combine the yogurt, heavy cream, and sweetener in a bowl. Whisk until heavy cream and the sweetener are fully mixed in, 1 to 2 minutes. If you're using granulated sugar, then the mixture should feel smooth between your fingers, not gritty.
Refrigerate, if needed: If your yogurt mixture has warmed at all or if you want to wait to churn it for any reason, cover it and place it in the fridge until it has cooled to fridge temperature again. If your ingredients have only been out of the fridge a few minutes, another chilling isn't necessary.
Churn the yogurt until thick: Pour the yogurt base into the ice cream machine. Churn until the yogurt has thickened to the texture of soft-serve or a thick milk shake (17 to 20 minutes on most machines).
Scoop into a freezer container: Smooth the top. Press a piece of parchment against the top of the yogurt to prevent ice crystals from forming.
Freeze until hard, at least 6 hours or overnight.
Serve the frozen yogurt: When ready to serve, let the frozen yogurt sit on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes, until just soft enough to scoop. Use long, shallow strokes to form balls of frozen yogurt. Serve right away.