Kitchn Love Letters

How to Make Homemade Yogurt (So Satisfying, and So Easy)

published Aug 7, 2020
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Not to throw shade at sourdough (Mr. Funny Pants, my starter, would appreciate nothing of the sort), but I’m a firm believer that it’s homemade yogurt that deserves everyone’s attention. Trust me: I’ve churned out dozens of batches of both, and I can confidently say it’s yogurt you should be making from scratch. If sourdough is the needy child that requires constant attention, yogurt is the laid-back kid that flexes to your schedule.

It doesn’t matter if you mistakenly killed your pet sourdough starter, or if your pandemic strategy has been to order takeout every night. Absolutely anyone, regardless of your culinary prowess, can churn out homemade yogurt that tastes a million times better than store-bought. Did I mention it’s wildly cheaper, too? Here’s how to get started.

Why Everyone Should Embark on a Homemade Yogurt Journey

My own yogurt-making adventure started a few years ago when I came across a New York Times article about yogurt starter cultures being passed down through generations in South Asian families. As someone who is half South Indian, I was struck by the idea that making homemade yogurt is such a major component of my culinary culture, and yet I’d never embraced the act as part of my heritage. I immediately emailed my auntie and asked if I could have a jar of her homemade yogurt to use to make my own.

You see, this is the first reason why homemade yogurt is so easy: All you need is yogurt with active cultures and some milk to get started. You can use your favorite brand of store-bought (Greek or regular, full-fat or low-fat, even non-dairy — just make sure it’s plain) or if you have someone in your life who makes yogurt, you can get a jar from them. The most crucial factor is that the yogurt contains live active cultures like L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei, but most if not all yogurts have one or a few of them (you can check the carton to be sure). These are the healthy bacterias that will ferment your milk and transform it into yogurt.

If You Can Boil Milk, You Can Make Homemade Yogurt

Unlike sourdough, which requires learning how to feed and fold and shape and score (not to mention the brain power it takes to time it all correctly), making yogurt doesn’t require any fancy ingredients, equipment, or technique. All you need is a pot and some patience.

To start, you’ll pour a half gallon of whole, low-fat, or fat-free milk (non-dairy works, too) into a Dutch oven or large heavy pot with a lid. You’ll heat the milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until it comes right below boiling, about 200°F. You don’t need a thermometer, but I find it helpful for accuracy, especially when you’re starting out. I have an instant-read and a candy thermometer and both work well.

Next, you’ll remove the Dutch oven from the heat and let the milk cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming, until it’s just warm to the touch, 112°F to 115°F. Transfer one cup to a bowl, add about 1/2 cup yogurt, whisk until smooth, then pour this thinned yogurt mixture into the Dutch oven of warm milk and whisk to combine. Lid the Dutch oven, transfer it to a turned-off oven, and turn the oven light on. The light keeps the oven at the perfect temperature (around 110°F) for the milk to ferment.

Then you’ll go about your business. It takes between 4 to 10 hours for your pot of milk to set and transform into yogurt, so you can either let it work its magic overnight or during the day when your oven isn’t in use. The exact time depends on the cultures used, the temperature of the yogurt, and your yogurt preferences. The longer yogurt sits, the thicker and more tart it becomes. I prefer the full 10 hours because I like my yogurt thick and tangy, but start checking at four and play around until you find your own sweet spot. Once set, transfer the Dutch oven to the refrigerator to chill for at least a few hours. Then ready your granola!

I’ve been following this method without fail and love how low-tech it is, but you can also make yogurt just as easily in the Instant Pot.

Get the full recipe: How to Make Yogurt at Home

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Starter Is Born! (Here’s How to Store It)

The recipe above will give you about two quarts of homemade yogurt, and it will keep well for up to two weeks. Just be sure to scoop out and reserve about 1/2 cup to use as your starter culture for your next batch. I like to do this when I’m transferring the yogurt from the Dutch oven into storage containers to ensure I don’t forget. A word of warning: Label your starter culture. One week when I was out of town, I returned home to find that my husband mistakingly ate the starter! I’ve been labeling it ever since.

Your starter culture is also good for about two weeks, so if you start making yogurt regularly, you’ll find yourself on a nice schedule. If you need to take a break, toss the starter culture in the freezer, then thaw it completely when you’re ready to get back at it.

How you enjoy your yogurt is up to you. I like it as-is, with fresh fruit and granola, but you can stir in a splash of vanilla or almond extract, if you like, or even a few spoonfuls of jam to make it fruit-flavored. Love extra-thick Greek yogurt? Just strain it through a cheesecloth. Having fun experimenting to make it uniquely yours.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.