A long while ago, in a Francophile stage of life, I bought the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” I was curious, how did these French women grow up so confident, strong and, of course, healthy and beautiful? The author, Mirelle Guiliano, generously gave tips on the diet French women follow. In fact, it’s not really a diet at all, but foods French women eat and foods French women avoid. One of the foods she swore by was yogurt. She provided two ways of making the yogurt – one with a yogurt machine and one without.
In my quest of refined Frenchness, I dutifully bought a yogurt machine – which was really just 6 small glass jars and a cylinder heating element. I followed the instructions Ms. Guiliano provided and, viola, rich thick yogurt. However, it was only to be beginner’s luck as all my further attempts of making yogurt were a fail. My “yogurt” was runny and watery. I tried and tried again with no success. I shelved the yogurt maker and in time my quest to become French faded as well.
A few years on and an interest in all things fermented commenced. My kitchen counters were filled with sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir grains – water and milk, and sour dough mothers. I loved the idea of living food. And, of course, new evidence supports that fermented foods are good for our bellies and our overall health.
So, with a newfound love of all things “good bacteria” I finally got up the courage to try my hand at making yogurt again. The trick, it seems, to foolproof homemade yogurt is to do what the Bulgarians have been doing for thousands of years. Their technique is so simple – no yogurt makers or thermometers necessary – milk, a starter and a little bit of love is required.
So here’s how you make your own homemade yogurt:
You’ll need to procure a yogurt starter. The yogurt starter can be any yogurt with live active bacteria cultures. (These bacteria cultures are typically lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.) Ask at your local health food shop or trusted grocery store and avoid any yogurt with fruit or flavorings, as well as yogurt labeled “greek yogurt.” They won’t work for these purposes.
You will also need a liter of organic full-fat milk.
First, pour the milk in a large saucepan and put it on the stove at medium high heat. Let the milk warm until it becomes frothy and foamy on top – not boiling but frothy. It is to the right heat when it looks like the foam rising is about to bubble up and over the saucepan.
Now take the saucepan off the heat and let it stand to cool. You will know when it has cooled to the correct temperature when you can comfortably hold your finger in it to the count of 10. (If, due to the heat, you have to remove your finger before you get to the count of 10, the milk is not yet cool enough). Body temperature is the correct warmth for the bacteria in the yogurt starter to activate.
Now, take two large spoonfuls of yogurt (from your yogurt starter) and add to the warm milk. Whisk the starter until it is reduced into the milk.
Pour the milk with starter into a 1 litre glass jar. (I use 1 liter Kilner Clip-top jars.)
Here is where the love comes in: You will need at least 3 blankets (or bath towels). Carefully and lovingly wrap your jar with the blankets, so that it is fully swaddled like a baby – including the top of the jar. (Some people have advised to leave the top of the jar open for this part and others have advised to close it. I have found the results to be the same either way.) You want to make sure the yogurt stays warm and insulated inside of the blankets. Let your yogurt baby rest on your counter for at least 2 hours (and up to 8 hours). Remove the blankets and put the jar in your refrigerator overnight. It will set further.
добро утро наслади се (Good morning and enjoy in Bulgarian!)
To keep your yogurt going, you will need to follow the above steps every 3 to 4 days, using your homemade yogurt as the starter each time. If you can’t seem to eat your yogurt fast enough, don’t forget, the sour flavor in yogurt can be used to add depth to a lot of recipes – from breads and muffins to soups, and sauces.