I have seen different methods of making yogurt with a slow cooker or heating pads. I haven't tried any of those. I decided that I would get a yogurt maker that has individual jars. I also bought an extra set of jars so I can make another batch before the first batch was gone. My yogurt maker wasn't very expensive and you don't have to watch the temperature carefully for hours. You just set it and when the time is up, take it out and put it in the frig. It's actually pretty easy! I'm just not convinced that it is easy to keep the temperature in the correct range with the other methods for 7-9 hours but then again, I haven't tried it.
This is the yogurt maker that I bought and I really like it. My sister has a similar one. The only difference is that her's turns off automatically and on mine, I have to turn it off manually. But I have to put the yogurt in the frig anyway, so i'm not bothered by turning it off myself. We both like having an extra set of the jars, too. If you are going to look into buying any of these, you might want to do a search to find the best price. I didn't do that here. I just wanted to show what I have used and liked.
So now that you have the equipment, we will go on to the recipe. I got The Yogurt Bible by Pat Crocker from the library to learn how to make it and then tried several recipes. Between me and my sister, we haven't had any luck with any of the flavored ones. We liked only the plain, vanilla and fruit on the bottom. I only make vanilla now and add fruit or granola when we eat it.
One very important thing is that every utensil/jar/pot that you use to make yogurt has to be very clean. If you get any bad bacteria in it, that will grow just like the good bacteria. We don't want to get anyone sick!
Milk - I usually use 2% but I have started using whole milk the last couple times. You can use whole milk and not have to add any extra powdered milk and still get a thicker yogurt. With any of the lower fat milks, you may want to add the powdered milk to make it thicker if that is what you are used to. It will also add extra protein. If you like thinner yogurt, simply don't add the powdered milk. (When we were in china, the yogurt that we had there was a drinkable yogurt and it was really good. They just stick a straw in the top and drink it!) The recipe below has the powdered milk in it but just note that you can leave it out.
Sweeteners - My favorite to use is maple syrup but I usually use agave. You can also use honey, corn syrup or other liquid sweetener. You can leave this out if you wish.
Vanilla - I have come to the conclusion that the yogurt will be as good as the vanilla that is used. I love to use vanilla paste. It has the best flavor but is also expensive. You can't buy it just anywhere either. I usually use the fake flavoring (gasp! Don't tell my sister! She just made me some vanilla extract for christmas so maybe i'll try that). If you use a good extract, it will taste good. Leave this out if you want plain flavor.
Homemade Vanilla Yogurt
4 cups milk
1/3 cup powdered milk (leave out if using whole milk)
scant 1/4 cup sweetener of choice (plus or minus depending on your tastes)
1 T vanilla extract or vanilla paste
3 T organic live culture yogurt
In a saucepan, heat milk to scalding over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. It will start to form bubbles along the outside and steam a little. The temperature should reach 170 F.
Remove from heat and stir in powdered milk. Let cool to about 130 F. You can let it cool on the stove top, which will take a while, or you can fill your sink with some cool water and put your saucepan right in the sink. Watch the temperature carefully since it will cool fast. Stir occasionally while it is sitting in the sink and pull out the pan when it gets to about 130 F. Stir in the vanilla and sweetener. By this time, your cooled milk should be between 110 and 120. If it's too hot let it cool to below 120 before moving on. Place the 3 T of yogurt starter in a separate bowl and add a half cup of the warm milk. Stir gently until combined. Add starter into the saucepan of cooled milk and stir again. Pour mixture into yogurt jars and place in yogurt maker. Follow the manufactures guidlines to set the timer. It should be between 8 and 12 hours. I let mine go for 9 hours. Place lids on jars and store in refrigerator. They will be ready to eat in the morning and will keep for a week before the benefits of the bacteria start to reduce.
This shows that on my maker, you put the notch that is on the lid on the time you want to take the yogurt out. This helps to remind you of the time to turn it off but there is no beeper so you'll have to remember to look at it. This one says I should take the yogurt out at 8:00.
~ This recipe is for animals milk. I use cow's milk but goat or any other animal milk can be used. Other milks, such as rice, soy, almond, coconut, etc, will not transform into yogurt. The live cultures will die using my recipe. If you use goat's milk (I haven't tried this) you might have to add powdered milk to make it thicker if like thick yogurt.
~ You can add cooked or canned fruit or jam/preserves in the bottom of each jar for a fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. I've had success with jam or preserves. Let the jam come to room temperature before adding them to the bottom of the jars.
~ Don't use fresh fruit. The enzymes and acid may cause curdling. Feel free to add fresh fruit right before you eat them and it's just as good!
~ Make a berry sauce by cooking fresh or frozen strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries in a small saucepan on medium heat for 10 minutes or so. Smash them with a potato masher. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. This is delicious in the yogurt or on pancakes.
~ If your yogurt turns out too runny, it could be that you killed the good bacteria if you added it when the milk was too hot. Or it could be that the bacteria didn't grow properly if you let the milk get too cool. When you add the starter and while it's fermenting, the mixture has to be and stay within the 110-120 degree window. If the milk mixture gets below 110 before you add the yogurt starter, just heat the milk up a little and then continue in adding the starter and put into the jars.
I thought that I would just write up a quick thing on making your own yogurt but this is turning into a long post! I hope it's not too confusing because I really like making yogurt and it's really not as hard as it appears. When I first started making this, I was a bit overwhelmed by it and the need to keep the temperature just right. But after I made it a few times, I had it memorized and just did it. You'll get the hang of it. After making it a while and having it turn out great, I did have a couple times when it was just runny. I think I let it cool down too much and the culture didn't grow. My problem was getting distracted while I was making it. You'll need to devote your attention to it until it's in the yogurt maker. It's not hard, just keep your eye on it until it's done! And it's always a good idea to test your thermometer every once in a while to see if it's working properly. It can be different every day depending on the weather.
Enjoy making it and let me know how it goes for you!