It is so easy to run to the store and buy what we need, that most of us have forgotten how to create the most basic foods we eat. I love being in control of my kitchen and so try to cook up whatever I want from scratch. Two very easy foods to make are yogurt (or sour cream) and butter.
I eat a lot of yogurt, not the weird stuff with a lot of additives, but fresh yogurt that I made myself from whatever milk source I felt like using. It’s a habit I got into while living overseas where I discovered just how good fresh yogurt tastes. I know that there all sorts of fancy contraptions available that do all the work for you, but there isn’t any reason to spend the extra money when all you need is just a few simple tools.
- A pot, big enough to hold all your milk/yogurt
- A thermometer, to check the temperature
- A towel, to wrap your pot in to keep it warm
- A warm spot, to let your yogurt culture. I use my oven with the light left on
- milk, whole, 2%, or skim
- yogurt, good quality with living cultures.
The hardest thing to find is the yogurt. Look for one that has milk, live bacteria, and nothing else. Fresher is better.
Pour your milk into the pot and turn the stove onto low. I leave mine on really low and ignore it for a while, but it’s better to heat it up on medium low, stirring frequently.
Heat to 180 degrees. This is just below boiling. Your milk will start to look frothy, but use a thermometer to check. If you’re doing this by eye, don’t let the milk boil.
Remove from heat and let the milk cool until it reaches 110 degrees. This part is tricky without a thermometer. You want the milk to be comfortably warm but not burning. The easiest way to test this is by sticking a finger into the milk, but this introduces the wrong bacteria. You can try to guess by checking the outside of the pot, but you may need some practice to be able to tell when the temperature is right. If you plan to do this often, get a thermometer.
Put your yogurt in a cup and add a few spoonfuls of the warm milk. stir it well to get rid of all the lumps.
Pour your thinned yogurt into the warm milk and stir.
Drape a towel over the pot and put a lid on it. The towel absorbs the moisture from the warm milk to keep drips off the yogurt, and the lid helps keep a skin from forming.
Set the pot in the oven. I usually pre-warm the oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off. When you put the pot in, turn on the light, it doesn’t matter if it’s electric or you’re using the pilot light for a gas stove, you’re just keeping the oven warm. Wrap a towel around your pot to keep it warm and keep the temperature a little more consistent.
Leave it alone overnight. Don’t open the door, don’t jiggle it, don’t touch it at all.
In the morning you should have a pot of fresh warm yogurt. That’s it. No snazzy electrical contraptions needed, just a pot and a warm place.
If you want fruit or sweetener in your yogurt, don’t add it until you’ve finished all the steps. Save some untouched yogurt to use for your next batch of home made. I put my homemade jam into mine.
I like my yogurt a bit thicker so I put coffee filter in a strainer and I spoon the chilled yogurt into it. Let the whey drip through as long as you want. The longer it sits and drips, the thicker your yogurt will become. You can stop at “greek yogurt” or take it all the way to something closer to cream cheese.
To make a healthier version of sour cream, start with milk and cream mixed together. Try to find the cream that hasn’t been ultra pasteurized. You can decrease the fat content quite a bit, up to about half, with milk and still get that creamy texture that you want from sour cream. Make your yogurt as above using the milk/cream mix, and drain it whatever thickness you want at the end.
The other thing that’s kind of cool to do is make butter
This is fun, and a great use for cream that is starting to go sour. Traditional butter was made with slightly sour cream, so many butter recipes start out by telling you to leave the cream out overnight. If you don’t like this idea, just leave it on the counter for an hour or so to come to room temperature.
- Blender, mixer or food processor
- Cream, room temperature
- Water, cold
Put your warm cream in your mixing device of choice. Start mixing at slow speed and increase until you are mixing fast without splashing.
Keep going, your cream should be getting thicker
Keep going, it looks like over-whipped whipped cream, turn your mixing device down
At some point past the whipped cream stage, the liquid and the fat suddenly separate. When this happens, if you haven’t turned down the mixer, it will splash everywhere (I use a food processor to avoid the mess).
As you continue to mix, the better will solidify and join together as more whey appears in the bowl. When your mixer is starting to strain, stop mixing and take out your butter! You can save the whey if you have some use for it (baking, cheese making, drinking), or pour your butter mass into a strainer and rinse off the excess whitish fluid. The more you rinse and need your butter, the more fluid comes out. If you plan on storing your butter for more than a day or two, keep rinsing. It’s the whey that goes bad first, and the more you remove the longer your butter will last. No matter how well you rinse it, you’ll still want to use or freeze your butter within a week.
No this isn’t cheaper, or necessarily more tasty than butter you get in the store, but how cool is it to have a party, and casually throw out, “oh, and I even made the butter…”
Once your butter has been well mixed, feel free to knead in garlic, honey, or whatever flavor you want. And enjoy those nice soft hands for a while.