Way back in the beginning of my money-saving endeavors, I spent a few weeks tracking my grocery lists to see what I spent the food money on. The plan was to see if I could make some of those items that we spent the most on or find a way to buy them cheaper. At that time, I found that we were buying quite a bit of individual flavored yogurts and those quick Go-Gurt tubes. I remedied that money drain by purchasing quart tubs of vanilla yogurt instead. Then I patted myself on the back for a job well done.
Later in my thrifty quests, I found that people actually make their own yogurt. I dismissed that as I figured only hippie-kooks made yogurt. Well, give me another year or so and I became the hippie-kook that was making my own yogurt (and lovin' it)! :)
I first started with the recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking. Affectionately called "crockpot yogurt," one simply heats the milk to the appropriate temperature in the crockpot, let it cool, add your starter and insulate the crockpot so that the bacteria in the milk grows and becomes yogurt. I found that the end product was quite tangy and a little too runny to be eaten in its original form. However if I drained some of the whey off, and added some sweetener (usually strawberry jelly), it was very palatable. I also made mock sour cream by draining off most of the whey. I did this for over a year and while I was pleased with the results, my kids weren't. They thought it was still too runny and didn't want to eat it. I had come to the conclusion that even if it was cheaper to make my own yogurt, if it wasn't being eaten, then it was still wasteful.
A few months back I came across a different spin on homemade yogurt. Jen, at Bacon in My Pocket, researched several recipes and came up with the best of all of them and I would have to agree. Jen's yogurt recipe yields thick and creamy yogurt that can be tailored to your specific tastes.
Here is my version (please check out Jen's version-she has pictures!)
Pour milk in a large saucepan. I usually use 2 quarts of milk at a time. Heat to 180 degrees, stirring occasionally. Once the milk has reached 180, remove from heat and allow to cool to 110-120 degrees (if you want to speed the process, you can place the pan in ice water). In the meantime, open an 8 ounce container of plain yogurt with live cultures. This will be your starter. Pour it into a small bowl. When the milk has cooled sufficiently, place a few tablespoons of the warm milk in the bowl with the starter. Stir until smooth. Add the starter into the saucepan of milk and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. From experience, if you leave clumps of yogurt, your end product will be grainy and while it's still edible, smooth is tastier.
For plain yogurt, fill clean glass jars with the milk and then cap. Place in a cooler filled with 120 degree water-filled full enough that the water covers the jar(s). Close cooler and let sit for 4 hours. Remove jars and immediately place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours.
If you are wanting flavored yogurt, you can add sugar and flavoring to the milk (about 1/2 cup sugar for 2 quarts of yogurt and I use 2-3 tablespoons of vanilla extract for flavoring. I'm sure other extracts could be used, I'm happy with vanilla though). Procede in the same manner as with plain yogurt.
And, ladies and gentelmen, there you have it. Yummy yogurt that is healthy and easy on the pocketbook.