Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Homemade Yogurt and Maple Granola

My parents tell me this story about when I was 4 years old.  On this particular day all the kids at daycare were being given ice cream as a special treat.  Seriously, what is more exciting to a child than ice cream?  I think the answer is nothing.  So the story goes that we were all given our ice cream and when I took my first bite I got a huge smile on my face and yelled "yogurt!".  It turns out, the staff was verbally disguising the yogurt as "ice cream" to trick the kids into eating it.  I was thrilled.  The other kids started crying.

I have always loved yogurt.  I am a die-hard Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Blueberry fan and I have been since... well, since at least daycare apparently.  My parents tried to get me to eat cherry, strawberry, mixed berry (come on, it has blueberries in it!) but, no, I was set.  All through middle school, high school, college and afterwards, I ate around five yogurts a week and always Dannon blueberry.

Then two years ago I was working to get in better shape for my wedding.  I was trying to maximize the nutrition content of each meal and it was then that I turned to greek yogurt because it had less fat and more protein than my beloved Dannon blueberry.  At first the thickness weirded me out, but after some time I got used to it and now I prefer it.  When I realized that I could like a new type of yogurt, I decided at 24 years old that it probably wouldn't kill me if I tried other flavors too.  Turns out I actually love peach.

Two years later, I decided it was time to give making my own yogurt a try.  This was only an experimental endeavor for the following reasons.  
  • Most of what I read online said that even over the long run, DIY yogurt will save the consumer only a small amount of money.
  • Low fat homemade yogurt tends to be thinner than store bought yogurt (especially store bought greek).
  • To make homemade yogurt thicker, you can use milk with a higher fat content.  Tasty, yes.  Healthy, no.

I expected the process to be really complex, so I was surprised when yogurt requires only two ingredients and two steps.  The best part is, one of the steps is "wait".  In the interest of a thicker yogurt, I add two additional ingredients (dry milk powder and heavy cream) and one extra step (drain yogurt through a cheese cloth).

I've made goat milk yogurt by substituting the whole milk for Meyenberg goat milk and the Dannon starter for Castle Farms goat milk yogurt.  Taste-wise the results were similar, perhaps the goat milk yogurt was a little tarter, but it didn't get quite as thick as the yogurt in the recipe below.

Thick Whole Milk Yogurt
1 quart
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1/4 cup dry milk powder
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup active culture plain yogurt (hello again, Dannon!)
In a heavy bottom pot, heat the milk and cream to 180 degrees.  Whisk in the milk powder and continue heating the milk at 180 for 20 minutes.

Let the milk cool to 112 degrees.  You can speed up this process by setting the pot in an ice bath.  Add the yogurt and stir to combine.

Now you need to keep your mixture hovering at 112 degrees for 10-12 hours.  I use the sous vide and let everything set overnight.
  • I've read that you can leave the covered pot in your oven on low or even wrap it in a blanket with an electric heating pad to hold the temp. 
  • The longer the yogurt sets at this stage, the thicker it will become, but also the tarter it will become.  Taste test with a clean spoon at the 10 hour mark to gauge the thickness and sweetness according to your preference.
Once set, you may have some liquid floating on top of the yogurt.  For thicker yogurt, dump this out, otherwise there's no harm in reincorporating it into the yogurt.

The last step (for thicker yogurt), is to lay a piece of cheesecloth over a fine mesh sieve and allow residual liquids in the yogurt to drain out.

Transfer the yogurt to a tupperware container and refrigerate.  The yogurt will thicken slightly as it cools.

Macerated fruit is a fancy way of saying that the fruit has been marinated.  In this recipe the strawberries are combined with sugar which draws the liquid out of the strawberry leaving a fruit with a more concentrated flavor and a thick syrupy liquid which they can be served in.

The amount of sugar can be varied to increase or decrease the sweetness based on preference.  You can also make macerated strawberries using simple syrup or flavored liqueurs.

Macerated Strawberries
  • 2 cups strawberries
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
Hull and slice the strawberries.  Combine the strawberries and sugar in a tupperware or glass container.  Let sit for minimum 2 hours or overnight.

This is just a basic granola recipe, but I'm telling you, it's dangerous to have in the house.  I could eat handfulls of the stuff without yogurt or anything.

Ok... I HAVE just eaten handfulls.

The dry milk powder helps the ingredients bind into nice granola nuggets.

Granola (adapted from Alton Brown)
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup dry milk powder
  • 3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • dash of vanilla
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the oats, milk powder, coconut and brown sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, salt cinnamon and vanilla.  Combine both mixtures and pour into an even layer onto two sheet pans.  Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes to achieve an even color.

(Add nuts or raisins, if desired)

Now we put everything together.  The yogurt is very pretty served in a clear glass (I used a martini glass) with layers of fruit and yogurt.  I put a strawberry slice garnish on the side of the glass and topped it with granola, shaved chocolate and a little orange zest.  Don't skip the orange zest!  It adds a great tang.

It was helpful to shave the chocolate beforehand.  I used the medium holes on the side of my box grater because the small holes made incredibly tiny shavings.  Try both and see which you like better.  I stored mine in a small tupperware and just gave a little shake over the top of each yogurt when I was ready to serve it.

I was careful not to spoon too much of the strawberry syrup into the glass because it thinned the yogurt quite a bit.  You could top it with honey or sugar for more sweetness.

This was served with a pomosa as the first of eight courses 

1 part pama - pomegranate juice
1 part pomegranate vodka
2 parts prosecco


  1. Dad note: The reason you got fed yogurt early is because when I was in college a vending machine gave out free yogurt. Took about 4 or 5 of them till I was hooked. Of course then it stopped giving out free ones :(

    In a hurry? Cutting the strawberries thinner will allow the osmotic gradient from the sugar to act more quickly. A higher temperature should also help. Isn't chemistry useful? :P

    1. I forgot about the vending machine! What a funny story.

      I like your tip about the strawberries!! I usually hate the wait and want to just start snacking on those guys right away.

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