I’m looking at all the things we can do with slow cookers, or as we call them, crock pots, and I have to say that I am amazed. In all the years I’ve thought about different ways to make yogurt (or is it yoghurt?) I never came across the idea of using a crock pot. Until recently… And it’s a genius of an idea!
Yogurt (I’m sticking with this spelling) is one of the dairy products most of us just mindlessly buy at the store when it is easy to make and cheap to make at home. It’s great when stretching a tight budget to save a few bucks by making it yourself, especially when your kids eat a lot of it.
Dairy products, like yogurt, taste best and are most nourishing when made from whole fresh milk. Today, finding that high quality milk is next to impossible. The next best options are whole non-homogenized milk and there are sources around for that but it is more expensive than regular store-bought whole milk. Therefore, we are going to use regular whole milk for our recipes. If you buy non-homogenized, so much the better, the recipe is the same. I don’t personally recognize skim milk yogurt as edible. I’m old school, what can I say?
Ingredients for Yogurt
Whole milk (the least pasteurized and homogenized the better)
Yogurt containing live culture (it’ll say so on the carton)
Steps to Make Yogurt in the Crock Pot
Pour the milk into the clean crock pot. The amount can range from a quart to a gallon, but the process is the same, so let your family’s batch size determine the amount of milk.
Turn the heat to high and using a good kitchen thermometer, carefully watch the milk until the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Plan on an hour, maybe two hours to reach this temperature. Don’t let it get hotter and boil. Once you know how long your crock pot takes to heat up cold milk to 180 degrees you can make a note of it.
Don’t skip the ‘heat up to 180 degrees’ part – this sterilizes the process by killing undesired bacteria that may be waiting to be cultured along with the good, desirable yogurt cultures.
At 180 degrees, turn the crock pot off and let it sit until the temperature reaches 115 degrees. A good kitchen thermometer is critical for making yogurt. 110-120 degrees is good for adding the culture; 115 degrees is perfect. You can estimate the cool-down period at around 2 hours. Here again, check it often. You want to hit the 110-120 degree window.
Cooled down milk may have a skim across the top – if it does, remove it. It’ll be too tough (don’t worry if you forget though – it’s just milk protein) to be included in the final yogurt.
When the temperature is right, add approximately 1/4 cup of active cultured yogurt to the mix. Stir gently but do mix it very well so the yogurt culture is well mixed into the warm milk.
Now for the tricky part: You have to keep this yogurt batch’s temperature stable for the next 7 to 12 hours.
Option 1: Keep the yogurt in the crock pot warm by covering it with a thick cloth, a blanket or towel, turning on the thermometer to low for just a few minutes every 3 hours or so. Keep the crock pot in the off position except for about 10 to 15 minutes every 3 hours. This process should take about 7 to 8 hours to finish. Again, watch your first batch carefully, then you’ll know how to regulate future batches.
Option 2: Keep the crock pot lid on and place the yogurt and crock pot container inside your oven. Turn on the oven’s light but no heat. This process takes about 12 hours minimum to culture and sometimes can take up to 24 hours.
Option 3: Place the crock pot and yogurt into an insulated cooler, place thick towel or blanket around to insulate it. Check the temperature about 3 hours into the culturing and, if necessary to keep the temperature between 110 and 120. plug in the crock pot, put it on low for about 10 minutes. Unplug and recover. In 3 more hours, check again.
The process of keeping the culturing process temperature stable is not flawless and involves some work but these 3 options seem to offer the best methods to culture large batches with minimum work. When the yogurt making is complete and you have the desired thick yogurt, spoon it out into containers you can refrigerate, or keep it in one big tub for scooping out like I do.
Different Yogurt Varieties:
- Greek Yogurt: You can go a step further with your yogurt and make Greek yogurt. Just take a piece of cheesecloth laid in a colander, pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth and let it drain out the whey for an hour or so. Spoon this thick yogurt into containers and refrigerate.
- Casual Crock-Pot Yogurt: Making yogurt can be pretty forgiving, so don’t worry if your yogurt doesn’t turn out perfect. I’ve made it so many times that at this point, all I do is throw in the milk, crank the crock pot up to high for a few hours, turn it off for a few hours, stir in my leftover yogurt from the last batch, and then wrap the whole pot up in beach towels overnight.
- Flavored Yogurt: Stir in fruit or flavorings to make your family favorites, without all the additives!
Yogurt is a basic necessity to many kitchens. It is in mine. I’m sure you love it, too. The crock pot method promises to be a way to make large batches of yogurt without using the little yogurt makers and with minimum fuss and mess.