Friday, September 23, 2011

Homemade Yogurt in the Crock Pot

My love affair with homemade yogurt goes back all the way to my childhood days, when my Mennonite grandmother made soft, tangy yogurt and served it in small brown bowls.

After that I ate the processed stuff for years - decades - until I tried making my own yogurt here in Brazil, when we first moved to Guarapari, Espirito Santo back in 2004. The result was disasterous; half the time the yogurt didn't gel, or turned thick and sticky like glue with a weird aftertaste, and I ended up wasting more milk and yogurt than I was actually saving... so I stopped.

Fast-forward to now, 2011, when Athos (who doesn't cook much, mind you) informed me that yogurt requires a "dark, opaque" place to work - so the glass jars I was using back in Guarapari might have been the problem. In addition, I read online that you can actually make yogurt in the Crock Pot with little fuss and few problems... and since I'd just bought a Crock Pot in the U.S. for $16, I decided to try it out.

And........... WOW! I can't even begin to describe how WONDERFUL this homemade yogurt is - and how simple! The ONLY conditions are that you 1) have a Crock Pot with a low-heat setting and 2) use only regular homogenized or pasturized milk - NOT the long-life stuff we have in Brazil called ulta-pasturized. We CAN find homogenized or pasturized milk in the refrigerated section of Brazilian supermarkets *sometimes*... not always... which is why we don't make it more often.

However, in the absence of a fresh milk, I've used DRY WHOLE MILK POWDER with startingly good results - so much so that my husband can't tell the difference when I use fresh pasturized milk and the dry stuff.

Premade yogurt is actually pretty expensive in Brazil - around 60 cents to a dollar for a small 2/3 cup-sized container - and remember that our currency is worth around half the value of dollars, so it's like we're paying double that price. (Imagine plunking down US$2-$3 for single serving cup of yogurt! And that's IF we can find natural yogurt - back in Guarapari it was extremely rare to find anything but flavored stuff, which doesn't work as well if at all, since much of it isn't actually yogurt at all but sweetened, flavored milk thickened with gelatin.

So, anyway - back to the yogurt making. Now I buy a relative inexpensive box of fresh milk, or two, or the equivalent in dry milk powder whisked with warm water - plus one container of yogurt for starter. With this, I produce enough yogurt for all three of us to have generous servings, usually twice with leftovers (around 3 cups), with a cost of not much more than two-premade containers (1 1/4 cups-ish).

AND the quality and taste is soooooooooooooooooo much better!

Here's how to make it:

1) Heat the milk (I use 1 liter boxes, around 4-5 cups) in the Crock Pot on low for about three hours. It should be hot enough to form a skin on top of the milk when it cools - and you can peel that skin off, of course, and toss it. But it's an important temperature indicator.

If, when you produce the final yogurt, it's sort of slippery and slimy, dishing out in long strings instead of plopping in creamy spoonfuls, this can be an indicator that you didn't let it get hot enough before cooling. You can still eat it, of course, and draining it will remove the weird consistency - but try to make sure it gets hot enough, and for a long enough time, the next time you make yogurt.

2) When the milk is sufficiently hot and has formed a skin, turn off the Crock Pot and let it sit for 2-3 hours. The milk should be warmish, not hot. If the milk is hot enough to smart when you insert your finger, or still steams, it's too hot and will kill the yogurt cultures. Sometimes my Crock Pot does too good a job of insulating, and I have to leave it for 4 hours, until the milk feels more like warm bath water.

3) Stir in about 1/4 cup fresh yogurt with active cultures. This is the plain, natural, unflavored yogurt without colors or added fruits or sugars. To mix it well, scoop up a cupful or so of the milk, stir in the yogurt until smooth, then dump it in and stir everything well.

4) Put the lid back on the Crock Pot and cover with a thick, fluffy towel and a blanket, so it's completely bundled up to hold in the heat. (The Crock Pot should be OFF). Leave it there for 6-8 hours or even up to 24 hours - without disturbing.

5) And... that's it! When you go to check it the following morning (I always add my yogurt in the afternoon/evening and scoop it out the next day), you'll see immediately that the consistency has changed, and the yogurt has separated with a clear whey forming on top. Voila! Homemade yogurt!

You can even keep this whey as it's really nutritious and high in protein, and supposedly you can cook it and make ricotta cheese. However, I haven't seen that happen yet; I just burned a nice black circle on the side of the pan.

6) If you like thicker, Greek-style yogurt, like the yogurt shown in these photos (which is so incredibly good!), there's one more step. Line a colander with a piece of cheesecloth, or, since I can't find that here most of the time, a lint-free piece of fabric (an old, clean pillowcase is ideal) and set both over a bowl. Dump the yogurt into the lined colander, cover, and refrigerate. Leave it sitting for several hours (I leave mine at least 6-8, overnight) to drain. The next morning I uncover it to find a perfect, white, thick colander of Greek yogurt, so rich and creamy it's almost like whipped butter (but without all the fat!)

We dress it up with a little jam or honey, some nuts and raisins, a sprinkle of oats, and there you have it! The best yogurt I've ever had in my life!

And unlike my previous efforts, the Crock Pot method has never, ever failed. :) Twice I've lifted in the lid in the morning and found watery, whitish soup, and groaned out loud - thinking I'd ruined another batch. But no - if you leave it right there in the Crock Pot an extra day, by evening it will have miraculously firmed up into perfect yogurt. I think this has happened only when the Crock Pot didn't stay warm enough (I forgot the blanket once), so the yogurt culture didn't have enough time to multiply throughout the milk. That's my guess; I really have no idea. But we were happy with the results.

Good luck1 I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

Jenny Rogers Spinola lives in Brasilia, Brazil with her Brazilian husband, Athos, and nearly three-year-old son, Ethan. She's got milk heating for yogurt in the Crock-Pot as we speak. Jenny teaches ESL private classes and is the author of Barbour Books' "Southern Fried Sushi" series (first book released NEXT MONTH!) and an upcoming romance novella collection based on Yellowstone National Park (also with Barbour Books).


  1. That sounds wonderful, Jenny. I love yogurt and would never had thought to try making it myself. Never would have dreamed you could make it in a crock pot either!
    Fun photos.

  2. It is SO EASY, Sally! I make it every single week about 2-3 times. I was also shocked you can make it in the Crock Pot, but it totally works. And it's pretty fail-proof. I've never sterilized anything, and the only yogurt I've lost is the milk that sat out all night because I forgot to put in the starter. :) After that it's pretty much useless. Ha ha!

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  4. Jenny, great recipe. I used to make my own yogurt with fresh goats milk and my dehydrator.
    I make yogurt cheese often (like your strained yogurt) but I leave it out for 24 or more hours and it develops a nice taste and very thick like cream cheese, which I use like cream cheese.
    I also save my whey and use it to make lacto-fermented foods and drinks! Like this homemade ginger ale:
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Sounds great, Doula! We do yogurt cheese, too, if the yogurt lasts long enough. Usually, though, it's gone right away... LOL

    By the way - in case you're wondering, the extra comment I removed above was about an extra photo in the post that I was able to remove. Just in case you're curious. :)

  6. I'm so excited to try this, Jenny. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I have made yogurt in the crockpot before and was doing a trouble-shooting search when I found your blog. I never would have thought about using just powdered milk! I have so much in my food storage that we never use, I can't wait to try it!

    1. I hope it works out well for you, Tamsyn!