My hubby bought me the best birthday gift this past year, a proofer. I have made yogurt before, but the process to allow the yogurt to culture has always left me with watery yogurt. I am so excited to say that hasn't been the case since!!! Not to say you can't do this process in an oven or crockpot but the consistent temps have really helped me to get super creamy yogurt, consistently. I have made up to two gallons at a time (my family eats a quart and half every morning we have it) and it holds them easily.
I use part of the recipe that came with the Brod and Taylor Proofer for temps and times but the rest is what my family and I like for taste. We really enjoy honey and vanilla flavored yogurt. I tried adding the honey after it had processed but that really didn't work for us being the raw honey balled up with the coldness of the yogurt. So basically it ended up plain vanilla Greek yogurt with hard honey balls. I kept at it, and this is how it has worked and blended nicely. I also tried a more expensive "starter culture" yogurt from Sprouts thinking this great Bulgarian yogurt would make awesome yogurt... Yeah, well sad to say the plain yogurt I used from my favorite Greek God's Greek yogurt line worked FAR better!!! So now I just run to the local market and use my Greek God's plain Greek yogurt for a starter.
First measure out how much milk you will be using. I do gallons at a time but starting out with 4 cups is what I will be using for measurements here. Before I heat my milk I scrape 3-4 vanilla beans and then put the used beans into the milk so it infuses while heating. Then heat your 4 cups milk (on med - medium high) to 119 degrees, keeping just below or right at 120 degrees. I keep a candy thermometer in the pot the whole time to ensure correct temperatures. Once you get the milk up to that 120 degree range keep it there for 10 minutes. I don't stir constantly but you really have to watch your milk because it will scald on the bottom, I use a whisk to stir frequently.
Once the milk is done heating, remove from the heat source and let cool down to 115 degrees. This will take up to, and occasionally over an hour to happen. It depends on the temperature of your house and where you set your milk to cool. I do other things and check mine often. If you are using a proofer make sure, as your milk gets closer to the 115 degrees, that you turn it on setting the temp to 120 degrees. I also set out my honey and sterilized glass quart jars so they are ready for when my milk cools.
When the milk is at 115 degrees add 1 tablespoon of yogurt per 2 cups. So with the 4 cups you will add 2 tablespoons. Take out about half a cup of yogurt and add the starter yogurt. I don't ever fully mix up the starter yogurt, I stir until it is incorporated. Note in the picture that I do have lumps of yogurt still in there, that's fine. Then pour into the jar you will be culturing your yogurt in.
Pour in the rest of the milk, straining out the vanilla beans at this time. This is when I add 1/8th to 1/4 cup raw local honey to my milk. Stir to incorporate but don't over mix. It helps to have the starter yogurt culture not overly mixed.
Obviously this pic is from my 2 gallon yogurt adventure but at this point I put my yogurt in my proofer that has been preheated to 120 degrees. If you are using another method you need to keep your yogurt at 120 degrees for one hour, then decrease the temp to 86 degrees and allow your yogurt to finish culturing. This takes anywhere from 3-8 hours, and for some longer. I have left mine in the proofer over night sometimes. Know that the longer you let it culture the thicker it will get but also the more sour/tangy.
Once the yogurt gets to the thickness you would like either place in the fridge and eat as is (it will be runnier than Greek yogurt). You can use a strainer with a coffee filter, or there is a really good strainer I found that has a cover and really strains the yogurt nicely. This is how you get that nice creamy, thick Greek style yogurt. You will also end up with a bunch of whey that is great to feed to your dog or chickens, DILUTE and put in your garden (make sure to dilute so it doesn't burn your plants), use in pancakes or shakes... I let my yogurt drain for 5-8 hours at a minimum because I really like mine thick and creamy. Then I place in containers and refrigerate until we are ready to eat it.
I also usually make homemade granola to top the yogurt with. ENJOY!!
**EDIT: I had a reader use her Excalibur Dehydrator (trays removed) as a proofer to make her yogurt and it was very successful so I have included that in the links below.
As usual here are some links to the proofer and strainer I used... Note that the 1/4 lb bag of vanilla beans will last you quite a few batches!! When looking at $10 for 2 beans a lot of times in a grocery store, $35 dollars is definitely getting a lot more for your money!!
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