How to Make the Creamiest Yogurt

In What Would Nigella Do we explore the basics of cooking and being comfortable in a kitchen. The title is a hat-tip to our favourite home cook who approaches cooking with resourcefulness, practicality, and most importantly, a sense of humour. Although this is a series that may appear to be directed at beginners alone, it is also for that cook who makes the perfect pavlova, but never seems to get that pot of rice right. In the time of MasterChef and molecular gastronomy, we are sometimes a little sheepish to ask the seemingly obvious questions. When faced with such a dilemma, we ask ourselves, What Would Nigella Do?

I have been watching my mother make yogurt for years now. She has two salsa bottles that exist solely to hold homemade yogurt and sour cream. Every other night before getting into bed, she spends a few minutes whisking and stirring, and in the morning, there’s a jar of the most thick, milky, creamy yogurt to be had. It's a little bit like magic.

There are enough brands out there that make decent yogurt, so why make your own, you might ask? It does work out cheaper, and it does taste much, much better than store-bought yogurt, but it also gives you a sense of accomplishment. Like bread-making for the lazy soul, if you will.

Most people shy away from making yoghurt in their kitchens because they think that it requires fancy equipment like a thermometer and a yoghurt maker. Sure, those things make it easier, but are in no way a necessity.

Much like bread, the starter lays the groundwork for great yogurt. Although it has a fancy name, starter is merely a few teaspoons of a previous batch of homemade or store-bought yogurt. The bacterial cultures in the starter ferment the lactose in the milk to produce lactic acid which is essential to the yogurt-making process.

You could use any brand of yogurt as the starter; it doesn’t affect the richness or creaminess of the yogurt as much as it does the flavour, so pick one whose taste you like.

The process starts with adding a little bit of starter to a big bowl and whisking it until it is smooth and lump-free. This is an important step – it determines how smooth the resulting yogurt will be.

Now, add the milk powder and whisk again, till smooth. The milk powder is an easy way to make sure your yogurt is thick and creamy.

Next, heat up some milk until it’s lukewarm – you should be able to stick your pinky into the milk and not yelp. The temperature of the milk is critical – too hot and you’ll kill the bacteria in the starter, too cool and the bacteria will not be activated. Although it’s best to use full-fat milk – the higher the fat content, the creamier the yogurt – skim milk works too.

Most recipes ask you to bring the milk to a boil. The main reason for boiling it is to kill the bacteria in the milk which might otherwise interfere with the culture in the yogurt. However, you can avoid this by using pasturized milk. Bringing it to a boil also changes the structure of the milk protein casein, ensuring creamier yoghurt. But adding the milk powder makes sure it’s creamy anyway.

The truth is, there are many ways to make great homemade yogurt. I make mine the way I do because that's how my mother makes it. I am my mother's daughter and have no patience to wait for the milk to boil and then cool down. So like her, I heat it until it feels slightly warm as I hold my hand above it and get on with it. 

Next, add a few spoons of the milk to the yogurt mixture, and whisk to thin it out. Add the remaining milk and put away to set.

If you live somewhere warm like Kerala, you can leave it out on the counter and within 4-8 hours your yogurt will have set. However, if you live somewhere with milder weather, you’ll need to find a warm place for it. You could leave it in the oven with the light turned on, or wrap it in a towel and leave it on top of your refrigerator.

You can make yogurt in pretty much any container but using one that retains heat, for example a ceramic bowl, helps it along. I use a glass bowl and it works fine.

When the yogurt is somewhat set – it’ll wobble ever so slightly when you shake it gently - transfer it to the fridge and give it a few hours, after which you’ll have the creamiest, most delicious yogurt you’ve tasted in your life.

Recipe

Ingredients:
3 cups full fat milk
3 tsp yogurt (starter)
1 tbsp milk powder

Method:
In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt to remove lumps and smoothen.
Add the milk powder and whisk again to fully incorporate. Ensure no lumps form.
Heat milk to lukewarm. You should be able to dip your pinky into it comfortably.
Add a few spoons of the milk to the yogurt, mix well to thin out the mixture and then pour the remaining milk.
Pour into container and keep in a warm place for 4-8 hours.
When it is set (wobbles only slightly), transfer to the fridge for a few hours.
Will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks.

Aysha Tanya is the co-founder of Goya Media. When not working at Goya, she enjoys reading and marvelling at the wide range of mustard types available in the supermarket. 

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