Yogurt is the third rail of south Indian cooking (rice and spices are the other two). No meal can be complete without yogurt or yogurt rice at the end. My husband and I have yogurt every day at least once. Although my husband like store bought yogurt, I find it too sour and unnaturally thick. As often as time permits, I make yogurt at home.
Mind you, making yogurt is both a science and art. A well made yogurt should be solid and sweet tasting with just hint of tang. Room temperature of around 110°F ± 5°F for 7-8 hours is essential for the fermentation process that converts the inoculated milk into yogurt. Making yogurt is an unfussy task in tropical places like Chennai where even night time temperatures for most of the year hover around 90 degrees. However in colder climates like the New England, there is a lot of cosseting and coddling involved in getting the yogurt to form. The method I use has been very successful in producing consistently thick and sweet tasting yogurt. I must confess, I came upon this method by remembering how my mother used to make delicious yogurt in Delhi's freezing winters.
a. Fresh milk, 1 quart (whole, 2% or 1%)
b. 3 tablespoons of yogurt with active cultures as starter (plain regular or low-fat; if you are doing this for the first time, you can buy a small plain yogurt from the grocery store)
c. an incubator
1. Heating: Boil the milk in a stainless steel sauce pan. Here the operative word is boil, not "heat". As you can see in photo 1, the milk is boiled to the brim. This boiling causes the milk proteins to denature and solidify.
2. Cooling: Let it cool for five minutes. Test the temperature of the milk with your little finger. It should feel hot but not scalding.
3. Inoculating: Stir in the the yogurt into the milk and gently mix it in. Cover the sauce pan with a lid.
4. Incubating: The purpose of the incubator is to keep the milk warm for several hours while the fermentation is taking place. There are many ways to incubate the milk (check the internet) . Mine is pretty simple. I have a stainless steel box, a fairy deep one, which I use for storing rice/wheat flour. This is my incubator. I put the sauce pan containing the milk into this container (flour and all), cover it and let it sit undisturbed for 7-8 hours.
5. At the end of 7-8 hours, you will have your fresh, thick and sweet yogurt. Works every time!
Note: The thickness of the yogurt is totally dependent on the fat content of the milk. Whole milk produces the thickest yogurt. No matter what the fat content, all home made yogurts taste fresh and sweet.
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