I could make soured milk myself...
March 30, 2010 6:16 PM   Subscribe

How can I ensure I get good quality yogurt from my yogurt maker? Plus, what cakes would you recommend for Easter?

My mom recently purchased a yogurt maker, and has been unhappy with the yogurt. It's been too thin for her liking. I've used one percent milk mixed with 1/2 a cup of powdered milk per quart, boiled it, and added Stonyfield organic when cool. At best, it comes out soft after eight hours. I think this is how it is supposed to be, but my mom is seriously disappointed. She likes the yogurt cups from Stonyfield. How can I improve the consistency of the yogurt?

SIDECAR QUESTION: While I'm asking about the kitchen, does anyone have any good ideas/recipes for an Easter dinner cake? I'd like something flavorful and moist, but not chocolate. It'd also be great if it's a conventional layer cake, too. I'm thinking maybe a lemon cake or coconut cake.
posted by mccarty.tim to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If the questions are too unrelated, I understand if a mod deletes the cake stuff. It just wouldn't be relevant a week from now.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:17 PM on March 30, 2010

We make ricotta pie every Easter, a little lemon zest, mmmmmmm.
posted by fixedgear at 6:17 PM on March 30, 2010

The easiest way to firm it up is to leave it in the machine for 12 hours or so.
posted by defreckled at 6:24 PM on March 30, 2010

That Stonyfield stuff has pectin in it -- which is what makes jelly, well, jell. So you need something like pectin/gelatine/whatever to get that consistency.
posted by macadamiaranch at 6:24 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can strain the yogurt - put it in a thin towel, hang it up over a bowl for 1-4 hours (depending how thick you'd like it to be), and the excess water will drip out of it, leaving a thicker yogurt.

Also, you don't need to bring it to a boil - just a simmer is fine, I think, and will be better for the flavor of the yogurt.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:27 PM on March 30, 2010

I use powdered culture for mine and it works fine with skim milk at 10 hours.
If I use Dannon plain yogurt as started with skim, I get a softer product at 10 hours.
posted by plinth at 6:27 PM on March 30, 2010

I make mine with half whole milk and half half-and-half. It comes out nice and creamy with no need for powdered milk or pectin or any of that stuff.

Oh, and don't boil it. Just turn the heat off when the surface starts to rise, or use a thermometer to let you know when it hits 180 degrees.
posted by bink at 6:35 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

hummingbird cake! (that's what i'm making)
posted by dino might at 6:37 PM on March 30, 2010

I made this key lime blueberry cheesecake for my daughter's baptism last year. It was fantastic. I know you said lemon, but the key lime flavor was very subtle and the recipe is easy and forgiving. The blueberry topping means that no one has to know that your cheesecake cracked a bit and since it's cheesecake it can be made ahead a day and stored. The recipe is about half way down the page.
posted by supercapitalist at 6:42 PM on March 30, 2010

I used to make yogurt, using a thermos flask and leaving the mixture overnight. As far as I remember, you are not supposed to boil the milk as this changes the properties of the emulsion (making it more likely to separate and so come out thin). You just heat the milk, let it cool to hand-hot, then mix in the live yogurt. With US milk, you probably need to add milk powder as it seems to be more watered-down than milk in the UK.
Stoneyfield farm is a pretty big (factory) brand and so it is more likely to have been heat-treated to the extent that not so many of the live bacteria survive. (Just guessing, here). You may want to use a brand that contains more of the "live" cultures, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. There is a Live & Active Cultures seal that is awarded to conforming yogurt brands. Or look at the label to see what bacteria the yogurt contains. Personally, I would ask at a small wholefood store, to see what they recommend for use as a "live" yogurt.
posted by Susurration at 6:42 PM on March 30, 2010

I had the same problem.

Then I discovered (aka read in The Joy of Cooking) that yogurt culture produces thin and sour yogurt when "crowded." Joy recommends only 1 tsp. starter per quart.
posted by jamjam at 7:03 PM on March 30, 2010

I use this fantastic recipe for yogurt. I use whole milk, and the recommended 5 tbsp of starter (I used Nancy's organic whole milk plain yogurt to start with) per ~quart of milk, plus the powdered milk. It's so creamy and delicious and wonderful. It's the best yogurt I've ever had. Even with skim milk, I bet it would be wonderful.
posted by librarina at 7:42 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can up the dry milk for sure. It'll have more protein and more calories, but not fat.

This brings me to another point, unless it's specifically fat you're worried about, thicker/creamier yogurt is going to have more calories anyways, be it from protein or fat. (unless xanthan gum or something gets tossed in). If you don't care about calories, add some fat. You'll notice the difference even with 1%.

If you've got yogurt thats as sour as you'd like it (and aren't interested in adding sugar) adding more time to your ferment may not be useful.

Your bacteria are just eating lactose, creating a more acidic environment, and the ph change causes the protein to denature/curdle. If you've got very sour yogurt and it's not the thickness you'd like, you've probably reached the limit of what those guys can do. You're going to need to remove whey or up the protein. (or add fat)

So, if you ferment for longer, you'll face diminishing returns, as the ph lowers to levels the bacteria aren't fond of, and they'll have less resources (lactose) and therefore less production and generations. I'd say that anything over 12 hours will probably be a waste of your time.

Straining those individual jars may be a pain, but greek style yogurt is awesome. A colander or sieve lined with a (clean, reserved for food use) cotton woven towel (sometimes sold as "flour sack" towels) and put in a bowl over night in the fridge will leave you with yogurt you can stand a spoon upright in. The towel then can be tossed in the laundry (unscented detergent, and skip softener/dryer sheets) and reused. If you don't have any towels like this, they're cheap and you'll use them for everything like draining tofu or eggplant or straining stock.
posted by fontophilic at 8:41 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

The traditional Easter Cake is the Simnel Cake. It's a light fruit cake decorated with marzipan. Traditionally, it has eleven little balls of marzipan, to represent the 11 disciplies (Judas not included!). Here's a recipe converted to US measurements.
posted by essexjan at 12:58 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, sounds like I'll try powdered culture and full-fat milk.

Keep the cake suggestions coming! I like the sound of the hummingbird cake, but more options is great!
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:21 AM on March 31, 2010

I've successfully made yogurt using about 2T yogurt mixed in, either store-bought or from my previous batch. I would try it with the full fat milk and 2T yogurt first, instead of going out to buy powdered cultures.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:55 AM on March 31, 2010

I make yogurt in a dehydrator that I've verified the temperature settings on (~115 F). Should be similar behavior to a yogurt maker.

I didn't like the powdered milk thing -- the taste is funny and it's an extra step/ingredient. I also didn't like the boiling/scalding thing because it's an extra step and a bunch of extra time (time to boil it, time to cool it before you can add the starter, blah, blah, blah).

My recipe: Take a packet of yogurt starter (the packets of powdered stuff), split that across two quart mason jars. Split a half-gallon of Horizon whole milk across the two quart jars. Stir. Microwave until it's at 100-105 degrees F (I have a specific time that I can use on my microwave, but that will differ by microwave). Put lids on loosely. Put in dehydrator for ~12 hours.

Packet, pour, stir, microwave, put in dehydrator. You need the packets (which keep) and a half-gallon of milk. And yes, apparently you can microwave it with the starter in there and it doesn't bother it. It works very consistently and the yogurt is quite thick. It comes out quite a bit better and thicker with Horizon than other milks that I've tried. Not sure why. I haven't tried lower-fat milk yet. I also haven't tried using yogurt for the starter instead of the packets (just haven't gotten around to it yet because I haven't run out of packets yet).

It's true, though, that you won't get quite the texture of a lot of the commercial yogurts because they cheat with extra ingredients like gelatin.
posted by madmethods at 2:07 PM on March 31, 2010

Well, we ultimately decided on cool, refreshing Stained Glass Cake, which is creamier than regular cake, lighter than cheesecake, and less gritty than ricotta cake. Pardon the paywall. This could get you pretty close, though.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:54 PM on April 1, 2010

It seems like you've decided to go the powdered starter route which I've never tried (or seen) but I make yogurt all the time. The keys to good texture are to bring the milk up to 185 for 10 minutes (which it sounds like your doing by boiling), and use yogurt that has only milk and cultures. Most, if not all of the lowfat supermarket yogurts have pectin, inulin, or some other sort of thickener which for some reason, even at the really low concentrations when used for starter, cause the yogurt to be slimy or generally thin with some clumps. So just make sure the started has nothing but milk and cultures. I leave overnight in my oven which is usually ~115 degrees, so similar to a yogurt maker, I assume. I usually use 2% milk without any added dry milk and get a texture that is slightly thicker than plain Dannon or Stonyfield farms, and sometimes strain if I want a Greek style yogurt or labne.
posted by ...tm... at 2:55 PM on April 4, 2010

As an FYI, I tried the following with my yogurt maker this past weekend:

7 part skim milk : 1 part Dannon plain yogurt
Brought the milk to a low froth, cooled the pan in the sink until it reached body temperature, poured it into a pitcher with the yogurt, whisked, added some vanilla for grins, decanted into 7 jars and into the yogurt machine for 10 hours. Came out exactly the same consistency as the Dannon.
posted by plinth at 11:23 AM on April 13, 2010

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