Yes whey! You can make yogurt in your slow cooker

Illustration for article titled Yes whey! You can make yogurt in your slow cookerem/em
Photo: tashka2000 (Getty Images)

Welcome to Slow Cooker Week, in which The Takeout uses its favorite cold-weather kitchen appliance in the dead of summer.

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The InstantPot craze got people curious about making their own yogurt, as the device’s “yogurt” button makes it seem like you could make yogurt at, well, the touch of a button. It’s not quite that simple, but it also doesn’t require an InstantPot. The InstantPot streamlines the process slightly by removing the straining-your-yogurt portion, but even without one, it’s still possible to make yogurt in your own trusty Crock Pot or other slow cooker.

To skeptics, making your own yogurt sounds like some grade-A hippie bullshit. But having done it, I can report that not only is the yogurt fresher-tasting, but you can customize it to your desired thickness level. If you’re sick of chalky, cement-like Greek yogurt, making it yourself is the perfect way to get it to the sweet spot where it’s thick but not gritty. My preferred texture is slightly milky, like the European potted yogurt I remember obsessing over on a trip to France. Your only cost to make one batch is a half-gallon of milk and, the first time around, a single cup of store-bought yogurt.

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The below method is a mash-up of the yogurt recipe from Melissa Clark’s Dinner In An Instant cookbook, added to and modified so it works in any slow cooker. (If you’re looking to make dairy-free soy milk yogurt, her book has a recipe for that.) I used whole milk and the recommended heavy cream in mine because 1) full-fat dairy is the shit, and 2) a version I made without the heavy cream was too thin and soupy.


Slow-cooker yogurt

Makes about 4 cups, depending on your desired thickness

  • Half-gallon whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp. plain yogurt, with active cultures (check the yogurt’s ingredients label for these)
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Cheesecloth

Pour milk and cream into your slow cooker and cover. Turn the heat onto high until it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. (This took more than an hour for me; I checked with my thermometer every 20 minutes or so.) Once it’s reached 180 degrees, uncover and keep the heat on high for another five minutes. Then turn off the slow cooker and transfer the inner bowl to a wire rack to cool. When the temperature falls to 115 degrees—another hour-ish for me—give it a quick stir to break up any thin film that’s formed on top. In a small bowl, mix together the plain yogurt and about half a cup of the warm milk-cream mixture. Pour that into the slow cooker and stir gently.

Let that sit for 8-10 hours at room temperature (overnight is good, too), away from drafty windows or cold spots in your house. Wrap the slow-cooker in a bath towel, too, to prevent it from getting too cold. During this time, the whey will begin to separate from the yogurt. After that time has passed, line a colander with a folded cheesecloth—so it’s about three layers thick—and slowly pour the milk mixture in. The yogurt will separate from the whey gradually, so if you like thicker, Greek-style yogurt, let it sit in the cheesecloth for a few hours. When it’s reached your desired thickness, spoon the yogurt into containers and refrigerate.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

lordoftheducks
Lord of the Ducks

I’ve made a lot of yogurt both in the crockpot and the IP. If the yogurt is gritty, it is probably because the milk was heated too quickly and unevenly. Stirring every so often to ensure the solids don’t settle during the initial heating phase helps with this. This also helps get a thicker yogurt.

a version I made without the heavy cream was too thin and soupy.

That’s because the temperatures and techniques are off.

  • You don’t need heavy cream. Whole milk will do, so long as it is not Ultra-Pasteurized. Ultra-Pasteurized milk does not make very good yogurt or cheese.
  • Heat whole milk to 185-195f, not 180. As long as you keep it under 200F you’re good. The extra heat will help ensure more proteins are denatured and give you a better set. This also helps if you will not have consistent hold temp for the culturing phase.
  • Use greek yogurt for the starter, even if making regular yogurt. The culture density is greater and you’ll get a better set on your yogurt.
  • Bring starter to room temp before adding it to the mix. Add when the milk has cooled to 105-110f.
  • After adding the starter you want to hold the yogurt at 100f for about 8 hours (longer for more tart yogurt). Ideally your slow cooker would let you set this temp or the keep warm function would do it (or use the normal yogurt setting on an IP). Depending on how well insulated and the ambient temp, you may need to occasionally turn on the slow cooker to maintain temp or give the yogurt longer to set.
  • You can drain the yogurt in the fridge if need be. This is useful if you’re yogurt has been at room temp for around 24hrs (cause life happens) and you haven’t drained it yet.

Sweetened or flavored yogurts:

Add sugar once the milk reach temp (185-195f). Stir till dissolved. 1c sugar per half gal milk is a good starting point. Add in any extracts like vanilla when adding the starter culture. Note that any acidic flavorings and/or any ph of mix-ins tend to work better after the yogurt sets/drains.