You can learn a lot from your kids. This is not new. But I was recently reminded when my cousin began telling me about her husband Robert’s Sunday evening ritual.
Somehow as we were wandering along in conversation, she told me about making yogurt in a slow cooker—a practice she and Robert picked up from their daughter who’s off somewhere in the world, but still sending her parents tips. (Yes, this happens, those of you who are right now spooning food into your child’s mouth, or wiping up a sticky trail that your Little Person seems to have had something to do with . . .)
Robert gets out the slow cooker as Sunday winds down. “It’s a 5- or 6-quart one that’s 30+ years old,” he patiently explained to me (you see it here in the photos that Robert sent me). “And since I’m an American Businessman (too bad you can’t hear him guffawing right here), I’m always looking to maximize productivity as well as production!” That means he makes more than 4 quarts of yogurt each Sunday afternoon.
Here’s his recipe for Slow-Cooker Vanilla Yogurt:
●1 gallon 2% milk (“Skim milk works, but the yogurt will not be as thick. Whole milk makes the yogurt even thicker and richer.”)
●1 cup plain, or vanilla, store-bought yogurt (“You’ll need this as a starter because it has live yogurt cultures.”), OR 1 cup yogurt saved from your last batch of Slow-Cooker Yogurt
●Up to 1 full packet powdered milk (packet size to make 1 quart), optional (for thickening)
●Up to 2 Tbsp., or 2 packets, unflavored gelatin, optional (for thickening)
●Up to 5 Tbsp. vanilla, optional (“This is for flavor. My basic formula is 1 Tbsp. vanilla per quart of yogurt, but you can be flexible with this.”)
1. Turn your slow cooker on Low, plug it in, and add a gallon of milk. Whisk in the optional powdered milk.
If you want to maximize production, add more milk until it comes to within ¾” of the top of the cooker, and add a proportionate amount of powdered milk, if you wish.
Cover and allow milk to heat for 2½ hours.
2. When the time is up, pull the plug on the cooker, and do not plug it in again. Keep your cooker covered.
3. Meanwhile, soften the optional gelatin in ½ cup cool water for 5 minutes, and then transfer it to a double boiler.
4. Heat in the double boiler until the gelatin granules are dissolved, stirring continually. Add a cup or two of the milk mixture from your slow cooker to the gelatin.
5. Stir and heat just until warm, being careful not to overheat the gelatin, since overheating gelatin reduces its gelling properties.
6. Whisk this gelatin mixture into milk in the cooker.
7. Cover and then let it sit for 3 hours.
8. When the 3 hours are up, dip 3 or 4 cups of the milk into a mixing bowl.
9. Whisk the cup of live-culture yogurt into the milk in the bowl.
10. Pour and whisk the bowl contents back into the cooker.
11. Cover. Wrap a large towel (or snuggie) around the cooker to keep the warmth in.
12. Let the mixture sit for 8 hours or overnight.
13. Pour one cup of the new yogurt into a jar and refrigerate until your next batch. (This will be your live-culture yogurt for making fresh yogurt next Sunday.) You can add one small store-bought yogurt to each new batch, along with the saved starter to renew your culture.
14. If you wish, whisk the vanilla into the remaining yogurt.
15. Refrigerate your yogurt in canning jars or other containers.
16. You can add fruit or sweetener as you enjoy the yogurt over the next week or so if you like it that way.
Robert’s Yogurt-Making Tips
1. Find the consistency of yogurt that you like best, and then make it that way:
More Gelatin = thicker yogurt
More powdered milk = thicker yogurt
Higher fat content milk (whole vs. 2% vs. skim) = thicker yogurt
2. About sweetenings and flavorings:
I almost always add vanilla extract at the end of the process, 1 T. per quart. Carol [my wife and Phyllis’ cousin] never adds any sweetener; however, I usually add some Splenda. I have poured a cup of frozen blueberries/raspberries/strawberries/blackberries, etc. into the quart jar prior to adding the yogurt, and it turns out well. Generally I just use the vanilla, and add fruit and or sweetener when I’m ready to eat the yogurt.
3. Carol and I both think this slow-cooker, homemade yogurt tastes substantially better than store-bought and far better than the cheaper store brands. Since we make our own, we know it has fewer additives and less sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Plus, it’s fresher.
4. I always add the vanilla at the end of the process; I have to wonder if the alcohol in the vanilla might kill the Yogurt Bugs.
5. Annie, our daughter, often turns this into Greek-style yogurt, by putting the yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined colander, and draining off some of the liquid. She’s learned, though, that if she’s mixed gelatin into the milk, the liquid will not drain off, and the yogurt just sits there.
6. It isn’t necessary to use gelatin or powdered milk. If you don’t, the end result is more of a drinkable yogurt, and that’s good, too. I’d probably use whole milk if I didn’t add the gelatin. As you can see, there’s lots of flexibility here.
The magical time is when you get up in the morning, unwrap the swaddling clothes surrounding the slow cooker, and dip in the big whisk to see the creamy smoothness miracle which has occurred overnight.
What a restful project—and what good planning for next week’s breakfasts. Thanks, Robert and Carol!