I had a minor obsession with the book French Women Don't Get Fat when it originally came out. I bought the book, I went to see the author Mireille Guiliano do a reading at the Alliance Francaise, and even did a little google stalking of her (within reason, of course).
In an effort to emulate this very stylish and successful woman, I went out and bought a bunch of leeks for the weekend detox (I lasted 6 of the 72 hours) and also purchased a yogurt maker, as she suggested, to make my own, fabulously french, yogurt. In yet another example of how much I unconsciously imitate my parents, when I mentioned it to them they exclaimed "Oh we used to make our own yogurt back before you girls were born!". They of course didn't need no stinkin' yogurt maker. They simply wrapped a jar of warm milk and acidophilus with a piece of foam rubber and left it to incubate.
Well, I used the yogurt maker religiously for quite some time, but eventually I fell off the wagon and two or three years back, in a fit of spring cleaning and I donated the yogurt maker to charity (I'm sure they found it quite useful).
Until recently, I had no regrets about purging myself of it, but a few months back I realized I eat an awful lot of yogurt, and as I am in the throes of some sort of pioneer-back-to-the-land kick where I feel the need to make everything myself (lately it has been bread, crackers and cured meats), I toyed with the idea of buying another one. Serendipitously, before I actually went through with the repeat purchase, Harold McGee saved me with his article in the New York Times about making yogurt at home (sans yogurt maker).
He suggests heating a quart of whole milk to 180-190 degrees (just before the boiling point), and letting it cool to 108-112 degrees (I've found this to be the temperature at which you can leave your finger in the liquid for twenty seconds without experiencing discomfort...it is sometimes called blood temperature but I find that a bit morbid). Then the milk is to be mixed with two tablespoons of yogurt, put in a jar and then either swathed in towels or put in a warm place, such as an oven with the light on. It is to be left alone for four hours, until the yogurt is set. I would add here that it is prudent to wash all of your equipment in very hot water before beginning the undertaking.
My first try involved two tablespoons of Ronnybrook yogurt and much swathing. My jar ended up looking like a bandito.
And I ended up with sour milk, not tangy yogurt, after leaving it wrapped up for four hours.
But I resolved to try it again. After all, I had done it once upon a time rather consistently, and there seemed to be no reason that I wouldn't be able to again.
This time, instead of using yogurt as a starter, I bought the freeze dried bacteria from Whole Foods. And instead of relying on my swaddling skills I opted for the light on in the oven. After four hours I still had milk, not yogurt. It was late, I was tired and as I figured whatever would happen overnight couldn't be much worse than vaguely sour milk, I opted to leave it in the oven overnight.
In the morning...success!
If a bit sweaty looking.
It was a tad more sour than I would have preferred, so on my next go around I stuck with eight hours rather than the twelve I had used before (and used two tablespoons of my first successful batch instead of the packet 'o bacteria). The result was smooth, rich and slightly piquant. It was certainly many times better than the quality of most mainstream brands you see in the supermarket (fancy organic ones included), and on par with Ronnybrook and Seven Sisters, my current brand favorites. As the homemade option is about half the price of the store bought stuff, it is certainly worth the very minimal hassle every couple of weeks.
I feel my french quotient increasing exponentially. It may be time for a reread of my french lady book.