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Chat Leftovers: DIY yogurt

Strawberry-Yogurt Semifreddo, a cool use for yogurt; see recipe below. (James M. Thresher for the Washington Post)

Hey, hot enough for ... never mind. I know it is. That's the reason for the cool, frosty semifreddo pictured at the top of this page. More on that later.

Recipe Included

In this stifling heat, you need a breath of fresh air. That's a good reason to spend the hour between 1 and 2 today tuned in to Free Range, our always entertaining, always edifying weekly food chat. You get to immerse yourself in one of your favorite subjects, and you could win a prize for making an insightful observation or asking a brilliant question.

If you can't be there at 1, you can go to the site early and leave a question, then check back later to see if we answered it. If we didn't, check this blog on Wednesday mornings, when we tackle questions we couldn't get to in previous chats. Like this one:

I’ve been experimenting with homemade yogurt. The first batch I made was pretty good: nice and creamy. But it lacked the tanginess that I expected; the flavor was very mild. Do you have any favorite yogurts or starting cultures that would give my yogurt a more tangy flavor? Also, if I wanted to add sweeteners or flavoring, at what point in the process should I do that?

First of all, three cheers for you. Folks who eat a lot of yogurt can save some bucks by making their own.

Now, to your question. When you’re dealing with live organisms -- in this case, active yogurt cultures -- there are a lot of variables, so it’s hard for me to guess what happened without having been there in your kitchen. But the general rule is that the longer you let the milk and starter sit around doing their thing, the tangier the yogurt becomes. (Within reason, of course. If you let it go much past 12 hours or so, you could be courting trouble.)

So maybe your yogurt didn’t have enough time to get tangy, or maybe your starter wasn’t tangy enough to begin with.

Local cook and cookbook author Monica Bhide makes all her own yogurt. She says a good place to find a yogurt whose taste and tang you like might be your favorite Indian restaurant or Middle Eastern market. Buy it, then use it as your starter. You might not get the exact same taste, but it should be pretty close. (But make sure it has live/active cultures, or it’ll just sit there.)

You can find recipes for plain yogurt on the Internet, and they generally call for just two ingredients, milk and a yogurt starter. (Sometimes they add a third, powdered milk, which is supposed to make the yogurt thicker.) Most sweeteners, flavorings and added ingredients such as berries usually are added just before serving.

Some people use yogurt makers, but Monica just uses a plain casserole dish and her oven. Here’s Monica’s technique: Bring the milk just to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool it to “pinky temperature” (about 110-115 degrees), then mix in your room-temperature yogurt culture. Pour into a very clean dish (she uses a casserole dish) and put it in the oven overnight. “By the next morning, your yogurt should be ready,” she says. Repackage, refrigerate and eat.

She makes it sound simple, but there are a few tricky parts. For instance, the developing yogurt is supposed to be kept between 100 and 110 degrees while it’s in the oven. But you can’t turn the oven on; that would kill the culture. (Some people just leave the light on and keep the oven door closed; some people put a heating pad in the oven and turn the pad to LOW every once in a while. There are plenty of strategies.)

I tried the Monica Method over the Fourth of July weekend. Took the milk to about 190 (boiling shouldn’t be necessary, as long as you get the milk up over 185 degrees), cooled it to 110, mixed in the yogurt, poured it into a ceramic casserole dish, covered the dish, put it in the oven. (The oven light had been turned on, and the oven was a toasty 105 or so.) Seven hours later, I uncovered the dish to find what appeared to be plain old milk.


So I did some Internet study and found several warnings that the milk used cannot be ultra-pasteurized; you have to find the plain old pasteurized stuff. So back I went to the store for pasteurized milk. About four hours later, ready to start Batch #2, I opened the oven to remove Batch #1 and discovered that it had turned into yogurt!


I was delighted, but I didn’t know how it happened, given the warnings about using ultra-pasteurized milk. So I called Monica. She said she sometimes uses ultra-pasteurized milk and sometimes just pasteurized milk and finds that both work just fine.

Like our chatter who asked the question in the first place, I found that my yogurt wasn’t very tangy despite its long stay in the oven. But I started out with Fage brand, a Greek-style yogurt that’s fairly mild, so I wasn’t expecting to get much pucker.

Earlier, I mentioned saving money. Let’s say I had spurned the expensive Fage and used the cheaper but still delicious (and tangier) Stonyfield Farm organic. Making a quart of yogurt would have cost me about $2; a one-quart tub of Stonyfield Farm at the grocery store would cost $3.75. So I saved $1.75, or about 47 percent. Not bad!

Now, what to do with all this yogurt? Monica suggested an interesting-sounding drink: a traditional salty lassi that she says is refreshing and perfect for our hot spell.

There's also the more-familiar mango lassi, which Monica says is probably more an American adaptation than a geniune Indian drink, but still cooling and delicious.

Here's a heat-beating yogurt-based frozen dessert that will use up most of my 4 cups of homemade yogurt, especially after I drain out a lot of the liquid; the recipe calls for Greek yogurt, but American will work if it's strained overnight, a really simple process (keep reading to find out how).

-- Jane Touzalin

Strawberry-Yogurt Semifreddo

Thick, rich Greek-style yogurt contributes to this semifreddo's luscious texture, while fresh strawberries give it sweetness and a beautiful blush.

Greek-style yogurt has become widely available in the United States in recent years. If you can't find it, use whole-milk American yogurt, but drain it first: Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth and set the sieve over a large bowl. Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth and let it drain for several hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.

The semifreddo can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept frozen until just before serving.

10 servings

2 pints fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups whole-milk Greek-style yogurt (see headnote)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

Hull the strawberries and set aside 5 of the prettiest ones. Put the remaining strawberries into a blender or the bowl of a food processor along with the sugar and the lemon juice. Puree until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl; add the yogurt and mix thoroughly.

Combine the heavy cream and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on high until firm peaks form. Gently fold into the strawberry-yogurt mixture.

Lightly grease a 6-cup metal ring mold with nonstick cooking oil spray. Gently spoon the mixture into the mold; use a spatula to smooth the top. Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Freeze for at least 6 hours, until completely solid.

To serve, remove the semifreddo from the freezer and let it defrost for about 5 minutes. Discard the foil or wrap; place a platter upside down over the mold and carefully invert both so the semifreddo lands on the platter. (If necessary, dip the bottom of the mold briefly in hot water to loosen it before unmolding the semifreddo.)

Cut the reserved strawberries in half lengthwise and arrange them on top of the semifreddo. Let the semifreddo sit for about 5 minutes to soften slightly before serving. Cut into thick slices, each topped with a strawberry half.

NOTE: If you do not have a 6-cup metal ring mold, use a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan instead. Line the loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang on both sides and at each end of the pan, and/or coat it with nonstick cooking oil spray. Pour the semifreddo mixture into the loaf pan and cover with the plastic wrap or with aluminum foil. To serve, unmold the semifreddo onto a cutting board and let it sit for 5 minutes to soften slightly. Cut the semifreddo into 10 equal slices and place on individual plates. Garnish each slice with a strawberry half.

By Jane Touzalin  |  July 7, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Like the author, I use Fage as my starter. Unlike the original poster, I don't see "non-tangy" yogurt as an issue - it just means that I don't need to add sweetener! Tastes vary, of course, but I'm delighted with the creamy texture and mild taste. It's thick enough that I don't even have to strain it.

My first batch didn't take, I think because I didn't heat the milk to a high enough temperature. So I keep my thermometer handy and make sure the milk hits 180-190. Otherwise I follow the steps as outlined above.

Posted by: mwallace8831 | July 7, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I use this recipe:

And it works perfectly. No worrying about temperatures, no having to check with thermometers. What I found was that I need to follow the directions in the winter to a T - the atmosphere is not as humid in the house, etc (I got lazy last summer, with not putting the towel on, not scooping out the milk, etc, and then when fall came, a couple of times - no yogurt, just milk mess...but then I went back to the 'basics).

It's GREAT and we have plenty of yogurt. And the taste is so unbelievable. Much better than store bought.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | July 7, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

When I make yogurt at home, I find it gets increasingly tangy as time passes -- week-old yogurt is noticeably sharper than yogurt I made yesterday. If you prefer more sour yogurt, just letting it age a little might do the trick.

Posted by: noramunro | July 7, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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