I searched high and low on the internet for a homemade sweetened vanilla yogurt recipe to no avail. So, I had to make up my own through trial and error. This yogurt is so delicious, super-thick and healthy for you. No need to waste your money on those ridiculously expensive Greek yogurt containers to get thick yogurt. Best of all, it's really easy to make homemade yogurt. No special equipment or ingredients needed. No yogurt makers, coolers, starters, or anything. Those are gimmicks anyways for people to make money off of you and totally not necessary. Don't buy into it.
Homemade Vanilla Yogurt
1 gallon whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tbs. vanilla extract
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup cold milk
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin (optional)
The recipe may seem complicated by all the directions, but I just like to leave all my notes and tips in there so there's no confusion on how to make it. But, if you have any questions, just ask.
This recipe is for a gallon of yogurt, which is what we make (we have 5 in our family) and it lasts for a few weeks or maybe longer without spoiling. We just usually have it all eaten up by then. You could half this if necessary.
1) I take one gallon of milk and put it in a large pot on the stove on medium heat. I warm it up to 180 degrees. I use a meat thermometer, or you could use a candy thermometer just fine. It takes somewhere around a half hour on our stove. I've accidentally forgotten about it on the stove before and it's gotten up to 220 and still had it work, although the pot was about to boil over at that point. I don't stir my pot either, but just let it sit. This makes it really easy. It will get a skin on top like cooked pudding will, but I just take a whisk and scrape it off and dump it in the trash once it's cooled down. It's much easier than having to stir the pot non-stop and I've never had my milk scorch or burn this way despite not stirring it. If you don't heat it at least up to 180, it won't set right. So, once your milk is up to 180, take it off the burner and let it cool to 110 degrees. It takes much longer to cool than to warm up, about an hour.
2) I take the skin off like I said, and then mix 1 1/2 cups of sugar into the pot with a whisk until dissolved. We used to use 2 cups of sugar, but since we like to add a fruit sauce and granola on top of our yogurt, it can be a bit too sweet. 1 cup of sugar was too sour for us, but do it to your tastes. I also add 6 tbs. of vanilla extract and whisk that in.
3) In a small bowl, I take about 1/2 cup of cold milk and take 3 envelopes of unflavored Knox gelatin. I've used 2 envelopes and it didn't thicken it up. When I used 4 envelopes, it was like eating yogurt Jello. Not the right consistency. 3 is just right. You can omit this step entirely if you don't want to use gelatin. It still makes a delicious and very thick yogurt, but when you use the gelatin, it stays really thick and we just love it this way. Sprinkle your gelatin on top of the cold milk in the bowl and let it sit for about 2 minutes, then stir. It will be the consistency of baby rice cereal or a soupy oatmeal. Then, whisk it in quickly into your sweetened warm milk. Make sure you get out any lumps. If you add the gelatin straight to the warm milk, it will set up the gelatin and it won't mix in. If you let the gelatin sit in the cold milk too long, it will get too thick to mix in the milk and won't dissolve easily. The trick is to just wait a few minutes until soupy, then stir it in quickly.
This is what it looks like after a few minutes.
This is the soupy consistency once it's stirred.
4) Then, add 1 cup of unsweetened plain yogurt. I like to use Dannon plain yogurt in a 32 oz. container. That container has about 4 cups of yogurt and will last my family about a month and still be fresh and make 4 gallons of yogurt. Some people say you can use your homemade yogurt as a starter, but I've never done that. Since my yogurt is sweetened and thickened, and not plain, I don't know if it would work anyways. Also, I've heard that the more you use your homemade yogurt as a starter, the more sour each batch gets. I just simply buy the store-bought plain yogurt instead. Whisk the plain yogurt into your pot very slowly. If you whisk it too fast, you'll mess up the cultures and it won't set right. Just whisk slowly until most of the yogurt is mixed in well.
Then, pour your milk mixture into a container. I use 2 glass Pyrex 2.75 qt. containers with lids. This holds exactly 2 gallons for me.
I take two thick bath towels and lay them on my counter and stack my containers inside. I wrap the towels around the containers to keep them insulated.
5) I let it sit for 14 hours. I've done anywhere between 8 and 20 hours before, but 14 seems to work pretty good for me. Depending on the temperature inside your house and the time of year, it may affect how long you want it to set out. Then, after 14 hours, set your yogurt in the fridge. Don't stir it or mess with it, but let it sit in the fridge for about a day to set up and get cold. Then, enjoy! Once you dig into the yogurt, after a while, some whey will separate out. You can simply use it in a recipe or smoothie, or drain it off. If I don't use the gelatin, when the whey separates from the yogurt over time, the yogurt tends to get soupier and soupier and mixes in with the whey. I would then use it in smoothies or something. But, when I use the gelatin, the yogurt stays thick and doesn't mix in with the whey. It stays thick to the end and we love how thick and yummy this yogurt is.
This is how thick the yogurt still looks after being dug into several times. It holds it's shape well.
This is great served with a homemade fruit sauce. (I make this all the time by making a jam recipe and just not using pectin.) Top with fresh fruit and Skillet Granola and you have a delicious breakfast!
This is way cheaper than buying store-bought yogurt and it tastes way better and fresher and has only a few ingredients. You can make many types of flavored yogurts by simply changing the type of sauce you top it with. To make 4 gallons of homemade yogurt, it would cost whatever 4 gallons of milk costs (or free, if you have your own cow). Lets say around $14, plus a container of store-bought plain yogurt, approximately $3, plus the minimal cost of sugar and vanilla and a little more if you use the gelatin packets. Lets say around $19 to make 4 gallons of yogurt. If you bought 4 gallons of store-bought vanilla yogurt, that could run you around $48 if 32 oz. yogurt cost you around $3. That's a savings of almost $30, more or less depending on the cost of your ingredients. Much cheaper if you have a dairy cow. This is a cheap and healthy way to make a delicious breakfast for your family. Throw yogurt in smoothies or make homemade yogurt popsicles. So good!