Tuesday is delivery day for dairy from South Mountain Creamery. My new routine is to open a bottle of whole, cream-top milk (meaning pasteurized but not homogenized) and make a batch of yogurt for the week.
I've done this so many times now that I can almost make yogurt in my sleep. I've found that the secret to creamy, thick yogurt is to add some half-and-half and cook the milk at a fairly high temperature before putting it aside to ferment.
Contrary to what you might think, it's not the number of microbes in the yogurt that makes it thick, but the protein content of the milk. Cooking the milk concentrates the proteins. Many commercial makers add powdered milk to increase the protein content and thicken the yogurt. We'd rather not have industrially altered cholesterol in our yogurt and I don't recommend it for anyone else either. Just be patient, spend a few minutes at the stove and your yogurt will come out luxuriously thick.
My recipe: 3 1/4 cups whole, cream-top milk plus 1/2 cup half-and-half, preferably from grass-fed cows in your local area. Pour the milk mixture into a heavy saucepan and set over fairly low heat, stirring frequently so that the milk doesn't scorch. (If you use gas heat, you might try using a heat diffuser between the flame and the bottom of your pan.) Gently bring the temperature of the milk up to 200 degrees, using an instant-read thermometer to monitor the temperature. Don't be too anxious: this could take 45 minutes or more, but better to not burn the milk or let it boil, in which case it could separate.
Hold the milk at 200 degrees for five minutes, removing the pan from the heat if it gets too hot. Remove the pan from the heat to rest for a minute. Meanwhile, partially fill your kitchen sink with cold water. Place the saucepan in the sink until the temperature of the milk falls back to 120 degrees. Remove the pan.
Mix some of the milk in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons yogurt from a previous batch or with commercial yogurt containing active cultures. Stir this into the saucepan, then pour the milk into a warm quart canning jar. Place the jar in a small cooler with two or three other quart canning jars filled with hot water. Cover and let sit overnight.
By morning, your yogurt will be completely done. Have a bowl with a drizzle of your favorite honey, or perhaps some orange sections and shaved dark chocolate. We will use it all week to make fresh fruit smoothies.