It turns out that I am very impressionable when it comes to internet food fads. I was all over the no knead bread a couple of years ago, for example, in all its permutations. And when Harold McGee wrote about making yogurt in the "Curious Cook" column in the NY Times a couple of weeks ago, I said, "I want to make yogurt." Then, when I read the article in Slate about the woman making pantry staples from scratch, including yogurt, I said, "I want to make yogurt."
I also realized, however, that I've been saying that I wanted to make yogurt for a lot longer than just a few weeks. It probably goes back to the one time in my life when I had an ample supply of homemade yogurt, when I lived in Jaipur in 1999-2000, and one of the perks of my (otherwise complicated) study abroad job was living in a house that someone else was in charge of. That someone was Jaimala.
(She's in white, with her sister Mala, in a field near their house in Jaipur, where I saw her a few years ago.) In the 9 months I lived there, Jaimala made me very lovely Indian food that I still think about today. And she also made yogurt at least a few times a week, though the weather was sometimes a factor. (It took too long to set in the winter, and it went bad too fast in the hot season.) She was supposed to give me yogurt-making instructions--we talked about it--but it didn't happen.
Two years later, when I was living in Varanasi, I didn't need to make my own yogurt. On the way between my job and my flat was a grungy-looking little sweet shop that made good yogurt. They kept it in a big round pan in the front case, covered with newspaper or cardboard to keep the flies away. I would stop by and ask for 5 rupees worth, and the boy who worked there would scoop it into a little clay cup with a deft flick of the wrist. I ate some pretty much every day. When I was back in Varanasi in January, I was heartened, somehow, to see the same boy manning the shop, and I nearly went back for some, for old time's sake.
So, in short, my yogurt making was a long time coming.
I decided to go as simply as possible the first time around--whole milk, no flavoring. I bought a quart of High Lawn Farm milk and used, as my starter, 2 tablespoons of Desi Natural Dahi, which, as I mentioned yesterday, is the closest thing to homemade Indian yogurt as I've found here. (I'm also partial to Sidehill Farm yogurt so I may try that as a starter another time and see what the difference is.) After that, I basically just followed Harold McGee's instructions. I heated the milk up til it was steaming and had little bubbles but wasn't boiling. I let it cool down until it was somewhere between very warm and hot. I mixed a little bit of the milk in with the yogurt starter, and then I mixed that back into the hot milk. And then I poured whole thing into a container (which, admittedly, I'd forgotten to warm), closed it up, wrapped it in a shawl and tucked the whole thing away into a bowl in the oven.
After four hours, it was still liquid, so I left it in the oven overnight with the light on. And in the morning, there waiting for me, was a lovely quart of yogurt. I put it in the refrigerator to chill, and when I could stand the wait no longer, I took it out and ate some, first by itself and then doctored up.
It was lovely, everything yogurt should be. I can't believe it took me so long to do this.
This morning's bowl, however, was even lovelier. Grapenuts are all well and good (especially in ice cream), but homemade yogurt calls for homemade granola. This morning, I obliged. More about that tomorrow.