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How to Make Plain Yogurt at Home

When I lived in Baku, I remember how every Saturday an old jiguli would stop in front of our  nine-story apartment complex and an energetic woman in her late 60s known as sud satan (milk seller) or more affectionately, sud satan khala (aunt milk seller) would hurriedly step out of the car and open its trunk to proudly display its contents – home made dairy products. She would then go on shouting about the neighborhood enthusiastically , “Sud var, sud, gatiiiiiiiig! (Milk, milk, yoguuuuuuuurt) thus notifying her permanent and prospective customers about the arrival of milk and yogurt she made from cows her family raised somewhere in the outskirts of Baku.

Then the usual scene – dairy-hungry apartment dwellers flock downstairs to get fresh milk and creamy yogurt, sometimes bargaining the prices in vain and nodding approval when the seller swears by bread (it is common to swear by bread in Azerbaijan) that her yogurt has no thickening agent and that it is natural and  best they can ever find. Then the happy buyers hurriedly go home with their purchase to make good use of it. They particularly like yogurt. They make soups with it (the most popular is dovga, yogurt soup with fresh herbs, chickpeas and sometimes meatballs), use it as a condiment to scoop onto dolma, or onto pasta dishes, in the latter case flavoring it with crushed garlic, or make a refreshing drink ayran from it.

Sud satan khala‘s yogurt was really good – luscious cream thickened on top of dense yogurt was quite tempting. Well.. .That was in Baku. In California I often buy yogurt from markets and I find the local varieties pretty good (update: since writing this post I have rarely bought yogurt from stores, I make my own most of the time). But I sometimes venture into making my own yogurt and to my mom’s surprise (she is still in disbelief I can cook let alone make yogurt), I get good results. You can, too, with the following recipe. As sud satan khala would say – I swear by bread!

So, let’s get started.

How to Make Yogurt (Plain Yogurt) at Home

To make yogurt you only need 2 ingredients – milk and plain yogurt – more of the first and less of the second .  Yogurt will act as culture or starter, which has benign bacteria  necessary to ferment the milk.

You can use either homemade yogurt or store-brought. You can use any type of milk – cow’s milk or goat’s milk to make yogurt. Both your yogurt and milk should be fresh. Remember, whatever type yogurt (full-fat,  fat-free) you will use as your starter, the resulting yogurt will be exactly the same. In  other words, if you used creamy yogurt as your starter, you will obtain creamy yogurt once your milk has been fermented.

Ingredients you will need:
milk (I use whole milk – full fat)
plain yogurt

You will also need:
a clean pot
a jar (I use 1-liter fido jars)
a kitchen thermometer (optional)
a blanket

Have your milk and yogurt ready. For every liter (4 cups) of milk, you will need 3 tablespoonfuls of yogurt. Your yogurt should be at room temperature!

Let’s begin. Place the milk in a pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Here, it is very important to cool the milk down to the right temperature before you introduce the culture to it. The milk should cool only until it is neither too hot nor too cold. If you have a kitchen thermometer, put it in the milk and read – the ideal temperature should be 115F. If you don’t have a thermometer, use this old trick – put your finger in the milk and count to 15. If your finger can tolerate the heat, your milk is ready to be fermented. Remember, the temperature of the milk is very important! If your milk is too cold, the culture simply will not grow. It if is hot, the milk will kill the bacteria in the culture and your milk will never thicken.

Once the milk has reached the desired temperature, pour it into a jar.  Add the yogurt to the milk (you can also mix the yogurt with 2-3 tablespoons of milk before adding it to the jar). Do not stir. Put the lid on the jar.

Place the jar in a place where you will not touch, move, disturb, shake or move it from one place to another (!) during the incubation period. Leave the jar there for at least  8 hours, or to be safe, overnight. The jar should be undisturbed for the duration of this time! Wrap a warm blanket around the jar to maintain the heat in the jar. Constantly keeping the milk warm will get the bacteria thicken the milk. That’s it! You can  enjoy your home made yogurt in 8-14 hours! I will taste better to you than a store bought yogurt. No kidding, You made it yourself! Store your yogurt in the refrigerator.

Let’s sum it up:

1. For each 1 liter of milk, you will need 3 tablespoonfuls yogurt.
2. Use fresh milk.
3. Bring yogurt to room temperature before introducing it to milk.
4. Cool the heated milk to 115F before adding yogurt to it.
5. Cultured milk should not be touched or moved during the incubation period, so store it in a safe place.
6. Keep the jar warm within the folds of blankets.

Variation

Strained Yogurt (Suzme Gatig)

If you want to obtain a thicker yogurt, called suzme gatig, or simply suzme in Azeri, pour it onto a muslin (the traditional way) or 4 layers of cheesecloth, tie the ends together and hand the bag over the sink. The liquid will slowly drain out of the bag and you will obtain creamy and thick suzme. You can flavor it with chopped fresh dill or any fresh herbs of your choice.

38 Comments
  1. A wonderful post! I loved reading your story…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. I wish I had an ‘aunt milk seller’! Actually, I’ve been thinking about making yogurt for a long, long time now. I bought a book all about different recipes ideas when I was in Paris over the summer, but it’s in French and I’m still working on my French. Beautiful pictures, as well!

  3. Farida, I so remember Gatig Var GAtig.That High Pitched Voice of the Milk Seller:)

    I always make my own yogurt just like you described it.

    Just to give clearity to the post…what kind of yogurt and milk do you use: Whole milk, 2 % milk, low fat yogurt original?

    Please advise. Thank You!

  4. Thanks so much! I love making yogurt already, but I love this article even more b/c I used to live in Baku, and your explaination of how to make it is very reliable, in my opinion.

  5. I really like that fish shaped spoon in your picture. Is it from back home?
    I have a small fish shaped container for storing kohl.
    I make yogurt like this everyday, because yogurt is something we cannot eat without. :)

  6. Thank you, ROSA, ANDREA, JILL.

    VUSALA: I use full fat – both yogurt and milk.

    APARNA: The spoon is from Iran. A friend of mine brought it for me. Oh, my blog was down for some time, maybe that’s when you tried to leave a comment. So nice of you. Thank you.

  7. Oh that story brought back so many memories…. I think every “mahla” / neighbourhood had the same story… Too funny, remembering those high pitched voices, calling out to everyone of their arrival…

    My mom also makes yogurt, but I think she does it differently… Will pass this on to her ;) Thanks for sharing!

  8. thanks for making it so easy – I will be making some today and I will also let it drain for the suzme -

  9. Thaks for Sharing Farida ! ! !

  10. I love the spoon……ha…..lovely. And I enjoy making yogurt at home, its the cheeses I’m yet to try!!

  11. The memories of the milk lady are so vivid and wonderful. I have a few follow-up questions but I will email you.

  12. Beautiful recipe blog you have!:)

  13. Why you don`t stir when you add the yogurt to the milk?, My mom also makes yogurt at home and she stirs when she adds the yogurt to the milk and it comes out perfectly.

  14. GUL: I never stir and it works. I haven’t experimented with stirring, so I don’t know. That’s for letting me know.

  15. Merhaba,
    Farida han?m,güzel yorumunuz beni çok sevindirdi,her zaman beklerim :)
    Evde yo?urt nas?l yap?l?r konusunu bende sitemde yay?nlamay? dü?ünüyordum,siz önce davranm??s?n?z :)
    Ben de yo?urdumu evde kendim yap?yorum,en sa?l?kl?s? bu…
    sevgiler…

  16. Back in Trinidad, growing up in a village with people who had cows, there was a Dahi lady, who walked around with dahi, or yoghurt in a metal pail with a cover. I hated the stuff then. :-) But I liked to look out for the dahi lady. As well as the Channa Lady, who sold spicy fried chick peas :-D

  17. Superb! Well explained and looks yummy! We love our yogurt don’t we!

  18. So, how can you make homemade yogurt with homemade yogurt if you need yogurt to make the homemade kind? hahahaha It is like a cyclical process. I guess you have to start with store-bought yogurt and then go from there. Thanks for sharing a great recipe. I found you via Cynthia’s “Taste from Home” blog.

  19. HI Farida,

    It’s wonderful what you are doing. I am so proud. it seems I know all the Azeri recipes but in here I am learning more. Beautiful design and step by step explanation with “salt”. Brilliant!

    Thanks,
    Aynur

  20. Hello Farida
    Thank you for your recipes. Last week I have made a yogurt and baklava.For about 10 years I have been living abroad. For these ten years I never see tvorog in the groceries. Do you know how to make it?
    Regards,
    Emiliya

  21. EMILIYA: I’ll post the recipe for trovor sometime in the new year. I’ll try in january.

  22. And I do yogurt with yogurtnitsy and use a dry bacterial starter, and then the yogurt perezakvashivayu a couple more times. My dear children love it!

  23. as i have long wanted to try making my own yogurt, your recipe is i think the simplest and undaunting of all those that i’ve read. you have encouraged me to give it a try !

    do you cover the milk while waiting for it to boil ?

    some say it’s also good to pour the mixture into a thermos and keep it there to incubate overnight. then perhaps just transfer it to a jar when storing it in the ref. what do you think ?

    thanks and hope to hear from you soon.

  24. CUCI – no need to cover the pan. i have never tried the thermos method so cannot say anything. good luck to you! you’ll do well:)

  25. Farida, thank you for very detaile recip, like always :) will try it this week.

  26. Hi Farida, this is Ferida (Lavinia as second name) from Florence, a genuine Italian lady. I’m also doing yogurt at home, the same way you suggest, altough sometimes, it does not get thick. I am fashinated by the turkish cuisine, so I will follow your posts in the future. Baci da Firenze.

  27. Farida, are you sure about the temperature?? 115°F is approx. 46°C. which is pretty high.. I normally process by 38°C. = 104° F. Would you pls check?? thanks

  28. FERIDA – Thank you for stopping by. We are officially namesakes with a slight different in our name spellings:) Glad you like it here. Regarding the temperature is can range from 105 to 115, the latter being the highest. As long as you can maintain that range, you should be fine. 104 is pretty close too.

  29. Best website I’ve read!
    Very happy!
    So easy to read and follow, as it all makes sense and not so complicated like others.
    Thank you!

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