Of all kitchen appliances, the slow cooker ranks as “third most useful” in my book (coffee maker, wine opener, slow cooker). There was a time when it fell somewhere between pizza slicer and pastry blender, but those days were over as soon as my roommate brought an all-things-slow cooker cookbook into our apartment. This thing boasted slow cooker cookery you wouldn’t believe—everything from lasagna to your wedding cake, all done while you work your nine-to-five! I realized I had not even scratched the surface of my slow cooker potential.
If using your slow cooker for anything other than a stew is an abstract idea for you, then let me really freak you out—we’re going to make yogurt in it. With the help of darling little active live cultures, you can make yogurt on the cheap and on the fly.
Got (the right) Milk?
The milk mystery is the toughest part of assembling your yogurt-making supplies. Full fat or skim? Vat or ultra-pasteurized?
Some yogurt makers claim that ultra-pasteurization will interfere with the yogurt making process as the milk has already been superheated to kill off any microbes that might be swimming around. We Iowans are lucky enough to have Kalona Supernatural milk close at hand, which is non-homogenized and vat-pasteurized, so I play it safe and grab this good stuff. As for fat content, whole milk will yield a creamier yogurt, while the reduced fat version will be a little thinner.
Start off by pouring your half-gallon of milk into the slow cooker and heating it to 180 degrees. You want your milk hot, but not boiling. From there, cool your milk off to around 115 degrees—this will be our magic number for the rest of the process.
Once your milk has climbed down in temperature, scoop a cup of warm milk into a bowl. Add a half-cup of plain yogurt to the bowl and mix well — this will act as your “starter.” Add the mixture back to your slow cooker, give it a stir to combine, and throw the lid on top.
Crock and Roll
This part should be easy: Leave your slow cooker alone. Let your yogurt brew for seven or eight hours, making sure to keep the temperature hanging around 115 degrees or so (you can even turn off your slow cooker, turning it back on for a few minutes at a time every couple hours). I know, I know. The suspense is killing you. But a watched pot never boils, so go away. Pretend your cultures are in a dark, steamy honeymoon suite and can’t be disturbed (not that that’s what I do or anything).
Fast-forward eight hours. You should be feeling a mix between Christmas morning and the judging portion of a science fair. Those feelings are normal—it’s not every day that you pour milk into a warm pot and get yogurt. This is the most dramatic you are ever allowed to be about yogurt, so really milk it (dairy puns!).
You can use a spoon to scoop off the liquid whey, or if you’ve hopped on the Greek yogurt wagon, strain it with cheesecloth for a couple hours. What will result is beautiful, creamy, delicious yogurt. Take a photo. Tweet about it (we’re listening at @LittleVillage). Hold up your parfait glasses for a toast: Here’s to doin’ it yourself.
Megan Ranegar would like to thank cows everywhere for making this story possible.