Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Creamiest Homemade Dairy Free Yogurt

Since learning that I am highly sensitive to casein, the protein in milk products, I've had to find substitutions for my favorite dairy foods.  There are alternative, dairy free yogurts on the market, but either they are too high in carbohydrate and added sugar or they just taste strange!  Most are low or fat free, making their texture more like a sweet panna cotta or jello than what you'd expect from a tangy, creamy yogurt.  I've created a superior DF yogurt that is creamy, so delicious, very low carb and with that distinctive yogurt zip.  It is 1000 times better than the dairy free yogurt you can buy in the store and it's incredibly easy to make.  

First, you need to know that making yogurt from a non-milk base requires some kind of thickener.  I use high-quality, unflavored gelatin powder (Great Lakes brand) because it gives consistent, successful results.  I've experimented with a variety of dairy free milks and have never had a failure.  Secondly, if you want your yogurt to be a good source of calcium, you will need to use a mixture of milks, in which at least one contains plenty of calcium per cup.  In this recipe, I've used a mixture of 100% high-fat coconut milk for creaminess and Silk brand unsweetened cashew milk because it contains 450 mg of calcium per cup.  (You can use any calcium-fortified nut milk, such as almond, coconut, flax, soy or hazelnut.  Choose your favorite.)  Also, you can experiment with the ratio of full fat coconut milk to nut milk.  The creaminess comes from the coconut milk, so I don't think I'd go lower than 50:50, but if having a lower fat and less creamy yogurt is desirable, then experiment until you find a combination that's right for you.  Finally, I have cultured my yogurt in a yogurt maker, which is a fairly inexpensive piece of kitchen equipment.  I got mine for less than $30 on Amazon and I love it!  If you don't have a yogurt maker, you can "cook" your yogurt on a heating pad or in the oven (search online for how to do it).  Culturing takes 15-20 hours to get the right flavor, so I usually prepare the yogurt base in the evening and let it "cook" all night.  This recipe explains how to make plain, unsweetened yogurt, to which you can add your favorite fruits and flavorings before serving.  If you use your creativity, every jar in a batch can be different!  Below I describe several of my favorite additions to make a variety of yogurt flavors.  Once you make your own dairy free yogurt, you'll never buy it in a store again!

The Creamiest Homemade Dairy Free Yogurt
Makes 7 servings (about 3/4 cup each)

3 cups full-fat coconut milk, canned (I use Aroy-D brand)
2 cups calcium-fortified nut milk (I use Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk, look for 1g carb per serving)
4 level teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder (I use Great Lakes brand)
1 tablespoon raw honey
1-1/2 packets non-dairy yogurt starter (I recommend Belle + Bella Yogo)*

Equipment needed: large very clean saucepan, very clean whisk, candy thermometer, measuring spoons, small jars with lids, yogurt maker (or search online for alternate method for culturing using a heating pad or oven), glass measuring cup with spout (optional).

1.  Measure coconut milk and 1 cup of nut milk into the large saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches a temperature of 180-degrees Fahrenheit.  

2. In a glass measuring cup, measure remaining 1 cup nut milk and sprinkle the gelatin over the top of the milk.  Allow to sit for a few minutes, then whisk the gelatin into the milk.  Add the gelatin mixture into the hot coconut milk mixture and allow the temperature to return to 180-degrees.  (Gelatin mixture can be added prior to the milk mixture reaching 180-degrees.). Whisk until gelatin is completely dissolved.  Remove saucepan from heat.

3.  Add honey and whisk.  The honey is necessary to feed the culture, so do not use a sugar-free sweetener for this step.  Allow the hot milk mixture to cool until it reaches 110-degrees.  (You can hasten the cooling process by placing the saucepan into a sink of cool water, just make sure water doesn't spill into the milk.)

4.  When the milk mixture cools to 110-degrees, pour about 2 cups into the glass measuring cup.  While whisking, add the yogurt starter.  Whisk until completed dissolved.  Return the milk with starter to the saucepan and whisk to combine.  

5.  Using the glass measuring cup, pour milk mixture into individual serving jars and place into the yogurt maker (or follow your machine's instructions).  Do not place lids on the jars.  Culture (or "cook") the yogurt for 15-20 hours.  (The less time allowed for culturing results in a sweeter yogurt. You can increase time for a tangier yogurt, but I wouldn't exceed 24 hours.)  While "cooking," the mixture will be thin and separate into white milk on top and a clear liquid on the bottom, but don't worry, it is normal.

6.  After 15-20 hours, place a lid securely on each jar and shake gently to fully blend the two layers.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight to set.

* You can substitute 1/2 cup coconut yogurt with live cultures for the starter or use the powder from probiotic capsules equaling about 35 billion.  I have tried the probiotic method, but was not pleased with the result.  Either the probiotic I used was no longer alive, or it didn't culture well.  For me, the distinctive yogurt tang just wasn't there.  From my experience, the starter powder works very well.  

Nutritional Information per serving (3/4 cup), plain yogurt: 196 calories, 4 g carbohydrate (0 g dietary fiber, 3.7 g sugar), 18.6 g total fat (12.9 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium, 141.5 mg calcium, 2.6 g protein.  Net carbs per serving: 4 grams

Some of my favorite low-carb flavors (be sure to add these additional carbs to the yogurt for the full count):

Raspberry with a Hint of Chocolate: With a fork, mash 2 tablespoons of raspberries in a bowl.  Add a serving of plain yogurt and 2-3 drops of Chocolate Raspberry flavored liquid stevia.  If you want more chocolate flavor, add 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder and 2-3 more drops of stevia or to taste.  Stir to combine.  (Substitute finely chopped cherries for the raspberries, if desired.)

Pumpkin Spice: Place 1 heaping tablespoon of unsweetened cooked pumpkin in a bowl (canned is fine).  Add 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and stir.  Add one serving of plain yogurt and 4 drops of plain or Vanilla Creme liquid stevia, or to taste.  Stir to combine.

Strawberry Vanilla: With a fork, mash 2-3 ripe strawberries in a bowl.  Add one serving of plain yogurt, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and 3-4 drops of plain or Vanilla Creme liquid stevia or to taste.  Stir to combine.  (Substitute blueberries for strawberries, if desired, or a combination of berries.)

Maple Vanilla Walnut: Place 3-4 walnuts into a plastic bag and hit with the handle of a butter knife to break into small pieces, or chop with a knife.  Mix together the plain yogurt, walnuts, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup (or sugar free maple syrup) and 2 drops of plain or Vanilla Creme liquid stevia or to taste.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.  (Substitute pecans for the walnuts and 2 drops of black strap molasses for the syrup, if desired.)

Recipes by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2014

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