Last month, I found myself in a breakfast rut. Without sugar to fall back on, all kinds of pastries were out of the question. I rotated oatmeal with nuts, poached eggs and sprouted grain toast with peanut butter and jam.
My mom has the same breakfast every single day. When she is here, I watch her make coffee, toast some bread, smear it with jam and get on with her day. I asked her if she doesn’t get bored but, like most Italians, she doesn’t place much emphasis on breakfast – it’s just an accompaniment to coffee. My sister is the same: toast and jam to go with espresso and a cigarette.
It seems I have become exquisitely American in this regard. Until I go back to Italy and revert to coffee and croissant, my Italian staple since I was a child. But as I spend only a couple of weeks a year in Italy, my conundrum needed to be solved.
I made whole wheat muffins with apples and walnuts to use instead of toast as a base for peanut butter. I started churning out large batches of granola, that I have now made with olive oil, coconut oil or vegetable oil just to see the difference. I made muesli by soaking oats in yogurt overnight. I even tried cottage cheese with honey and nuts – not a great idea. Something about the texture of cottage cheese always puts me off. But I love yogurt: plain, tangy, creamy yogurt.
“Have you noticed it’s impossible to find whole milk yogurt at the market?” my Greek American friend Kim lamented recently.
“Really? How can it be?” I am guilty of buying the low fat or fat free variety.
“Try. You will not find it. And I like proper Greek yogurt.”
A few days later, I scanned the wall of yogurt at Whole Foods and I realized Kim was right. The elderly man next to me, peering at the labels of every yogurt cup, muttered it was impossible to find yogurt with less than 14g of sugar. I turned towards him, eager to help, until I realized I didn’t have my reading glasses.
“How about this? And this?” I kept on handing him jars I felt were healthier. The irony of what looked like an 80 year old many helping me read labels in the aisle of a supermarket was not lost. Triumphantly, he kept on rejecting everything I handed him. Until we go to the Icelandic Siggis, a very tangy yogurt that boasted only 7 grams of sugar. He wasn’t impressed but I bought it.
Three years ago, I posted a recipe for homemade yogurt, courtesy of food chemist Harold McGee. It was good but it was made with 2% milk. What if I tried the full fat version (which has the added bonus of having Vitamin D as whole milk is fortified with it)? My very first boss in the pastry kitchen, Erin, used to make yogurt for brunch service and, using my dim memories, I followed the method we used then.
I heated a quart (one liter) of milk in a pot on a low flame. You don’t want to boil or scorch the milk. Let it cool until it’s lukewarm.
Add about three heaping spoons of plain yogurt (unflavored and with live cultures – I used my Siggis) and mix them well.
Put a tight-fitting lid on the pot and then wrap it in a towel or small blanket. Then place it somewhere warm: on top of the fridge; in the laundry by the dryer if it’s being used or even in a turned off oven. They way we would do it in the pastry kitchen was to place it in a camping cooler, which is what I did last week.
Forget about it for 8 hours. Or even 12 (but no longer than that). The longer you leave it, the tangier it will be so, if you like it sweet 6 to 8 hours will suffice. Unwrap the pot, peek inside and stir, and stick it in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
The end result was a much creamier yogurt than the one I made with the low-fat milk. If you are into the Greek yogurt craze, just pour the yogurt in a sieve placed over a bowl and let it sit overnight. All the water will drain and you will be left with Greek yogurt.
You can keep reusing the same yogurt three or four times to make new batches but, after then, the live cultures will use their potency and will no longer work.
Since I made it, I haven’t used it once to make muesli. It’s too good eaten plain, or with some fruit, nuts and honey. I even dolloped it on a spinach puree I made. What I didn’t do is drive over to Kim’s with a jar. Next time.