I've been pretty happy with the yogurt I've been making this year. I like the way it usually turns out, I think the heating-pad method works well, and I like not having to depend on store yogurt.
However, there have been a couple of things that bug me about the way I've been doing it--one is cleaning the pint canning jars afterwards. When you use this method of heating, cooling and incubating right in the jars, they do get a bit hard to clean. Besides, most of our jars now are full of jam. Mr. Fixit has remembered all the tricks his grandma taught him and so far we have two different kinds of jam in the cold room, with the promise of peach as well when they come into season.
I had loaned out my Tightwad Gazette Volume 3--the one with the yogurt instructions in it--and when it came back recently I thought I'd look back at that article and see if there was any way I could improve on my two-little-jars method.
So today I did it the TG way--heated up a quart of milk plus milk powder in the pot, and tried one idea of my own: I incubated it in a covered serving bowl that came with our dinnerware (with the cover on, in case that wasn't clear). I checked it just before posting this and it's already done--looks like it worked great. And the pot wasn't hard to clean either. I think I've solved both my messy-jar and lack-of-jars problems at the same time. (And it's a bit less dangerous than lifting those jars of hot milk.)
One interesting note, if you find this much technical stuff interesting: you have to let the milk heat to 180 or 185 degrees, then cool it to 115 degrees before stirring in yogurt and incubating it. Usually I lift the jars of hot milk out of the pot of water and let them cool for awhile on a towel--and usually it does take awhile. This time I poured all the milk into the bowl instead. (I had poured boiling water over the bowl first, just to make sure it was really clean.) I don't know if it was the bowl, or the fact that I left the whisk sitting in the milk as well (some kind of heat exchange?), but that had to be the fastest-cooling milk I've ever seen. Usually we're talking half an hour anyway; this batch was down to 115 degrees within 15 minutes.
Just give me a white coat, I feel like a lab scientist.