Cheese Chicks: Ushering in the New Year with Yogurt Pie

This Cheese Chick enjoyed quite a few excesses this holiday season — there were pies to bake and eat, cookies to bake, decorate and eat, all those pounds of local ham leftovers to finish, to name just a few.  It seems fitting that we welcome the New Year with something simple:  Yogurt Pie.  I’m talking about the Yogurt Pie of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook fame.  It’s a gloriously simple recipe which develops into a sinfully rich dessert, reminiscent of cheesecake but not quite as frightening to your heart and thighs.  If you own one of the original editions of Moosewood Cookbook, you will find that this recipe was then called “Yogurt-Cream Cheese Pie.”  I have a revised edition, copyright 1992, for which this recipe is now named “Yogurt Pie.”  The original pie version needed a large amount of cream cheese to keep the pie thick and together.  Katzen now uses yogurt cheese in place of the cream cheese, which lightens things up considerably!

Yogurt cheese might be the easiest cheese to make, which makes it a great first cheese for anyone to try.  You may use grocery store yogurt or homemade yogurt (we will blog about how to do this later on) — I have used both.  When I first made this back in the early ’90s, my favorite brand for yogurt cheese was Dannon’s nonfat plain yogurt.  Stonyfield Farm made a good pie as well, though the results were slightly more tangy and less sweet than a pie made with Dannon.  The texture with Dannon was a bit silkier as well, which is always pleasing on your tongue.

The pie I made recently used Brookford Farm’s lowfat yogurt, which is now available in both quart and gallon sizes.  It’s been quite a while since I made yogurt cheese and I’ve never made it with Brookford’s yogurt, so there was some experimentation going on.  Surprisingly, I ended up using almost the entire gallon of yogurt instead of the 2 1/2 quarts nonfat yogurt the recipe calls for. I’m here to share some tips as the result of these experiments which should make your own yogurt cheese experience as positive as possible.

How to make Yogurt Cheese for Yogurt Pie (or any other recipe you can dream up!):

  1. Choose your brand of yogurt, or make your own.  You will need a minimum of 2 1/2 quarts of whatever yogurt you choose.

  2. Next, get yourself some cheesecloth.  The size of your colander will determine how long to cut your cloth, if at all.  Katzen calls for 16″ of cheesecloth for a 12″ colander.  I’ll clarify that you will need enough to line your colander using 6 layers of cloth.  Using less will make you lose too much yogurt through uncovered seams, instead of just liquid.  Using more will allow you to have enough to fold over on top of the yogurt once it’s in your colander, and then a little more to tie it off.

  3. Next, find a place to put your cheesecloth-lined colander.  This is where the liquid will drain out, so you can use your sink, or put it in a large bowl on your counter if you need to use your sink while your yogurt drains.  Personally, I am a big fan of using the bathtub for hanging and draining cheese, so don’t be afraid to use yours!

  4. Place your yogurt on the cheesecloth then fold it over the top and tie the cloth.  You can use the corners of the cheesecloth and tie them together, or you can twist the cheesecloth around and secure it with a clothespin or baggie tie.  Whatever you do, you’ll need to make sure that the yogurt is securely encased within the cheesecloth, with no gaping seams for the yogurt to leach out from.

  5. Next, choose an item that will act as a weight to be placed on top of the yogurt, allowing its weight to press liquid out of the yogurt.  You can throw beans into a Ziplock bag, use frozen vegetables, or do what I do: put enough water in a Tupperware container roughly the size of your colander and seal it.  I think it allows the cheese to drain more evenly.  Whatever method you use, you’re looking for a 3 or 4 pound weight.

  6. Let the yogurt drain for roughly 6-8 hours.  The brand of yogurt you use, and its fat content will determine the exact amount of time.  With Brookford’s yogurt, I drained it overnight since I was short on time, which was roughly 10 hours.  The end result looked good, but the texture was a little too dry, so next time I will back off to 8 hours and see what I get.  This extra time is also what probably led me to have to use more yogurt than was called for, though I believe that 3 quarts is still closer to the amount I would use for Brookford’s yogurt.

  7. Don’t be afraid to check on the status of your yogurt cheese during the process.  Open up your tie and poke a finger in to see just how thick it’s getting.  The more liquid that drains out, the thicker (and drier) your pie will be.  The goal is to achieve a perfect balance of thickness while still maintaining a creamy, moist texture.  You can stop the process whenever you feel your yogurt cheese is “done.”  Ultimately, you should end up with about 5 cups of thick and creamy yogurt cheese!

The rest of Katzen’s “Yogurt Pie” recipe goes like this:

Ingredients

  • One 9-inch, baked and cooled, graham cracker crust
  • 5 cups of yogurt cheese (this is approximate)
  • 5 Tablespoons of sugar (or more, to taste)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Katzen includes optional toppings like fresh berries (something juicy, like raspberries, on this pie are my favorite!), her Berry Pudding, and Berry Sauce.

Place the yogurt cheese in a medium-sized bowl with the sugar and vanilla, and beat lightly with a whisk until completely blended.

Spoon mixture into the prepared crust. Katzen offers the option of using any leftover crust mixture to sprinkle on top of the yogurt if you have made your own graham-cracker crust.  Cover lightly and chill.  Serve plain or with a topping.  

Enjoy — and if this was your first attempt at making any type of cheese, I hope you are hooked!

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