A friend of mine has managed to do something I originally thought impossible: she got me addicted to kefir.
Before, I’d only ever tried the store-bought variety. It was sour, it smelled funny, and it just wasn’t doing it for me. When said friend called and told me she was bringing a batch of from home, I warned her that I’d already been there, done that, and just… no. Fortunately, she’s stubborn. As a result, I have another culture growing in my kitchen.
Now, if you’re wanting to drink kefir because you appreciate the health benefits, but are willing to have a spoonful of sugar to make your medicine go down, then read on. If you’re avoiding carbs at all costs, then this probably won’t work for you. I’m wanting the probiotics, but I’m not avoiding all sugars, and this works for me.
First off, one must acquire kefir grains. If you know anybody fermenting good kefir, just ask, because these things multiply almost as rapidly as sourdough. My chickens enjoy my extras, but I’m always happy to share with my peeps.
Kefir grains look a bit like cottage cheese. You don’t actually eat or drink the grains – they’re the cultures that kefer-ize your milk.
You need at least two tablespoons of grains for a quart of milk. My current favorite milk for this is goat milk, but as our goat is currently dried off, I’m experimenting with whole and skim cow’s milk. Whole, non-homogenized is actually too fatty for me; the kefir coats my mouth. Skim works much better; my home-skimmed variety is probably equivalent to regular 2% or whole milk purchased from a store, for my friends without a dairy animal.
Put your kefir grains in a quart jar, add your milk, and stir. Cover with a cloth to allow air circulation, and leave on the counter. I have been culturing mine 24-36 hours this winter, as it seems to be taking that long for it to thicken up; I like mine on the thick side. I open it up and stir it briefly every 6-8 hours, as I think of it, and that seems to make it thicken faster.
It will start seperating; you’ll see a layer of whey and a layer of yogurt-like curd. At this point, the ‘first ferment’ is done.
Time to strain off the kefir. The grains go into a jar and covered with milk for another round; then I’m ready to do the next step.
Here’s the trick my friend figured out. If you read the label of store-bought kefir, you’ll notice that one of the ingredients is “nonfat milk”. She realized that if you add powdered nonfat milk, it gives the kefir culture more milk sugars:liquids ratio, and keeps it happier. Sweeter, not so tart and/or bitter.
Also – those lovely coffee syrups that we indulge in for coffee make awesome kefir flavorings. Now, YES, in a perfect world coming any day now, I’ll blend my kefir with frozen fruit or whatever to achieve my flavors. But this is the quick-dirty-gotta get done quick-and-back-to-homeschooling kefir. Besides, I don’t have a white chocolate tree growing in my backyard yet, and lemme tell you, white chocolate syrup in kefir rocks.
So: to the our lovely quart-or-so of strained kefir, we add: 1/2 c. nonfat powdered milk (I get the organic ‘non-instant’ variety from Azure Standard), and 1/3 c. whatever today’s flavoring mix of syrups and extracts I’m in the mood for.
Today’s was White Chocolate Raspberry Vanilla Cupcake, in case you’re wondering.
Next secret: Stick Blender. Because it takes FOREVER to milk in milk powder in by hand with a whisk.
Then, I pour it into a half-gallon jar, label it and put it back on the counter for a few hours, until I start seeing whey separating out again. This usually takes about 3-6 hours. Then, release any pressure inside the jar (because otherwise if it gets excited it may try to escape all over your counter, ask me how I know), and put it in the fridge.
The next day, I add that day’s strained kefir directly to the jar, blend with the stick blender, give it another 3-6 hours counter time until it starts separating again, and put it in the fridge. Once it’s cold, it’s ready to drink!
That last fermentation step allows it to carbonate a little. Before you completely reject the idea of carbonated-milk-anything, ask yourself this: Do you enjoy root beer floats? Yes? Then I rest my case. But if you hate all things bubbly, then just put the jar straight into the fridge.
I usually blend it once more with the stick blender, just to even out the texture, either right before it goes in the fridge or when I’m ready to drink it. Kefir is much better cold.
And there you have it! Homemade kefir that’s worth drinking straight. Current favorite flavor combinations include:
Caramel Pear (Pear syrup by Monin, caramel extract or caramel syrup)
White Chocolate Blackberry (Blackberry and White Chocolate syrups)
Blueberry Cupcake (Blueberry and Cupcake syrups)
Lemon Blueberry Cupcake (Lemon, Blueberry and Cupcake)
….and so on. Enjoy!