Author Archives: cuisinesaba

Homemade Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt

Adapted from Maureen Abood

I use an heirloom starter that a friend of the family brought to the States from Yazd, Iran in 1998. If you are using commercial yogurt as a starter, make sure you purchase plain, not vanilla, and look for “live, active cultures” on the package. Typically a thinner, European, and not “Greek” yogurt works better, but some have suggested success with Greek-style yogurts such as Fage Total. After making a batch, set aside a half-cup of yogurt (store in the fridge uncovered) to use as a starter for the next batch.

The recipe that follows is lengthy and full of details I’ve learned over many years of making yogurt on a weekly basis; don’t let this deter you! Making yogurt is really very easy; it is a simple 4-step process:

  1. Heat the milk to 180F, or to just below the boiling point.
  2. Cool the milk to 110-120F – a thermometer is good, but not essential.
  3. Inoculate the milk with the yogurt culture (“starter”).
  4. Incubate for several hours, until thickened.


½ gallon (2L) dairy milk (skim, 1%, 2%, or “vitamin D” whole milk)

¼ cup (60ml) yogurt, at room temperature. This is your starter.


Heavy saucepan, 3-quart (3L) or larger

Wooden spoon

Whisk (optional)

Candy or Instant-Read Thermometer (optional)

Porcelain or Ceramic Bowl (2 or 3 quart) to incubate the yogurt (optional, in case you don’t wish to use your saucepan)

Kitchen Timer (optional)

Fahrenheit-Celsius Temperature Conversions:

180-190F = 82-88C

110/115/120F = 43/46/49C


Prepare the equipment. Start by removing your starter from the fridge and setting it aside. Scrub the pan, its lid, the spoon, and the whisk very well, and then rinse them with very hot water to make sure everything is free of any grease or dirt. Or, just run the equipment through the dishwasher. Rinse it well with cold water, or run an ice cube over the inside, until the pan is quite cold. Dry well. Chilling the inside of the pan will stop the milk sugars from sticking to the pan for easier clean-up later. If you will be using a gas oven as an incubator, turn on the light and turn the oven to its lowest temperature. As soon as temperature is reached, turn the oven off, leaving the light on. It will cool down during the rest of the steps to the required warm & cozy environment.

Heat the milk. Add the milk to the pan, cover, and turn the stove to medium heat. Bring to just below a boil (180-190F); it should take about 10-15 minutes to reach this stage. Stir the milk occasionally, taking care to keep your spoon clean. Setting a timer can help avoid milk spilling over onto the stove. Stay nearby, because the milk will froth up, and as it begins to boil it will rise up swiftly in the pan. Remove from heat immediately.

Cool the milk. Pour the milk into the container in which the incubation will happen (alternatively, leave it in the saucepan). Let the milk cool down to 110-120F*. You can place your container in a large bowl of ice to help it cool down much faster. Without the ice, expect 40-60 minutes for cooling time; with the ice, 5-8 minutes. Whisking the milk during the cooling period will help cool it faster and will discourage the formation of a skin on the final product.  If you are not using a thermometer, the equivalent is when your clean pinky finger can just withstand being held in the milk for ten seconds. Using a timer and checking the temperature every so often can help avoid the milk getting too cool. If the milk cools below 110F, gently warm it up to 110-120F. If in this process of reheating, the temperature goes above 120F, wait again until it comes back down to 110-120F.

Add the starter. Remove the thermometer if you’ve used one. Spoon a few tablespoons of the milk into the yogurt starter to temper it, and add it to your bowl or pot of milk. Very gently stir it into the bowl or pot of milk. If you haven’t whisked in the previous step, you will notice a skin forms on the surface of the milk; this can be stirred right in with the starter, or spooned out.

Rest the milk (incubation). Cover the bowl or pan with a lid or a plate. Set it aside, undisturbed, in a warm spot for anywhere from 6 to 30 hours*. An ideal incubator is a gas oven with only the light on to keep it warm and cozy. An alternative incubation spot is the corner of the kitchen with several towels and blankets over it. It needs to remain absolutely undisturbed during incubation.

Chill the yogurt. Remove the pot or bowl from the oven. The milk will have thickened into yogurt, probably with liquid whey on the top. Place, undisturbed as of yet, into the refrigerator for 24-72 hours to further set the yogurt before eating or straining to thicken, if desired. If you wish to strain your yogurt for thickness (“Greek” yogurt), you can use a special yogurt strainer, an inexpensive nut-milk bag, or cheesecloth.

Store, uncovered, in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks.

*I like yogurt to have an acidic, fermented taste. Therefore, I add the starter at 120F and rest it for at least 20 hours. For a mild flavor, add the starter at 110 or 115F and rest it for 6-8 hours.




Grandma’s Simple Cake


My grandmother and my mother often made a very simple, rustic cake to enjoy during a lazy weekend breakfast or with an afternoon cup of tea. After my mother died, I realized I didn’t have the recipe. By this point, my grandmother was in the early stages of dementia, and when I asked her for the recipe, she referred me to an aunt. My aunt said: “this cake is so simple; it doesn’t require a recipe. It’s simply milk, sugar, eggs, flour, and you know, the other ingredients that normally go into a cake.” This response was not what I’d been hoping for, and certainly unacceptable to my Type-A nature. So I set about finding a recipe to replicate Grandma’s cake. After 3 years of searching, a recipe from Martha Stewart for a vanilla cake came closest to my memory of the cake. I started with her recipe but tweaked a few elements to make it even more similar to my memory of Grandma’s cake. I replaced butter with vegetable oil. This creates a tighter, more rustic crumb. I decreased the sugar from 1½ cups to 1 cup for a barely sweet cake, as I remember Grandma’s cake to be. These two changes make it easier to spread something like jam onto the cake at serving time.

Grandma’s Simple Cake: Adapted from Martha Stewart

Equipment: 2 9-inch round cake pans, 1 bundt pan (8-cup capacity or larger), or 2 8×4 loaf pans


240g / 2 cups all-purpose flour

1 TBsp baking powder

¼ tsp fine sea salt

200g / 1 cup granulated sugar*

125ml / ½ cup neutral vegetable oil or 113g / 4oz unsalted butter, at room temperature

250ml / 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 large eggs, at room temperature

*Based on your preference, you can use up to 300g (1 ½ cups) sugar.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and butter and flour the pan (s). For round or loaf pans, butter the pan (s), add a layer of parchment paper, and then butter and flour the parchment for easy release. For bundt pans, use a silicone pastry brush to really grease the pan well, and then add a thin layer of flour, making sure to tap out any excess.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt together into a bowl. Add the sugar on top and combine, either with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer set to low, or by hand with a wooden spoon. Add oil and mix on low to coat the dry ingredients well.

Combine the milk and vanilla together, and add it to the batter, all at once. Mix on low for 30 seconds, and then increase the speed to medium for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add eggs, 1 at a time, and mix for about 30 seconds on medium speed after each addition. Finally, beat on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. Note: the entire batter can be mixed by hand as well; just use a rubber spatula to make sure everything has been combined well. The batter will be very liquid.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan (s) and bake until golden on top (roughly 33-35 minutes for round pans, 42 minutes for a bundt, and 50-55 minutes for a loaf pan). Cool in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes, and then remove to the rack by inverting the bundt or round pans, or by lifting with the parchment sleeve with a loaf pan and cool for 1-2 hours. Serve the cake on its own or with whipped cream, butter, and jam, and a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Variations: Because this cake is so simple, it lends itself well to variations. In the winter, my grandmother often added a hint of orange zest. Sometimes, she would add a cocoa stripe in the center of the cake, reminiscent of a classic coffee cake with its cinnamon-y center. Experiment to find variations you like.

Orange Simple Cake: Add 1-2 teaspoons of finely grated orange zest to the batter in the final stage of mixing.


September 22, 2016

Bear with me while I build this blog! Thanks for your patience. In the meantime you can follow me on Instagram & Twitter @cuisinesaba.

My name is Saba, and I write about food, history, and culture. I love to transform traditional, seasonal cookery into dishes that can work for our modern lifestyles. I believe strongly in homecooked food as a stage for health & well-being, as well as a link to our histories and our creative selves. I also enjoy creating cakes, pastries, and confections to share with family & friends. I live in Northern California, and I welcome opportunities to hear your thoughts and ideas on subjects related to food, history, and culture.