We set the bar high with this recipe: We wanted a naturally sweetened, pleasantly tart vanilla frozen yogurt with the creamy, smooth texture of premium ice cream.
We started with plain whole-milk yogurt; not wanting to mask the yogurt’s tangy flavour, we immediately ruled out the additional dairy we saw in some other recipes. Next, we needed to choose a natural sweetener that wouldn’t disrupt the clean flavour of the yogurt.
Sucanat, coconut sugar, and honey proved to be overpowering, but maple syrup worked perfectly: It offered just the right amount of rounded sweetness without being distracting. To develop distinct, nuanced vanilla flavour, we used a whole vanilla bean along with a small amount of extract.
With the yogurt’s flavour down, we turned our attention to fine-tuning the texture. Usually, sugar helps to prevent ice crystals from forming in ice cream and frozen yogurt, but with the small amount we were using we needed to find a different way to avoid an icy texture.
We wondered if the water in the yogurt was to blame. Draining the yogurt overnight and eliminating a measured amount of liquid resulted in a much better final texture, but the ultrasmooth creaminess we coveted was still proving elusive. We knew that store-bought frozen yogurts often rely on additives and stabilizers to achieve a smoother texture, and we wondered if we could re-create the effect at home by using gelatin.
We tested yogurts made with various amounts of gelatin (blooming it in the strained yogurt liquid kept our recipe streamlined), and landed on 1 teaspoon. Finally, we prevented large ice crystals from forming by allowing the frozen yogurt base to cool to 40 F or lower before churning.
You can increase the vanilla extract to 1 tablespoon if you don’t have a vanilla bean, though the flavour will be duller. We prefer to use whole-milk yogurt in this recipe; the frozen yogurt will be less creamy if you substitute low-fat yogurt.
VANILLA FROZEN YOGURT
Servings: 8 (Makes 1 quart)
Start to finish: 2 hours and 40 minutes, plus 8-12 hours to strain yogurt
1 quart plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Line colander or fine-mesh strainer with triple layer of cheesecloth and place over large bowl. Place yogurt in colander, cover with plastic wrap (wrap should not touch yogurt), and refrigerate until at least 1 1/4 cups liquid has drained from yogurt, at least 8 hours or up to 12 hours.
Discard 3/4 cup of drained liquid and return remaining liquid to bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over liquid and let sit until softened, about 5 minutes. Microwave mixture until bubbling around edges and gelatin dissolves, about 30 seconds. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using tip of paring knife, scrape out seeds; discard bean. Add seeds to warm gelatin mixture and let cool for 5 minutes.
In large bowl, whisk drained yogurt, maple syrup, vanilla extract, salt, and cooled gelatin mixture until well combined and smooth. Place bowl over ice bath, or cover and refrigerate, until yogurt mixture registers 40 F or lower.
Transfer mixture to ice cream machine and churn until mixture has consistency of thick soft-serve and registers about 21 F, 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer frozen yogurt to airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 5 days. Serve.