What About Ghee?

You know, clarified butter. It’s been melted, had most of its water boiled away. Won’t that work in a pie crust instead of butter, lard or shortening? Unfortunately not. For it’s the structure of butter, not merely its composition, that determines the way it behaves in pie crust.

Milk fat occurs not as a mass of lipid molecules with a few water molecules mixed in, but in pure lipid blobs, each of which is surrounded by a protein coat. It’s those protein-enclosed blobs, plus water, that create the emulsion that is butter. Destroy those blobs and what you get is a greasy slurry.

That’s exactly what happens with you melt and simmer butter. The proteins that enclose the fat blobs curdle in the sustained heat. They curl up, agglomerate and sink. This can be delicious (see: browned butter) but it’s no good for a pie crust. Why? Because it’s the small pockets of semi-firm butter in the dough that create flakes. Without them them you get a hard and greasy crust. So, good thinking readers Mike and Rainey! But a ghee crust just isn’t in the cards.

8 thoughts on “What About Ghee?”

  1. I’m still confused. If clarified butter and ghee remove the water and protein almost completely, then it should be nearly 100% fat and an emulsion should be beside the point, right?

    I know that the crystal structure of butterfat can be changed as it is heated and cooled, but if clarified butter or ghee could be “aged” the way that regular butter is (to keep it firmer at higher temperatures, for a better mouthfeel, etc.), wouldn’t it just be a 100% fat like lard or vegetable shortening, and when properly chilled work in a similar way as the other fats when cutting it into the pie dough?

    1. I wish that were the case, but no. As you probably know from making clarified butter, it’s very slushy when it cools. Even when it’s refrigerated it can be very soft. The reason simmered butter behaves this way is because it’s made up of lots and lots of different sorts of lipids, all of which have different melting points. Let them out of their little protein cases and they mix together. Once they cool the result is often a slush of liquid fat with some fat crystals mixed in (results vary according to the diet of the cows in question, since that effects the mix of lipids).

      So you see, butterfat molecules in their “free” state don’t make a solid fat. There’s just too great a variety of them. It takes those little protein-covered blobs plus water to create the emulsion that gives butter its texture. Does that help?

      – Joe

  2. My refrigerator is set to 37 degrees so my ghee is very solid–in fact it is difficult to spoon a chunk out of the container. Does that make it usable? (This ghee is made from high quality butter.)

    1. Hi Jeane!

      It should still be perfectly good. If it still smells good then there’s nothing wrong with it. Just let it warm a bit at room temperature before you use it.


      – Joe

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