How to clarify butter

Clarified butter is simply butter with the solids removed. Learn how to clarify butter with ease, an ingredient used in many pastry and baking recipes.

Clarified butter in a pan, Maureen Abood

I have become such close friends with butter over the last year that this post makes me feel right at home in butter’s lovin’ arms. I didn’t used to be so free and easy about butter. In fact, I shunned it for a good couple of years, replacing it wherever possible with a healthier fat, or no fat at all. Then I went to culinary school, and all bets were off. It didn’t take but one lesson in buttercream, or another in finishing sauces to their silkiest, to get me to embrace butter perhaps more than one should. It has been said that an embrace lasting 30 seconds or longer makes a difference in our well-being, so I’ll go ahead and count my butter-embrace among those.

There is indeed a fair amount of butter used in Lebanese baklawa. The phyllo dough wants and needs the butter in order to brown and crisp and taste heavenly. Imagine though that you are only going to eat a few pieces, right, and the rest give away or serve them on your holiday cookie platter, so in the end any one person isn’t consuming all that much butter. And also in the end, the feeling it’s going to give you to have eaten those few pieces, especially if you ate them warm, will provide great clarity of heart and mind as you enter the New Year.


What is Clarified Butter?

That clarity is going to come at a bit of a cost, because the butter used in many of our pastries must be clarified. Clarified butter is simply clear butterfat from which the milk solids have been removed. The solids burn quickly, which is delicious when you want the richness of a nutty brown butter (beurre noisette) or even black butter (beurre noir). But for baklawa, the butter is completely absorbed into the phyllo and nuts, and if the milk solids were still there, they would produce black specks all over your golden brown pastry.

Which Butter to Use

Always start with unsalted butter; high quality butter is a good thing, but I’ve known many a Lebanese lady to purchase and like Land-o-Lakes butter, especially when it goes on sale.

How to clarify butter.

To clarify butter, there are as many methods as there are bakers:

Strain Method: Butter melted over low heat can be poured through cheesecloth and a sieve. I find that leaves behind too much of the solids.

Skim Method

Or, as the butter melts, skim the solids that form on the surface, then set the butter aside to cool for a couple of hours and allow the remaining solids to drop to the bottom of the pan so you can pour the clear butter off. Aunt Rita throws a handful of flour into the melted butter and lets that sit for a few hours; she says the flour and solids combine and hold tight to the bottom of the pan when you pour off the clarified butter.

Solidify and Rinse Method

I like my mother’s method because, well, like mother like daughter. And of all of the methods I have attempted, this one works well leaves behind no solids at all. Mom melts the butter over low heat and pours it, along with the solids, into a bowl. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator (or jump-start it in the freezer if there is a rush). Once the butter is solid again, run the bowl under warm water to loosen the disk of butter, then rinse the disk off with warm water. All of the milky solids will be washed away.

Yes, you do lose a little good clarified butter in the rinse. But all of the clarifying methods come at a cost to the butter one way or another, and it’s only a small amount that is lost in the end.

Low and Slow Pour Off Method

This method works especially well with European-style butters. Melt the butter over the very lowest heat possible, and discover that the solids remain on the bottom of the pan the entire time. The fully melted clarified butter can simply be poured off, leaving the solids behind in the pan. A little of the clarified butter will remain with the solids, which is necessary to avoid pouring any of the solids into the pure clarified butter.

Measuring and Storage Tips

Portion the butter while melted if quantities needed for recipes are known. Or, cut the solid clarified butter into pieces and weigh it when measuring, which is easier than using a measuring cup.

If you prepare clarified butter in advance and keep it on hand in the freezer (it will last as long as regular butter would, several months), that’s one step for baklawa or any pastry preparation that is all finished.

Is Clarified Butter Ghee?

Oh, and I should mention that one can purchase clarified butter. I gasped in excitement at my Treasure Island grocery store in Chicago when I saw the little tub there several years ago, long before it became commonplace. Such a treasure! I gasped again when I saw the price. I confess I bought a few and that year made the most expensive baklawa of my career, but otherwise I would not have made it, since time was so darn tight. This is not something I like to tell my family because the Lebanese ladies of Lansing have always been so careful about finding good prices on butter, and would no doubt consider that kind of a short cut, at that expense, to be indulgent. They are right about that.

 

Clarified butter in a pan, Maureen Abood

How to Clarify Butter

Maureen Abood
Clarified butter is simply butter with the solids removed. Use any amount of butter you like, but more is better in this low-and-slow method.

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound butter, preferably European-style such as Plugra or Kerrygold

Instructions
 

  • Place the butter in a saucepan over the very lowest heat.
  • Melt the butter, completely undisturbed, untill fully melted. It is essential not to stir or move the saucepan while the butter melts. The goal is to allow the solids to remain at the bottom of the pan.
  • Carefully and very slowly pour the melted butter from the saucepan into a heat-resistant storage container or jar. As you get to the bottom of the pan where the solids reside, be extra careful not to allow any of the solids to pour off into the clarified butter container. Set aside the remaining solids for another use, such as dressing vegetables.
  • Portion the butter while melted if quantities needed for recipes are known. Or, cut the solid clarified butter into pieces and weigh it when measuring, which is easier than using a measuring cup.
  • Store, airtight, in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer.
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11 Comments

  1. Sarah Abood on December 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    I’m so excited about what’s coming tomorrow that I just can’t wait to chime in with my “shout out” for Lebanese baklawa. For those who’ve never made this pastry before, the work is all worth it for a piece or two (or three) fresh from the oven. Call me crazy, but I can now walk away from a tray of cold baklawa….however, I will invest the time and energy to prepare a pan to give away, just for to enjoy a sample of fresh, warm baklawa while standing at the kitchen counter and giving thanks for of my Lebanese heritage.

    • Maureen Abood on December 14, 2011 at 12:14 PM

      Don’t we just love it, cousin?!

      • Mimi Saad James on December 11, 2013 at 10:02 AM

        I am so in love with your website – especially the stories of your family and food! I, too, was fortunate enough to be born into a Lebanese family of 8 children – 5 boys and 3 girls. Both my parents (deceased) were Lebanese. I can relate to everything you write about – especially you father. I look forward to every post! Thank you for keeping our heritage alive! Mimi

        • Maureen Abood on December 11, 2013 at 10:58 PM

          Beautiful. Thank you so very much! I’m honored!

  2. domenicacooks on December 14, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Maureen, I am enjoying your blog. Thanks for sharing your (and your mom’s) technique for clarifying butter. I’ve always been a little on the lazy side when it comes to that step, just melting the butter instead. But it does make a difference. I had not heard about rinsing the disk of chilled butter under warm water. That’s an excellent tip. I’ve made baklava once or twice, with some success. But I don’t do it often. And I once had a spectacular failure. I made a batch of baklava that seemed on the soggy side to me. They never crisped nicely. So, rather stupidly, I put them back in the oven to brown more (this is after they had cooled). Needless to say, I made a huge mess as all the butter re-melted. I had to toss the whole batch! So…I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s post. Cheers and have a wonderful holiday.

    • Maureen Abood on December 14, 2011 at 12:13 PM

      Domenica, you are not alone in the baklawa sog. I have had that happen too, and so has Aunt Rita who is the ultimate baklawa pro. Great to hear from you and sending a big hug from Michigan!

  3. Halim on December 22, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    Would it not be easier to just use ghee instead of clarifying butter at home? Was that what you ended up buying, or was it something else?

    • Maureen Abood on December 23, 2011 at 7:54 AM

      Hello there–thank you for commenting! One could certainly use purchased ghee, but making sure that it is butter ghee and not vegetable ghee (which contains trans fats and doesn’t have the right flavor for baklawa). The clarified butter I purchased was not labeled as ghee; it was labeled as clarified butter and sold in the refrigerated cheese section of the grocery store.

      • Halim on December 27, 2011 at 10:54 AM

        Thanks, Maureen. I hadn’t even thought of vegetable ghee as a possibility. Butter ghee or clarified butter it is, then. Happy Holidays to you & yours!

  4. Regas on February 15, 2020 at 8:19 PM

    Hi Maureen,
    I made the butter ghee as you described.
    However, when I used it in my Baklawa, it had black spots on the top of the baklawa. (It still taste good)
    Did I do anything wrong?

    Thanks for this great article. It helped me to make the best baklawa ever! Yummy!

    • Maureen Abood on February 17, 2020 at 4:03 PM

      Hi Regas–the black specks happen when all of the butter solids aren’t fully removed from the clarified butter. The clarified butter must be completely free of any solids; this can take some extra attention to rinsing if you use the solidify-then-rinse solids off method, or pouring off of solids from very slowly melted butter if you use that method.

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