You hear it all the time where things like Danish and croissants are concerned: is all that butter strictly necessary? The answer is yes, yes and yes. Not only is butter crucial to the physics of mechanical leavening, it tastes, well, fantastic. It can in fact be argued that the entire raison d’être of laminated dough is to immerse the eater in the experience of pure (almost) unadulterated butter. It’s a heretical concept in the age of lipid hysteria, obviously. Yet as I’ve written ad nauseam in the past, one reasonably-sized “real” indulgence can take the place of a great many larger, ersatz ones. Case in point the simple satisfying elegance of a croissant (made with a good French or Euro-style butter) and a cup of coffee. Pretty much does it for you ’till lunch time.
The idea can of course be pushed too far. There are French croissants that contain over 50% butter. That’s a bit much even for me, but I respect them. Oh yes siree I respect them. For outside of a good laminated dough I can think of no other food device in which butter takes center stage in quite the same way. There are scores of decadently buttery recipes out there in the cooking world, certainly, but none that I can think of that provide the same sort of podium for butter, upon which it can stand and shout out to the world: here I am all you butter-phobes out there! Eat me! Taste me! Love me!
Because let’s be honest: how often do we give ourselves permission to worship butter for its own sake, eh? We eat it often enough, but guiltily…slicing a slightly thick pat for our English muffin while no one’s looking, hating ourselves for sneaking an extra tablespoon into our macaroni & cheese. But a good coffee cake — and I mean a really good one made from a scratch laminated dough — lets you hold your head up high and declare: yes, YES I love good butter! And I’m not ashamed! This afternoon I will return to my regular path of moderation, but while this thin slice of heaven lasts I swear: I will worship every last unctuous morsel of this golden, butterfat-based miracle!!!
Of course unless you live in Manhattan you may not have the luxury of being able to exclaim such a thing publicly without being committed. Try it though the next time you get the chance. There’s power there.