Do you remember in a previous post, I talked about making Mexican Sweet Breads? Well, that day has come!
These are known in Mexico as Conchas, which translates to “Shells”! They are sweet bread rolls that have a thin, crunchy cookie-like top that is flavored and colored with cinnamon.
Initially, I was also going to make the vanilla and citrus topped variations, where the tops are flavored with either vanilla, or else lemon and/or orange zest, but I didn’t have any citrus on hand. And I am kind of lazy. So I made them all cinnamon, but added a hint of vanilla since I did have that on hand. Other recipes sometimes dye the different flavors. If you did dye them, you can probably find natural ways to dye the tops.
This is La Reyna Bakery in San Francisco (I love their sign!), where one can find warm baked goods most of the time, because the demand means they need to bake new batches a few times in the day, so the chances of getting bread fresh out of the oven are a lot higher! I wish we had that happen with the latino bakeries (panaderias) in Seattle.
I only visited SF a few times in my life, and the photo above was taken about 10 years ago, so I don’t even know if it’s still there, but it is one of my fave places in SF.
The only thing I did that deviated from the recipe in the link here, is to replace the water with milk. I think it really helped make the area below the topping a nice golden brown color, and the inside of the roll, a nice, dense, but still soft, fluffy texture.
They are irresistible right out of the oven! Perfect with hot cocoa, tea, or coffee, of course.
Actually it’s a very simple recipe, and the dough can be made ahead of time, which makes it perfect for mornings when you want to have them in the morning ready and with your coffee or tea. Enjoy!
Conchas (Mexican Sweet Buns) makes 12
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk, lukewarm (about 110 degrees F.)
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, separated
3 cups + 1 cup all-purpose flour, separated
generous pinch of sea salt or kosher salt, coarse
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the dough:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Remove from heat when melted and set aside to cool until it is the right temperature, (110 degrees F.) This temperature feels like a comfortable warm bath; barely above body temperature.
In a small bowl, place ¾ cup of the milk (the remaining 1/4 cup milk to be used in the mixing of the dough) and the 1 Tablespoon of sugar and the yeast and stir gently, then leave it to bloom for about 10 minutes. Mixture should look frothy and bubbly at the top. If not, start all over again. (If it still doesn’t work, it means either the temperature is off, or the yeast is not good. Use a thermometer and/or get new yeast.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add 3 of the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, the milk/yeast mixture, unsalted butter, and the 2 eggs. It will look soupy with dry flour on the sides and bottom, even after a minute of mixing.
Stop at a few intervals and use a spatula to get the dry ingredients wet and adding the 1/4 cup of the remaining milk in areas that look like they need moisture, before starting mixer again.
Mix on medium, continuing to turn the mixer off to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula every now and then to incorporate.
As you are mixing, if it looks like it needs more flour, add a little of the 1 cup of remaining flour, in small increments, like a couple of tablespoons at a time. Save about half a cup for flour for the kneading on the counter, if needed.
Dough should come together, but still be fairly sticky and sticking to both the bowl and the hook. Continue to mix for a few more minutes.
Using a rubber spatula or rubber dough scraper, scrape all of dough out onto a clean, floured surface and knead and try to form into a ball. If it is still really sticky, with the remaining flour, put some on your hands and also add a very small amount of flour at a time, like a tablespoon and try to knead until it is more manageable.
Dough should be still tacky and sticky, but not unmanageable. Do not use more than the remaining flour.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl that has been greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat the dough with the oil, and let sit in the bowl with the top tightly covered with plastic wrap.
Leave the bowl undisturbed in a dry, warm place in your kitchen where there is no draft. Let rise for an hour to an hour and a half, or until doubled.
If you are not planning to let the dough rest overnight in the fridge after doubling, make the topping while the dough is rising.
After the dough has doubled in size, punch the ball of dough down and reshape back into a ball.
It is at this moment that you can either re-cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight, or go to the next step.
If you have let the dough sit overnight in the refrigerator, before taking dough out of the refrigerator, make the topping.
For the topping:
Add the butter and sugar and beat with an electric hand-held mixer with beaters until light and fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients for the topping and mix for about 30 seconds. Topping ingredients might look like they are not all mixed, but if you squeeze it together, you will see that it clumps together like pie dough. Divide into 12 equal pieces and form into little balls. Set aside until ready to use.
When taking dough out of the refrigerator, it may have risen again, which is fine. Punch down.
After punching down, divide into 12 equal pieces. Shape them into smooth, round, balls and pinching the bottom. They should be a little larger than a golf ball. (Don’t worry, they will get larger in the end.) I divided mine into 12 pieces, each of them weighing about 3 ounces.
Use a scale and calculate the weight for each roll if you want them to be uniform in size.
For each piece of topping, press between palms of your hands to flatten to a thin pancake, about 3 inches in diameter. I wasn’t able to get them that wide, but didn’t stress about it, and neither should you. Rub a small amount of oil to palms of hand if it starts to stick or tear when forming. Carefully peel away from palm of one hand, being careful not to let it tear.
Place each one on the top of each roll, pat down to flatten, and with a small sharp knife or razor, cut about 5 or 6 slightly curved lines parallel so that the top looks sort of like a shell.
I’ve seen some variation where people make a swirl shape starting from the middle to make it look like a shell, or make the lines more curved. Get creative if you want.
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat, spacing about 2-3 inches between each ball. Cover loosely with slightly greased (baking spray) plastic wrap and let rise again, about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how cold the dough is.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Dough is ready when you press finger on surface of one of them, and it goes back into shape slowly, as opposed to quickly.
When ready, bake for 22-25 minutes. The sides should be golden brown. I baked them using 2 baking sheets, with 6 to a baking sheet. I probably could have baked the 2 baking sheets on different levels at the same time, but instead chose to bake them one at a time, so I chose the sheet with the rolls that looked more risen and ready to go.