I would like to mark down March 10th, 2019 as a very special day in my life calendar, because it was the day that I made my first Concha, and I can already tell that we will have a long and happy life together. Also called Pan Dulce, these beautiful works of art are a Mexican bakery staple known for their intricately patterned tops, often resembling the swirl of a shell. A concha consists of two parts: a sweet cinnamon roll, and a crisp, colored (and sometimes flavored) streusel-like topping, which forms the crackly pattern on top. Whenever I used to come across pictures of these, I just assumed that some kind of baking pan or stamp was required and so I never really gave it much more thought. THEN, I came across this recipe from A Cozy Kitchen, and suddenly they were so attainable!!! No stamp needed, just a pairing knife, a steady hand, and some patience, and since I have two of those things, I once again took a bread-making quest that paid of incredibly well!
Almost as soon as you start this recipe, you will start to wonder why no one has managed to make a candle that can capture this scent exactly. No offense but the combination of fresh bread and cinnamon is the only thing that matters in this world. Truly. Anyway, if you thought these treats couldn’t get any better, boy do I have news for you! Something that is very fun and special about this recipe is that it’s totally customizable! By mixing different flavors and colors into your streusel topping, you are opening up so many possibilities here! You can add cocoa powder for a hint of chocolate, lemon zest, freeze dried berries, or combine several food colors for a rainbow pattern, and it’s 100% up to you! I kept mine on the simpler side for my first try, and used a red gel food coloring to give my Conchas a bright pink finish. From there, you could follow the traditional concha shaped top by cutting a shell pattern into the top (the bun rises and expands while baking to form the crackled top that these are known for), but you can also add concentric circles, stripes, grids, or any number of patterns and see how they turn out!
Before we get started, let’s all take a moment to appreciate these 5 things to be happy about today:
ONE. Falling asleep in the car on the way home from a long day.
TWO. Using something you had been saving for a special occasion.
THREE. An evening of zero productivity.
FOUR. An evening of extreme productivity.
FIVE. Asking for a booth at the restaurant.
MAKES: 12 buns with topping
PREP TIME: 30 minutes
RISING TIME: 2½ hours (divided)
BAKE TIME: 18-20 minutes
3 Tbsp. warm water
2½ tsp active dry yeast
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/3 white sugar
¾ cup evaporated milk
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 cups all purpose flour
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
Gel food coloring of your choice or 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
ONE. Warm the bowl of your stand mixer by filling it with hot water and letting it sit for a minute. This will allow you to add warm water with the yeast and not have the heat change when it touches the cold metal bowl. Once the bowl is warmed, remove that water and add in the 3 tablespoons of warm water and yeast. Allow the yeast to bloom and get foamy, about 5-7 minutes. If it doesn’t foam up, your water was either too hot or too cold, or the yeast is no good, so you’ll have to start over.
TWO. When the yeast is ready, add in the oil, melted (and slightly cooled!) butter, sugar, evaporated milk, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs. Using the dough hook attachment, mix until the eggs are slightly broken up and everything is incorporated.
THREE. Add the flour all at once, and mix the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until the dough is soft and smooth, and a little sticky. Coat a large bowl with oil or cooking spray and transfer the dough. Cover with a towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.
FOUR. While your dough is rising, you can make the buttery streusel topping! Mix all the ingredients in your stand mixer until smooth and incorporated, then decide whether you want the topping to be chocolate (add the 2 tablespoons of cocoa) or colored (add gel food coloring of your choice!), or both! I went for pink this time but you can do whatever you want! Scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth of topping for each bun, I did this ahead of time so that the topping was ready when the bread was!
FIVE. After the bread dough has doubled, turn it out onto a baking mat or countertop and section it into 12 rolls. If you want to weigh them individually so that they’re even, you can, but I just eyeballed it. Shape them by hand into uniform, round buns and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
SIX. Take each topping round and flatten it into a disk in your palms, then lay it over the top of each bun so that the top is totally covered. Repeat for all. Using a pairing knife, cut some patterns into the top- you can research some of the more traditional patterns here, but you can also do whatever you feel like! When all designs are done, cover the whole tray with a towel and allow the buns to rise again for another 30 minutes, until doubled in size again. Preheat your oven to 350ºF halfway through this second rise.
SEVEN. Bake the buns for 18-20 minutes, until they are lightly golden and the topping has spread into the classic concha shape. Best eaten soon after baking, with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate!!