Let me ask you – how is it right that it’s actually colder and wetter this year in May than in December?! Weather, stop playing hard to get with us…
I love rainy days for baking, especially baking bread. Right up there with hot cocoa by the fireplace, there’s something about the smell of freshly baked yeasty bready goodness that just warms the heart. Not to mention turning the oven on keeps the room nice and toasty too!
In defiance of the gray and gloom and in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, I finally tried my hand at baking one of my favorite uber-colorful pastries. If you’ve never had a concha from a Mexican bakery, then you’ve been missing out… run out and grab one now, or roll up your sleeves and make a batch yourself! Your family, neighbors, and any other taste testers will love you for them.
Conchas get their name from the pretty sugar-paste topping pattern that traditionally is scored to look like seashells. I played around with a couple of designs and think that the variety makes for a very pretty basket. The colors I chose for Cinco de Mayo as well, though instead of plain white I opted to throw in some cinnamon for a little burst of flavor.
Interestingly enough, around the same time that the Spanish introduced wheat-based bread to Latin America and the first conchas arose, on the other side of the world a similar introduction was happening in Asia due to Portuguese influence. If anyone has had Japanese melon-pan or Chinese pineapple bread (and there are other examples as well across different Asian countries and cultures), then these are very similar.
Personally, I think that I like these homemade conchas even better than the ones I used to buy in bakeries. Maybe it’s because they’re fresher than the ones sitting in the bakery cases, or because I can make the designs any way that I like – regardless, this recipe is a keeper. The key to a cottony soft, fluffy sweet roll is the most precious commodity of all: time. They are not hard to make, but can test your patience and take the better part of the morning or afternoon to make as you wait, and wait, and wait for them to rise. But trust me when I say that the end result is worth it – soft fluffy pillows of buttery sweet bread, topped with a surprising crunch… just sit back and enjoy these little joys of life.
Conchas (Mexican Sweet Bread)
adapted from Sprinkle Bakes
makes 16-20 rolls, depending on what size you want
dairy free/egg free/vegan options available
- 1/2 cup lukewarm (body temperature) water
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk of choice – I used cashew milk as I had it on hand
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup butter or vegan butter
- 1 egg *if needed, can substitute egg with another tablespoon of butter, as the egg’s main purpose is to add richness to the dough
- 3 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 – 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- optional flavorings in the dough – a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon or two of cinnamon, etc. – feel free to be creative!
sugar paste topping
- 1/4 cup margarine or vegan butter
- 1/3 cup sugar
- optional flavorings in the topping – a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon or two of cinnamon, etc. – feel free to be creative!
- 7 – 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- optional food coloring of choice
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together with a spatula or paddle attachment all the ingredients for the bread dough EXCEPT only add 2 cups of flour for now.
- Add an additional cup of flour and stir to combine. If using a stand mixer, switch out for the dough hook attachment and knead until smooth and elastic (the dough is so soft that it may still feel a little loosey-goosey, but when you poke it you should be able to see the indent in the dough spring back up), about 5-7 minutes total, scraping down frequently and adding additional flour up to 1/2 cup more as needed. The dough should still feel a little tacky to touch but not so sticky that it is unworkable. If kneading by hand, turn out the dough onto a well-floured clean surface and knead with well-floured hands, adding more flour as needed up to 1/2 cup more, to the same visual and tactile markers as mentioned in the instructions for stand mixer. You will probably need to knead longer, about 10-15 minutes, depending your kneading style.
- Form the dough into a large ball and place in a large well-greased mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise (in the oven turned off, near the radiator, etc.) for 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has approximately doubled in size and feels very pillowy and soft.
- During this first rise, prepare the sugar paste topping. Cream together the margarine and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Add any optional extracts or spices you may be using for flavor at this point. Add flour tablespoon at a time, mixing well to form an almost cookie-dough consistency paste – you don’t want it to get too crumbly. If using food coloring, divide dough equally into one part per color and add the food coloring to each part. Mash together with a small spoon to distribute the color. Add a little more flour if the paste is too wet after adding the food coloring. Wrap each ball of color in plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out and set it aside.
- Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone liners. Prepare a lightly floured working surface. Turn the risen dough out onto the workspace and punch down to evenly distribute the air – you don’t want pockets of huge bubbles deforming your beautiful rolls. Pat into a rectangle and divide into 16-20 equally sized pieces, keeping anything you’re not working on directly covered with plastic wrap so as not to dry out. For context, dividing into 20 will make rolls about the size of an average fist, while 16 will make rolls about the size of…a larger, manlier fist 😛
- Take a piece of dough and fold the corners under to form a nice little round ball. Place on the baking sheet, and keep covered with plastic wrap. Repeat for all dough pieces.
- Working with one color at a time, roll out the sugar paste to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out circles about 2 – 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Use your circle cutter or the blunt edge of a knife to score seashell-like designs on the circles. Transfer the circles to the tops of the buns – the easiest way to do this I find is using a small spatula.
- Preheat the oven to 375 F. Set the assembled rolls in a warm area to rise for the second time – depending on how long it took for you to assemble the sugar paste toppings (as the dough has probably been rising a little the whole time even at room temperature), you may only need to wait 20 minutes, or up to 40 minutes. When you gently poke the dough it should feel distinctly pillowy and fluffy – that’s when you know they’re ready to bake.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until the bottoms of the buns start to turn golden-brown. Keep a close eye as the bottoms like to burn – it’s all the sugar in the dough. No worries though, even with a slightly burnt bottom people will still eat and enjoy!
- You can store any leftovers in an airtight container for a couple days. Tip – I like to store baked goods in airtight containers lined with paper towels, to ward off any soggy moisture that may result from minor temperature fluctuations and condensation throughout the day. I guarantee these will not last long enough to get stale though 😉
Nutritional description: Cinco de Mayo is a celebration, so celebrate! Yes, this is a treat of refined flour, saturated fat, and added sugar, so treat yourself 😛 I also consciously portioned these smaller to 20 per recipe instead of 16, so while not nutritious they are not too bad calorically if that is your concern. If you bring these to work, they will disappear so fast that you can easily avoid temptation to eat three in one go. But I did anyway.
Nutritional information (without vegan substitutions, assuming 20 rolls): Calories 157, Total Fat 5.7g, Saturated Fat 2.6g, Cholesterol 17.4mg, Carbs 24.3g, Fiber 1g, Sugars 6.4g, Protein 3g, Sodium 142.3mg