Conchas are a signature type of Mexican sweet bread, known for their seashell-like scores on a sweet crumb coating. If you have never had Mexican sweet bread, you are in for a treat. Conchas have the texture of a soft dinner roll, but with an irresistible sugar topping that will make you want to double the batch the next time around! This recipe gives you the option to make both standard white and chocolate conchas. Try both, and then decide on your favorite.
Makes twelve 4-inch (10-cm) conchas
For the conchas:
3 ½ cups (440 g) all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup (135 g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks/225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Vegetable oil, as needed
For the topping:
½ cup (65 g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (65 g) unsifted confectioners’ sugar
½ cup (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter, softened, cut into walnut-size pieces
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
To make the conchas: Clean a work surface large enough for kneading your dough. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl and pour it onto your work area in a mound. Create a well in the center.
Heat ½ cup (120 ml) water in a small saucepan over low heat until warm but not boiling. Pour the water into a nonmetallic bowl, add the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar, and stir to combine. The sugar will help to activate the yeast. Set it aside until the yeast mixture doubles in volume, about 5 minutes.
Pour the yeast mixture into the well in the center of the flour. Add the eggs and mix using your hands until they are incorporated into the flour. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each addition into the dough before adding the next. Add the remaining sugar and continue to knead the dough until incorporated. Your dough will be soft and sticky. If it’s too sticky, give it a little more flour to help it take shape, but do not add more than ½ cup (65 g) of additional flour.
Knead the dough for 15 to 30 minutes to develop the gluten and form a very soft but cohesive ball. Place the dough in a greased glass or nonmetallic bowl. Add a bit of oil to the dough, if necessary, and cover it with plastic wrap to make sure it does not develop a skin. Place it near your oven or in a warm spot so the heat will help the yeast to rise. Allow the dough to rise for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the topping: Sift the flour and confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter and knead just until it is fully incorporated, so the heat of your hands won’t continue to melt the butter. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Take one half of the dough and add the cocoa powder. Mix until the cocoa is well blended and the color is uniform. Wrap each portion of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate them until ready to use.
To form the conchas: After the dough has risen for 2 hours, remove it from the bowl. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a large baguette shape. Cut the dough into three equal pieces, then cut each of those into four equal pieces to make twelve equal pieces of dough.
On a lightly floured surface, form and roll each piece into a ball. Drizzle a bit of oil on your hands, if needed, and continue to roll the ball between your hands until it is smooth and uniform. Using only your fingers, flatten the ball of dough into a patty shape that is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Place the dough patty on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough balls, allowing at least 2 inches (5 cm) between each patty. Cover with plastic wrap and set them in a warm, draft-free location to rise for an additional 30 minutes.
Pull your topping from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature while you wait, about 10 minutes. Do not set it by the oven.
As the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
To assemble the conchas: Line two baking sheets with plastic wrap. Cut both the chocolate and traditional white toppings into six equal pieces to make twelve pieces. Shape the pieces into balls and lay six balls onto each prepared baking sheet, leaving an equal amount of space between them. Cover with another layer of plastic wrap, (so you’re placing the balls of topping between two sheets of plastic wrap). Using a tortilla press or the flat bottom of a plate, press the balls flat until they are big enough to cover the top of the dough. Carefully peel back the plastic wrap from each side of the topping. If the topping gets too soft, refrigerate it for 5 minutes and proceed again. Place the topping directly onto the dough and repeat until all twelve breads have been covered.
Using a thin fillet or paring knife, score the surface of the topping. Begin at one edge and score outward, as if you were drawing claws, to create a shell-like design.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the conchas to rest for about 3 minutes before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
This recipe can also be made in a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment. Follow the general instructions for the manual method, but let the mixer do the elbow work for you! Start mixing on low speed until the dry and wet ingredients are combined, then increase the mixer speed to high as you slowly add the butter. Continue to mix on high speed for 15 to 20 minutes, until the gluten in the dough is developed.