BETTER BAKING ACADEMY: CONCHAS

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Our latest entry in the Better Baking Academy with Bob’s Red Mill looks at a classic of the pandería: conchas. A famous member of the Mexican tradition of pan dulce (sweet bread), the concha sports an iconic crunchy, sugared topping, sliced to resemble a shell. In fact, this is where concha receives its name; concha means “shell” in Spanish. Our soft and sweet concha recipe has a tender base dough made with Bob’s Red Mill Organic All-Purpose Flour, enriched with butter, milk, sugar, and eggs. As for that crackled topping, we offer two variations: traditional sugared vanilla and aromatic spicy hot chocolate. We walk you through each step of the concha-making process, from mixing and shaping to scoring that expertly crisp concha topping. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson, or keep scrolling to view our digital lesson.   

Before you get to baking, be sure to enter our Instagram giveaway to win a prize pack of baking essentials you’ll use in this lesson. The giveaway closes on April 30, 2021, so hurry to enter!

Ingredient Breakdown 

Great recipes require great ingredients. Here’s how each ingredient creates the most tender conchas with extra-crackly topping. 

WATER AND WHOLE MILK: We use milk to add both fat and flavor, but we cut it with water to keep the dough from getting too dark during baking. The temperature of the liquid is important. Warmer doughs ferment faster than colder, and heat is needed to correctly activate the yeast. Whisking the yeast into the flour insulates it, so the temperature of our liquids (120°F/49°C to 130°F/54°C) is slightly warmer than when blooming in order to jump-start yeast activation.

GRANULATED SUGAR: Though concha dough shares many similarities with brioche, another enriched dough, it has more sugar than the typical brioche. While making this a classic pan dulce (sweet bread), sugar also holds moisture, extending your conchas’ shelf life.

ACTIVE DRY YEAST: Yeast is essential to all bread doughs. It needs food (sugar and carbohydrates), warmth (liquid temperature and room temperature), and moisture for proper fermentation. Yeast is killed at 139°F (59°C), so keep your thermometer on hand. The ideal temperature for yeast to proof is 78°F (26°C) to 82°F (28°C).

BOB’S RED MILL ORGANIC ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR: This versatile all-purpose wheat flour has a protein content of 10% to 12%, allowing our concha dough to build enough gluten to create an elastic bread crumb but not become overly tough.

KOSHER SALT: The ratio of salt to flour in breads needs to be 1.8% to 2% by weight. That means it’s important to weigh your salt because different salt crystals measure differently. Dough without enough salt easily overferments. Salt enhances flavor, increases shelf life, and helps with crust color.

UNSALTED BUTTER: Melted butter adds tender richness to our dough, further solidifying its enriched dough status. It also helps extend the overall shelf life of your conchas.

EGGS: Two eggs in our concha dough obviously help add richness through the yolks, but the eggs also help with leavening. Much like the leavening power they lend to sponge cakes, the water in the egg whites helps create steam that puffs up your dough once it encounters that hot oven temperature.

VANILLA EXTRACT: Classic conchas often have a touch of sweetness incorporated through extract and spice, like anise. Vanilla extract imparts a kiss of floral sweetness without overpowering the other flavors of the dough or the crunchy cookie topping.

Conchas

Our Conchas boast tender, heightened pillowy texture thanks to Bob’s Red Mill Organic All-Purpose Flour. Enriched with butter and milk, these divinely soft rolls are adorned with a crisp cookie- like topping. The classic crunchy, sugary topping is delicious as is, but you’ll adore our indulgent hot chocolate variation as well.

Conchas
 
Makes 14 rolls
Ingredients
  • ½ cup (120 grams) warm water (110°F/43°C to 115°F/46°C)
  • ½ cup (120 grams) warm whole milk (110°F/43°C to 115°F/46°C)
  • 8 tablespoons (100 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 4½ teaspoons (14 grams) active dry yeast
  • 4¼ cups (531 grams) Bob’s Red Mill Organic All-Purpose Flour, divided
  • 3½ teaspoons (9 grams) kosher salt
  • ¼ cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 large eggs (100 grams), room temperature and lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon (4 grams) vanilla extract
  • Topping (recipe follows)
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup (120 grams) warm water, warm milk, 1 tablespoon (12 grams) sugar, and yeast. Let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 2 cups (250 grams) flour, salt, and remaining 7 tablespoons (88 grams) sugar. Add warm milk mixture, melted butter, eggs, and extract. Using the dough hook attachment, beat at low speed until combined. Add 2 cups (250 grams) flour, and beat until dough comes together, 1½ to 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium. Beat until dough is tacky, smooth, and elastic, 7 to 8 minutes; add up to remaining ¼ cup (31 grams) flour, 1 tablespoon (8 grams) at a time, if dough is too sticky. (Check dough using the windowpane test [see Note] between additions of flour. Too much flour will make it harder to shape and will create a denser final crumb). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and shape into a smooth round.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Punch down dough, and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough into 14 portions (about 72 grams each), and roll into smooth balls. Flatten each ball into a 3-inch round, and place on prepared pans.
  6. Slice Topping logs into 7 (1-inch) portions. Roll into smooth balls. Place each ball between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap, and roll into a 3½ -inch circle. (Alternatively, roll out Topping between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Using a 3½ -inch round cutter, cut Topping, rerolling scraps as necessary.) Place on top of rolls. Using a small sharp paring knife, carefully cut desired design into Topping, leaving a ¼-inch border around edges. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until puffed, about 30 minutes.
  7. Position oven rack in top third of oven. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  8. Bake until topping is just beginning to brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers at least 190°F (88°C), about 12 minutes. Let cool on pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Notes
To use the windowpane test to check dough for proper gluten development, pinch off (don’t tear) a small piece of dough. Slowly pull the dough out from the center. If the dough is ready, you will be able to stretch it until it’s thin and translucent like a windowpane. If the dough tears, it’s not quite ready. Beat for 1 minute, and test again.

Topping
 
Makes enough for 14 rolls
Ingredients
  • ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk (19 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon (4 grams) vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups (156 grams) Bob’s Red Mill Organic All-Purpose Flour
  • ¾ teaspoon (3.75 grams) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (1.5 grams) kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons (8 grams) Dutch process cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground red pepper
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar at low speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, and beat at low speed until combined and a dough starts to form.
  3. Turn out dough, and knead dough together. Divide dough in half (about 205 grams each). Shape one half into a 7-inch log, and wrap in plastic wrap. Return remaining dough to bowl of stand mixer. Add cocoa and red pepper, and beat at low speed until combined. Shape into a 7-inch log, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate logs until firm, about 30 minutes.
 

A Closer Look

Concha Dough

How to make the classic enriched dough

1. In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup (120 grams) warm water, warm milk, 1 tablespoon (12 grams) sugar, and yeast. Let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 2 cups (250 grams) flour, salt, and remaining 7 tablespoons (88 grams) sugar.

3. Add warm milk mixture, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. Using the dough hook attachment, beat at low speed until combined.

4. Add 2 cups (250 grams) flour, and beat until dough comes together, 1½ to 2 minutes. Beat until dough is tacky, smooth, and elastic, 7 to 8 minutes.

5. Add up to remaining ¼ cup (31 grams) flour, 1 tablespoon (8 grams) at a time, if dough is too sticky.

6. Check dough using the windowpane test between additions of flour. To use the windowpane test to check dough for proper gluten development, pinch off (don’t tear) a small piece of dough. Slowly pull the dough out from the center. If the dough is ready, you will be able to stretch it until it’s thin and translucent like a windowpane. If the dough tears, it’s not quite ready. Beat for 1 minute, and test again. Keep in mind that too much flour will make it harder to shape and will create a denser final crumb.

7. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and shape into a smooth round.

8. Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Concha Toppings, Two Ways

Learn how to make the signature crunchy concha topping

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar at low speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Keep in mind that you need to scrape the sides of your bowl and the paddle attachment with a spatula after this step so everything is evenly incorporated.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, and beat at low speed until combined and a dough starts to form. This is a very gentle mixing process. We mix here only to bring a dough together. If you mix much longer or harder, the crunchy topping will become tough. Be sure to properly clean your bowl after mixing; in a moment, we’ll be using it again to create the hot cocoa topping.

3. Turn out dough, and knead dough together. Much like you would gently knead together a piecrust or crumbly shortbread dough, we use our hands to press and shape a uniform dough together. This keeps us from overworking it, making it tender.

4. Divide dough in half (about 205 grams each). Shape one half into a 7-inch log, and wrap in plastic wrap. The first half will become our traditional vanilla crunch topping, while the other will form the base of our hot cocoa take.

5. Return remaining dough to bowl of stand mixer. Add cocoa and red pepper, and beat at low speed until combined.

6. Shape into a 7-inch log, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate logs until firm, about 30 minutes. A quick chill in the refrigerator will help make your concha topping easier to work with and easier to slice into its iconic shell shape.

Two Ways to Shape Your Dough

How to shape your dough into smooth rounds and flatten into perfect disks

Pull and Pinch

1. There are two ways to shape into smooth balls. The first is to hold the dough in one hand using your thumb and forefinger and use the other hand to pull down and pinch the dough. Rotate the dough 90 degrees, and keep pulling and pinching until the top is smooth and tight.

Roll and Rotate

2. The other way is to shape it using your counter surface. Use your palm to press down on the dough to remove any air pockets; rotate your hand until it starts to form a ball and then turn your hand and make a C shape. Keep the dough under your palm, and continue rotating your hand and applying pressure in the same direction until the dough becomes a smooth, tight ball.

3. Flatten each ball into a 3-inch round, and place on prepared pans.

Two Ways to Shape Your Topping

Slice and Roll 

1. Slice Topping logs into 7 (1-inch) portions. Roll into smooth balls. Place each ball between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap, and roll into a 3½-inch circle.

Roll and Cut

2. Alternatively, roll out dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Using a 3½-inch round cutter, cut dough, rerolling scraps as necessary.

Top and Slice

Now to nail that iconic shell appearance

1. Place on top of rolls. Make sure that you’ve got the Topping cupping the entire dough so it will fully surround the roll as it bakes up.

2. Using a small sharp paring knife, carefully cut desired design into Topping, leaving a ¼-inch border around edges. Emphasis here is on the “sharp” knife. A dull blade will tear and make scoring difficult. So, make sure your knife is nice and sharp to make decisive, even cuts.

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