Pan de Dulce: Conchas

After living in upstate New York for almost two years, I have begun to see the Phoenix area as the Mexican food outside of Mexico promised land. I could find almost any ingredient or dish easily, most within just miles of where I lived.

Sure, I had to go clear across town if I wanted to eat crickets (frankly I only did this once as I’m far too lazy to drive 45 minutes for something that tastes like spicy potato chips). All the other basics of Mexican cuisine were right within reach. A dozen kinds of dry chiles, flaky rolls of cinnamon, pillow sized bags of jamaica, oregano, bolillos, stacks of tortillas both corn and flour still warm…

As much as I missed them all, I didn’t miss them as much as I did conchas, a rather simple sweet brioche bun with a streusel topping called costra, or crust. Never mind the word costra can also refer to a scab, that is far less appetizing. I could find a perfect sugar topped concha in almost any neighborhood in Phoenix. I can’t find one here within a 2 hour drive.

The Concha

 

conchas_readytobake.jpg
Conchans resting before baking.

 

The concha is a French brioche bun, with egg, butter and milk. Many of the baked goods and desserts of Mexico have a greater degree of French than Spanish influence, a shift which began in the 1820’s after the overthrow of Spanish rule in Mexico, when a new Mexican identity began to develop.

Part of this identity is owed to the influx of European immigrants during this time. It didn’t hurt to cement French influence in Mexican food to have had a French appointed Emperor to the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867. Drink a German Mexican beer and listen to a Polish Mexican polka while you think about this crash course in Mexican history. I could go on, but the recipe itself is long enough reading.

Head to Eater to read more on the topic of the concha.

Advice for the recipe: 

Being a sweet dough, the rise on this particular dough will be slow and should not be forced to do otherwise. It is the slow rise which will produce a tight and bouncy crumb in the bun.

If you are unsure of your yeast, bloom before mixing at both the starter and dough steps. Otherwise, mix as indicated following a straight dough mixing method, and using liquids slightly warmer than body temperature.

Any rising times indicated on this recipe, or for any other, should be completely disregarded if they do not match where the dough needs to be. Temperature of the ingredients, of the room, humidity, and elevation all will have an affect on how quickly dough rises. Ignore the clock and look instead at how far along the dough is.

Like any other brioche dough, the concha dough will have some stick to it when first mixed.

To make things easier, prepare the starter in the same bowl the rest of the dough will be mixed in.

The costra, or streusel if you will, should be fairly dry and crumbly, to prevent it melting off during the baking process. It should only have enough moisture to hold it together when clumped.

If using a stamp to score the costra, do so against a flat surface before placing on the bun, and avoid scoring more than halfway to avoid breaking. It is preferable to score too deeply, rather than not deeply enough, as then it will not separate when baking.

Unfortunately conchas do not keep well for long. Bakeries producing them bake them throughout the day, as they do harden quickly. Keeping them in a paper bag, or wrapped in parchment or wax paper will help slightly. Warming them gently in a microwave or oven also helps, as well as a nice dunk in coffee or hot chocolate. Cómo se dice, sopeadito. 

 

concha_crumb.jpg
Tight crumb inside the bun and a costra not properly scored.

 

Conchas

  • Servings: 14
  • Time: 8 hours
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Starter

  • 115 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 g sugar
  • 2 g yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 fl. oz. water, 100-110ºF

Dough

  • 385 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 125 g granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 fl oz milk, 100-110ºF
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 120 g unsalted butter, diced, room temperature

Costra

  • 120 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 115 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 115 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Using a paddle attachment, mix the ingredients for the starter until a smooth thick dough forms. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, approximately 2 hours.

Once the starter is ready, add flour, yeast and sugar to the bowl. Using a dough hook, mix at slow speed while incorporating the eggs and milk into the dough. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Add salt, and continue to mix at medium speed, while incorporating butter pieces into the dough. Mix until the dough is smooth and soft but still has some stick to it.

Turn out the dough and form into a smooth ball. Oil the bowl, coat the dough ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise for approximately 4 hours in a warm place, or until the dough has risen to slightly more than double its bulk.

While the dough is rising, mix together the costra with a paddle attachment until it can be clumped together.

When the dough is ready, divide into 14 even pieces of approx. 71 grams each. Working on a lightly floured surface, shape each portion smooth. Place on parchment or silicone mat lined baking trays, allowing as much space as possible between each portion. Flatten the portions to prevent the conchas from becoming too round while rising and baking. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place while shaping the costras.

Divide the topping into 14 even pieces of approximately 25 grams each. Cut a quart sized plastic bag open. Place a portion inside the cut open bag, and using a tortilla press, the undersize of a sauté pan, or hands, press each disk evenly to slightly thinner than 1/8″. Score with a concha stamp, or with the tip of a sharp paring knife into desired pattern.

Place a costra over each bun, pressing carefully to shape them.

Allow the conchas to rise until doubled, appriximately 1 1/2 hours.

Bake at 350ºF for approximately 18 minutes, or until the bun sounds hollow when tapped a the bottom.

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