Conchas are a traditional, Mexican pan dulce (sweet bread). They are little, sweet, brioche buns with a crunchy, crumbly topping baked on to them and they are simply everywhere in Mexico. Biting through the crunchy topping into a soft, sweet bun is heaven.
Ingredients - for 9 buns
For the dough:
500 g plain (all purpose) white flour
125 g sugar
10 g salt
120 g butter (room temperature, cubed)
2.5 g instant yeast or 5 g active dry yeast or 10 g fresh yeast
100 g full fat milk heated to boiling point and allowed to cool right down again
1/2 teaspoon of ground anise (optional)
For the topping:
240 g plain (all purpose) flour
125 g icing sugar (confectioners' sugar) or granulated sugar if you like things kind of crunchy
125 g cold butter cut into cubes
1-2 tsp cold water
Optional: 1-2 tsp cocoa powder or 1-2 tsp macha powder or 1-2 tsp dried, ground raspberries
Heat the milk to just below boiling point and then let it cool down completely. Give it at least an hour to cool.
Measure the flour into a big bowl and make a well in it. Add the sugar and the yeast and pour over the milk. Flick flour on top of the well to close it and let it sit for an hour until it gets bubbly.
Crack the eggs into the well and sprinkle the salt and the anise (if using) around the edges of the well and begin to bring the dough together.
Knead it well for 10 minutes and then add the butter. Knead again for 10-20 minutes. The butter will melt, you will panic, a lake of dough will form on the counter of in the bowl but don't worry - just keep going. The flour will absorb all the butter and the dough will turn into a golden yellow blob of extreme stretchiness that resembles chewing gum.
Pop the dough back into the bowl, cover it with cling flim and let it sit on the counter for around 6 hours or until it has at least doubled in size. Alternatively, you can cover it tightly and pop it in the fridge for 12 - 24 hours. If you do this the buns will be a bit tougher and sturdier but they will still be delicious and the dough will be easier to shape.
Once you have made the dough, make the topping. Measure the flour and the sugar into a bowl and mix them well. Add the butter and, with your finger tips, make crumbs. Add the water and then bring the mixture together into a pastry type dough. Don't over work it. Cover and pop in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
To shape the conchas:
Pull the dough out of the bowl very gently onto a surface that is lightly floured. Divide the dough into 9 equal pieces (to do this weigh the dough and then divide by 9 to see how much each bun should weigh) roll them all into a tight ball. (You can click here
to see a video on how to make a tight ball.)
Place them on a baking tray that you have lined with non stick parchment paper. Cover them with a tea towel. If they are room temperature they will take around 90 minutes to rise before you want to bake them. If they are cold they will take 2-3 hours. You are looking for them to double in size.
Just before you want to bake, pre heat the oven to 220 degrees.
Remove the topping mixture from the fridge and divide it into 9 pieces. Gently flatten each bun to a height of about 2 inches so they are more like hamburger buns than balls.
Roll the pieces of topping into balls between your hands to warm them up a bit and then, one by one, flatten them into a discs with a floury rolling pin on a floury surface or with a tortilla press. The discs should be as big as the surface of the bun - just covering the top - and so they will be about 1/4 cm thick.
Paint the tops of the buns with milk (it's an effective glue)and place a disc of topping on each ball. Take the tip of a knife or a razor and and drag it through the topping to create 3-4 lines in the topping. In Mexico you can buy a thing that looks a bit like a cookie cutter but it is specifically for making the lines on a concha. Currently there is a fashion for no lines and, I must say, no lines saves time.
When the oven is up to temperature, pop the buns in and bake them for 15-20 minutes or so. Check them a few minutes before to make sure they are not burning. If they are getting too brown, simply cover them with some non stick parchment paper. The should sound hollow when they are done.
Let them cool completely on a wire rack and eat them at any time of day with coffee or hot chocolate. Absoutely wonderful.