“Concha” is Spanish for “shell”. Every Mexican panadería (Mexican bakery) north and south of the border has their version of this quintessential pan dulce, or sweet bun, in a variety of shapes and sizes. The topping is carved before rising and the end result looks like a pretty shell. I think the homemade are definitely superior, with a flavor and texture more substantial and less sweet. Commonly, you’ll find three different colors/flavors (pink, brown, and white). Here this is recreated with a vanilla, cinnamon, and orange zest baked-on crunchy topping. For an authentic look, buy the beautiful 3 3/4-inch diameter metal cutters for stamping out the concha seashell, the never-ending swirl, the rosette, and the crosshatch at a Mexican bakery supply house. This recipe can also be made in the bread machine on the DOUGH cycle, then shaped and topped by hand and baked in a regular oven.
2/3 cup warm water (105º to 115º)
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast, or 1/2 ounce fresh yeast
Pinch of organic granulated cane sugar
1/2 cup warm whole milk (105º to 115º), or soy milk
Ener-g egg replacement for 1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup organic granulated cane sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into pieces, or 1/3 cup Earth Balance margarine
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, room temperature and cut into pieces, or Earth Balance margarine
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 drop of red food coloring
1. In a small bowl or one-cup liquid measuring cup, pour in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast and the pinch of sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl using a whisk or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the milk, egg replacer, vanilla, sugar, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Add the yeast mixture and beat hard until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the butter pieces and mix to incorporated, 15 seconds. Add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until a soft, shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed, switching to a wooden spoon when necessary if making by hand.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until a soft, smooth, and elastic dough is formed, 1 to 2 minutes for a machine-mixed dough, and 3 minutes for a hand-mixed one, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time, just enough as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be firm to the touch. Place in a greased deep container, turn once to coat the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the topping: in a small bowl with your fingers or a fork, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter pieces. Mix quickly to make a soft, crumbly mixture. Divide into 3 equal portions, adding the vanilla to one, the cinnamon to the other, and the orange zest and drop of food coloring to the third. With your hands, roll each portion into a ball. You will have 3 separate flavor balls.
5. Parchment-line 1 or 2 large baking sheets. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Form each portion into a tight round and press to flatten the round to about 3 inches in diameter. Place all the rolls, at least 2 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheets.
6. Divide each flavor ball into 4 portions. Between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, pat each into a circle that will fit on top of each roll, about 3 inches in diameter. Once you have achieved the desired shape and size, remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Slide your hand under the bottom layer, lift and turn it over onto the top your dough ball. Press on top of the ball of dough, making certain it sticks on top. Once you’ve done this with all 12 topping pieces, you’re ready to make the shell pattern. Using the tip of a small sharp knife, gently cut a criss-cross or curved shell pattern.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until puffy, about 30 to 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º.
7. Bake the rolls in the center of the oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the pan to cool on a rack. Serve immediately warm or room temperature. Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator up to 5 days and reheat. The conchas can also be frozen. Makes 1 dozen buns.