Listen… I LOOOOOVE a baking project. Catch me on a Saturday morning at 10am and it’s dang possible that I’ll have at least a dozen bagels coming out of the oven as a result of a wild hair / intense craving that woke me up before the sun.
The warmer and breadier the project, the better. If there’s butter involved… I’m in.
While I’m down to weigh and knead and wait and experiment, you should know that not everything is a project in my kitchen. Out of sheer laziness I eat more scrambled eggs than any grown woman should and for dinner tonight? One of those pre-chopped, dressing-included salad bags. FINE. GREAT, really. Thank you.
These Mexican Sweet Breads (lovingly called Conchas, the Spanish word for shell) are what you might consider a ‘project’. There’s an overnight rest, a sweet challah, and a chocolate orange topping we have to prepare. I’d say, at the store picking up ingredients… let’s also grab one of those salad mixes for peace of mind.
The project, with time and care, is SO SO worth it. These buns have a lightness to the crumb and a rich elasticity thanks, in part, to egg yolks and oil. The topping is a unique blend of flour, butter, and powdered sugar that, when baked, creates a lightly crisp, subtly sweet shell.
This is a treat. A real dang treat.
This recipe is from the Hot Bread Kitchen book which offers some really reliable bread recipes if you’re feeling like you’d like to up your bread game. I’ve also made their focaccia recipe and it’s SPOT ON!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- bread flour, yeast, and water to make a pate fermentee. This is like a starter dough that will rest in the refrigerator, working life, overnight. A pate fermentee adds flavor to the dough without adding too much yeast.
- sugar, eggs, honey, and oil for richness.
- yeast and salt for rise and balance.
- orange and chocolate + flour, sugar, and butter for the topping! You could also just make one flavor for the topping. Chocolate would be a good way to go. More on this below!
We’ll start by making the challah dough.
Technically we started last night by making the pate fermentee, but now we’re werkin’ and twerkin’.
The dry ingredients consist of bread flour, granulated sugar, kosher salt, and yeast.
In the bowl – whisked up, easy.
Now for the wet ingredients!
Egg yolks + honey + canola oil + water into the bowl, too!
Everything, let’s make friends.
The dough looking chunks, that’s the cold pate fermentee we made last night. Flavor and rise. It worth making the quick night-dough the day before.
I beat the dough on a stand mixer, starting low then increased to a hearty medium speed. So much that the gluten starts to develop and hold and the dough literally begins to slap against the side of the dough.
Out of the mixer and onto the counter, I give it a few kneads for good measure… and just because it feels so good.
While the dough rests, covered and slightly warm, we’ll make the sweet topping!
Here’s what we’ll need for the topping dough:
- softened butter and powdered sugar.
- flour, salt, and baking powder (we want a little rise + puff to our topping)
- orange zest and orange juice + chocolate powder for marbling.
We’ll start by creaming together the softened butter and powdered sugar until soft and well-combined.
Adding the flour will create a thick, soft, and pliable dough.
We’ll split the dough in half and chocolate half of it, and orange the other.
I mixed both flavors separately on the mixer. It took a bit to come together and I finished off each dough by kneading it to evenly combined on the counter.
The dough will feel soft and pliable. The orange might be a bit softer than the chocolate dough, just because it has a bit more moisture in it.
Divide each flavor into three or four chunks.
Alternate the colors to get more towards a marble when rolled.
Let’s give it a smoooosh. (Technical term)
We’ll roll the topping dough between two large pieces of parchment paper.
The paper will help to roll the dough smoothly without tears. and make it easy to lift into rounds after rolled.
We’ll keep our tops thick – about 1/20-inch.
I cut 2 1/2-inch rounds using a biscuit cutter and left them to rest on the top piece of parchment paper.
After the dough has rested and puffed, we’ll divide it into 12 even pieces.
A kitchen scale helps to make things even. We’ll want 2 1/2 ounces per dough ball.
Two baking sheets – 6 each.
Before the topping hits the roll, we’ll use a sharp knife to score the dough – being sure not to slice completely through the topping. I find it best to keep the scoring simple and geometric.
Carefully place each topping atop a roll. Give it a simple pinch around the roll, just coaxing it to stay.
After the rolls and topping have some time to rise together, you’ll find that the topping will have formed well around the rolls. This is already exciting! Into the oven we go!
Baked to puffed and golden!
The topping expands as the rolls bake and create a flavorful design.
Rolls are cooled before serving and, believe it or not, I think these rolls are best eaten the day after they’re made. The crumb dries out a bit and the topping softens. These breads are best served with milky coffee.
Pat on the back to you and us!
Photos with Jon Melendez.
- 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon lukewarm water
- 2/3 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon bread flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for shaping
- 1 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 3 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups (risen and deflated) pate fermente, cut into walnut size pieces
- 3 large egg yolks, beaten
- 2 1/2 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
- 3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for coating the bowl
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 pound plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoons orange zest
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- red and yellow food coloring
- Start by making the Pate Fermentee the night before you're going to make the bread dough. It will need to rest in the refrigerator for anytime between 8 and 24 hours.
- Put the water and yeast in a large bowl. Add the flour and salt. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture into a shaggy dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Refrigerate the mixture for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 24 hours. There is no need to return it to room temperature before using it. Deflate it with a wooden spoon or floured fingertips before measuring.
- To make the challah bread, place the bread flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the pate fermentee, egg yolks, honey, water, and oil and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated and the yeast has disappeared into the dough. Add a little extra water if this hasn't happened in 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium to medium-high and mix until the dough is smooth, pulls away from the sides of the bowl, has a bit of shine, and makes a slapping noise against the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. The dough will look smooth and feel slightly tacky.
- Coat the inside of a large bowl with oil and transfer the dough to it. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature until the dough is puffy and supple, about 1 1/2 hours.
- While the dough is rising, make the concha topping.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
- Place the butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy, about 4 minutes. Add the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.
- Divide the dough in two. Using the mixer, beat the cocoa powder into one half of the dough. You may need to remove the dough and knead on the counter to evenly combine the cocoa powder. Set aside and wipe out the mixing bowl.
- Add the remaining half of concha topping to the mixing bowl. Add the orange zest and orange juice and one drop each of yellow and red food coloring, beat until well incorporated. Again, you may want to move this process to a counter to knead until evenly mixed. Add more food coloring to get your desired orange coloring.
- Divide each chocolate and orange toping into three or four pieces and put the topping between two large rectangles of parchment paper alternating the pieces in flavor and color. Press the topping together. Between the two pieces of parchment paper, roll the topping to about 1/2-inch thick. Remove the top parchment, and using a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut rounds. You can save the scraps to reroll.
- Use a sharp knife to score each round with a hash mark, being sure to not cut through the entire topping. Let rest at room temperature somewhere cool.
- Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead to a smooth ball. Divide into 12 equal pieces (2 1/2-ounces or 70g each).
- Form each piece into a roll and transfer the rolls to the prepared baking sheets. Gently top each roll with a scored concha topping round and cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap.
- Let the conchas stand at room temperature until they puff slightly and the dough holds indentations when pressed lightly, about 1 hour. As they rise, the topping will bend and start to cover the top of the dough.
- Place racks in the middle and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Bake the puffed conchas until the base is golden brown and the topping is firm to the touch, about 18 to 20 minutes.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in plastic bags for up to 4 days. I like these best the day after they're baked.