Conchas, a Mexican sweet bread, are purely delightful! They’re made with an enriched, airy dough and topped with a crunchy layer, creating a subtly sweet treat that’s equally perfect for breakfast or dessert.
Typically flavored naturally, these conchas incorporate freeze-dried strawberries to give them a beautiful pink hue and a delicious flavor.
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What are Conchas?
Conchas, which means “shell” in Spanish, are so named because of the decorative, crunchy layer sitting atop their light and airy bottom sweet bread layer.
They are so satisfying to bite into. With that crunchy topping and that bright pop of strawberry followed by the buttery soft, slightly sweet bread. So good!
Typically, conchas have a white topping or the topping is naturally colored or flavored. To honor the traditional concha as best I could, I flavored the crunchy topping naturally by incorporating finely ground freeze-dried strawberries.
Ingredients Needed to Make Conchas
To make the topping for these Strawberry Conchas, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Unsalted Butter
- Powdered Sugar
- Large egg yolk
- Vanilla extract
- All-Purpose Flour
- Baking Powder
- Finely ground freeze-dried strawberries
For the concha dough, you’ll also need:
- Warm water
- Warm whole milk
- Granulated sugar
- Active dry yeast
- All-purpose flour: I recommend using Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour. It’s milled from the highest quality North American wheat and it has a touch of malted barley to enhance the rise in yeast breads, making it ideal for this recipe
- Unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 2 large eggs
- Vanilla extract
How do you make Conchas?
To prepare conchas, first prepare the topping. This sounds a bit backwards, however, the topping needs time to chill to develop the flavors and hydrate in the fridge while the bread dough is mixed and proofed.
The topping is almost like a crunchy cookie prepared with butter, powdered sugar, a bit of flour, vanilla, salt, an egg yolk and baking powder. To flavor and color it, we use freeze-dried strawberries processed in the food processor until finely ground.
Freeze-dried strawberries can be found in most supermarkets or grocery stores or online.
While the topping is chilling, prepare the dough. First, warm the milk and water until they reach about 115ºF (46ºC). Any hotter and it’ll kill the yeast. I recommend using a candy thermometer to get an accurate temperature.
Add the yeast and a bit of sugar and allow to sit for 10 minutes until foamy. If the yeast does not get foamy, it’s likely expired or not active. Throw it away and start over with fresher yeast.
Then, pour in the milk yeast mixture and start mixing. Once the dough starts to come together, use the dough hook on the mixer (or, if doing this by hand, knead on a clean surface) to knead until the dough passes the windowpane test.
Watch How to Make Strawberry Conchas
How to Perform the Windowpane Test with Bread
If you’re not familiar, the windowpane test is a simple method for checking that the dough has been kneaded properly and the gluten in it has been properly developed.
Gluten is what gives bread structure and crumb. Without proper gluten development, the dough will collapse because there is not enough strength to it. It will also be dense and heavy – not what we want.
To perform the windowpane test, pinch of a golf-ball sized piece of dough. I use my bench scraper to cut off a piece. Then, gently stretch the dough out, turning it slightly in your hands as you do, so you’re stretching it into a circle.
The dough should remain intact and become translucent, allowing light to shine through it (hence the term, windowpane test) without breaking. If the dough breaks, knead it for a couple of more minutes and perform the test again.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl to rise. One it has risen, punch it down and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. This is when I recommend removing the topping from the fridge. Set it aside while you shape the rolls.
Divide the dough into 14 equal portions. You can use a kitchen scale to be precise (each ball should weigh approximately 75 grams) or you can eyeball it.
How to Shape Dough into Balls for Conchas
To shape the dough, gently flatten each portion with the heel of your hand then bring the sides together in the center, pinching lightly to seal.
Flip the ball over so the seal is against the counter and cup your hand around the dough to form a ‘C’. Gently move your hand in a circle while applying a bit of pressure to the dough. This will help form the dough into a smooth ball. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough.
Techniques for shaping and scoring Conchas
Once all the dough has been formed into balls, unwrap the topping and slice into 14 (1-inch) portions. Roll each into a smooth ball and place each ball between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, roll into a 3½-inch circle.
Alternatively, roll out the entire log of topping between 2 sheets of parchment paper. I found this technique a bit more difficult to manage than slicing the topping into smaller portions.
Using a 3½-inch round cutter, cut out the dough, rerolling scraps as necessary. Gently flatten each of the bread dough balls with your palm, then gently place the topping on top of each of the dough.
There are many different ways to score the top of conchas. Google “how to score conchas” and you’ll find ideas for how to do so.
For mine, I used a small sharp paring knife and cut a shell pattern in the top by dragging my knife from one end of the topping to the other in 3-4 lines. Be sure to leave a ¼-inch border around the edges.
Then let the conchase rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until puffed, about 30 minutes. Next, bake at 350ºF (177ºC) until the conchas are just starting to brown on top. They are best served warm, straight out of the oven, if possible!
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