Mix yeast, warm water and a pinch of sugar in a large bowl. Let sit 5 minutes until bubbly and fragrant. Meanwhile, warm milk and butter together until butter is melted and mixture is warm (about 100° F.) Add milk mixture, salt, sugar, and 1 1/2 cups Hodgson Mill White Whole Wheat flour to yeast, and mix until smooth. Add 2 cups Hodgson Mill Naturally White flour, and mix again until dough forms and it becomes difficult to stir. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface (I like to use white whole wheat to flour the surface) and knead 5 minutes, until smooth and somewhat elastic. (It will be less stretchy and grainier than all-white flour dough.) Dough may be tacky and sticky. Add small amounts of white whole wheat flour (up to ½ cup more) as needed to handle the dough. If dough seems tough and doesn't want to be kneaded, let rest 5 minutes to let gluten relax and then knead 1-2 more minutes. Oil a large bowl with spray or vegetable oil, turn dough to coat it with oil, cover bowl and let rise in a warm draft-free place about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled.
Meanwhile, make the flavored topping dough. With an electric mixer, beat 1/3 c. sugar and ¼ c. butter in medium bowl until fluffy. Add ½ c. white flour and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Consistency will be crumbly and grainy, but crumbs come together into a smooth, sticky dough when gently kneaded. If it doesn’t, add a drop or two more of vanilla extract and gently knead again. Divide topping dough into 3 equal portions and place in separate bowls. In one portion, add cinnamon and knead just until combined. In another, add cocoa and espresso powder and knead just until combined. Leave vanilla plain, or see notes below for more flavor options. Cover these three balls of flavored toppings tightly to prevent hardening.
When main dough is done rising, punch down and divide into 12 portions. Shape these into slightly flattened balls and place them 3 inches apart on a greased or parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Take flavored topping dough - divide each ball into 4 pieces, so there are 12 total portions. Pinch and flatten these portions gently between your palms and drape and pat them over the buns until they cover most of the bun and stick firmly. Use a sharp knife to cut grooves through the topping (but not through the dough beneath), like a swirl, or curving parallel lines like a seashell, or a cross-hatch. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place 45 minutes or until about doubled. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake 13-15 minutes, checking often after 13 minutes. Finished buns should be very lightly browned, topping should look dry, and the buns will sound hollow when tapped gently on the side. Enjoy warm or at room temp
Lasts 2-3 days when kept tightly covered in a cool place. For orange-flavored topping dough add 1/2 teaspoon orange extract, or for strawberry add 1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract to topping dough, just after gently kneading and dividing into 3 portions.
Adapted from Food.com Conchas recipe
Makes 12 rolls
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