I first encountered pan dulce, specifically conchas, on a medical mission trip to Mexico and I developed a schoolgirl crush on these pastries. What’s a schoolgirl crush? It’s a bizarre level of infatuation that makes a girl dot her “i”s with little hearts (which I totally would have done if the word “conchas” contained the letter “i”) and sing cheesy pop songs. Here’s how to make conchas, my favorite of the Mexican Sweet Breads, and also a video of my trip to Mexico.
See? Goodness, the video and the song bring back many memories! Mostly, I just miss the sense of community I felt once we went into the mountains. The people worked incredibly hard to provide for their families and they were happy to share what little they had with us. The experience humbled me and inspired me. I’m truly a better person for having met such generous and loving people. Dang it. Now I’m in tears.
Back to the conchas!
For the dough:
1 packet or 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast (not rapid rise or instant)
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup butter (may use a vegan substitute)
1 egg OR 1/4 cup applesauce + 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (may use cinnamon instead)
oil for coating the bowl
For the topping:
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
butter to grease cookie sheets
- In a large bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water. Allow the yeast to bubble and become frothy. Meanwhile, place the milk in a saucepan and heat it on low until it is luke-warm. Do not overcook the milk.
- Whisk the sugar, butter, and salt into the milk until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 2 cups of flour, cardamom, and the egg.
- Slowly incorporate the remaining two cups of flour into the milk mixture using a wooden spoon. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, turn it to coat, and loosely cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled. (If placed in a warm oven, it generally takes about 90 minutes.)
- While the dough rises, start making the topping. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, flour, and cinnamon and stir until the mixture becomes a paste (similar to marzipan in texture).
- When the dough is done rising, divide it into 12 pieces. Roll or shape the dough into balls and place them on two greased cookie sheets (6 rolls on each sheet and space them well-apart).
- Divide the topping paste into 12 pieces. Knead each piece in your hand to warm it. Pat the warmed pieces into flattened circles on a silicon baking mat or some wax paper. Gently press the topping circles on top of the dough balls. Use a knife to cut grooves in the topping like a clam shell.
- Place in a warm oven or cover them with plastic wrap (loosely) and set them in a warm place. Allow the conchas to rise until doubled, about 45-90 minutes. Remove the trays of conchas from the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.
- Place the conchas on cooling racks and then serve them with coffee or Mexican hot chocolate. Many people dip the conchas in their drinks but I only did that with the day-old conchas. Fresh conchas — especially the warm-from-the-oven conchas — were consumed between sips.
It should probably be noted that I use cardamom in this recipe because I really like cardamom. In fact, I can’t think of a baked bread-type dessert that isn’t better with the addition of cardamom but it’s not authentic. I certainly didn’t taste any cardamom in the the conchas I devoured during my time in Mexico. Feel free to use cinnamon in place of the cardamom and you may also wish to play around with different flavors. When I was in Mexico, conchas toppings came in a variety of flavors. Conchas appeared at breakfast and as a dessert served with a late evening meal (known as merienda), but I’m told they are an any-time pastry as well. They came in many different shapes, colors, and flavors.
Goodness, I hope you love them as I do. Try making them with pineapple, chocolate, or mango flavors, too! Post your additions and changes to the recipe in the comment section for everyone to enjoy.
If you are making conchas as part of your child’s education (perhaps a unit on seashells & sealife or Mexico), here are links to some fun printable coloring pages: