Growing up in Paramount, California, every time I had a craving for pan dulce (mexican sweet bread) I had many panaderias (bakeries) nearby to choose from. I took this for granted because now, after living in Maine for six years, I have yet to find one. Panaderias have a wide assortment of sweet goodies, but my family’s favorite are the “conchas” (named for their shell-like top), which are fluffy, strudel-topped, brioche-type sweet rolls.
My family missed conchas so much and I tried stocking up every time we returned to California. The problem was that as much as I would buy, it was never enough. We ate it so quickly sometimes it barely made it past our connecting flight home. I decided to try to make it at home. This was not, not intimidating.
I found many promising recipes online with pictures and videos that showed the conchas looking just like I remembered them. One bite though and umm, nope! After many, many disappointments it hit me - I had yet to try my go-to for authentic Mexican recipes: Rick Bayless. The look on my kids' faces when they took that first bite told me I had found the right recipe! Click on the picture below to get Rick's recipe.
1/3 cup milk
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar (divided use)
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter & 1/2 c plain shortening at room temperature, cut into 1-inch cubes
Concha (Shell) Topping:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
To make the dough:
Heat the milk to 110 degrees. In a small bowl, add yeast, 1 tsp sugar, and heated milk. Stir and let it sit until foamy, approximately 10 min.
In a different bowl mix bread flour, all purpose flour, 1 tbsp sugar, and salt.
When yeast becomes foamy, pour into stand up mixing bowl. Add eggs and mix with dough hook until eggs are incorporated.
Add flour mixture a little at a time, mixing slowly. When dough becomes smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl easily, start adding pieces of butter and shortening one at a time until each piece is incorporated.
Place dough in a lightly buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic is touching the dough. Put in fridge to rise overnight.
In a medium bowl, mix butter, sugar, and vanilla. When combined, add flour. You can add food coloring at this point, to make the conchas more festive. Refrigerate until you are ready to top the conchas.
Forming the conchas:
After the dough has risen overnight in the fridge (or when it has risen until doubled in size after rising in a warm kitchen) you have two options: make 9 large conchas or 18 smaller ones. I personally like the smaller ones. If you have a little sweet tooth you can eat just one. If you have a monster sweet tooth, you can eat more. Plus they’re easier to dunk in a cup of hot chocolate!
However you divide the dough, lightly roll each into a smooth ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough balls sit until they double in size (1-2 hrs).
Baking the conchas:
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Divide the concha topping according to however many dough balls you need to cover. Roll each concha topping piece into a ball and place between two pieces of plastic wrap. Take a glass with a base with approximately the same diameter of your dough balls and use the base to press down on the concha topping balls until they're wide enough to cover the risen dough balls.
Brush risen dough balls with an egg wash (whisk one egg and 1 tbsp of water) and place a pressed concha topping on each dough ball.
If making the shell design with a paring knife, use the sharp tip to score the concha toppings. If using the concha cutter, press the cutter into the concha topping to stamp the design.
Small conchas, 9-12 min
Large conchas, 25-30 min
The only changes I made to the original recipe:
- The recipe calls for two sticks of unsalted butter. I used one stick of butter and 1/2c of plain shortening when making the dough.
- I omitted the cinnamon and added 1 tsp of vanilla to the streusel recipe.
- I reduced the salt to 1 tsp
To form the shell shape you can use a sharp paring knife or you can use a concha cutter. They both work nicely, but I must admit the concha cutter was a lot of fun to use.
Look how cute these turned out! The bread was tender and the streusel had a little crunch to it. They were perfect!
If find yourself far away from a good panaderia and you're craving an authentic concha, this is your recipe. When you do make them, serve them on one of these cute serving trays/cutting boards from JTWoodworks and enjoy them with a nice cup of Mexican hot chocolate !