Conchas or Pan Dulce is a popular Mexican Sweet Bread with a sugar crust topping that can be different colors or flavors.
In order to achieve a delicious authentic Mexican Concha, you need to take your time and don't rush the process!
Like most yeast based dough, you need to be patient and allow the concha dough enough time to rise. I highly recommend watching my YouTube Video to see the detailed steps to successfully make conchas at home.
What is a Concha?
Concha is Spanish means 'shell', and this dessert is traditionally designed to look like a shell. Conchas are a type of Pan Dulce, Sweet Mexican Bread.
You'll find conchas in Mexican Bakeries known as Panaderias. The dough is slightly sweet, but the sugared crust provides most of the sweetness to this dessert bread.
How to Make the Concha Dough
For best results, use Bread Flour, however all purpose flour can be used instead. Just keep in mind you may need more all purpose flour, but start with the listed amount.
Once you add the sugar, yeast, and warm milk together in a bowl of a stand mixer, bubbles should start forming after 5-10 minutes. If you do not see bubbles, then you need to troubleshoot:
- The yeast has expired, check the date. If the yeast is expired, you need to start with new yeast.
- The milk was too cold and the yeast could not activate.
- The milk was too hot and killed the yeast. Start over, measure the temperature of the milk again to ensure it's the right temp.
Additionally you want to make sure your eggs are at room temperature and the unsalted butter is melted, but not too hot.
If you are using all purpose flour, you may need to add more flour, but start with the listed 4 cups of flour. And whenever you are measuring flour, always spoon it into the cup and level it off.
I used my KitchenAid Mixer with the dough attachment to mix the dough on medium speed, which is so much easier than kneading by hand. The dough needs to be mixed for about 8 minutes, to get a nice smooth ball.
You can do this process by hand, just know it's going to take some muscle. I also recommend kneading by hand for 5 minutes after removing the dough from the mixer. Clean a work surface and sprinkle some flour and knead by hand until smooth. This will ensure you get a really soft concha dough.
Place the ball of dough in a large greased bowl. I flip it over to get buttered on both sides then cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Allow the bread dough to proof for 1 hour or until it doubles in size. The area needs to be warm and a draft-free place, if you have a proofing option on your oven, that will be the best option. Otherwise it may take up to 2 hours to rise if your house is cold.
While the dough is on the first rise, you can start on the sugar topping.
How to Make the Sugar Crust Topping
The base recipe for the sugar crust will produce an off white topping. In Mexican Bakeries you'll find conchas with different colors like pink or yellow. Just add a few drops of food coloring to get the desired color you like. You can divide the mixture by the number of colors you want to make, or just keep them all one color.
To make the chocolate crust, use 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to the butter, powdered sugar, and flour mixture. You can also add different flavors like vanilla, almond extract, or orange extra to the sugar crust.
Once the topping is mixed, divide it into equal pieces, about 1 large tablespoon, and roll into a round ball.
Transferring the Sugar Crust
Once the concha dough has doubled in size, punch it down, and roll back into a ball. For even size conchas, use a kitchen scale to weigh each portion. Take a piece of conch dough and roll into a smooth ball. The weight I used is 3-3.25 ounces. Place dough balls on a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat or parchment paper.
Now get the sugar crust ball and flatten it with either a tortilla press or the bottom of a measuring cup. With either method, make sure you are using plastic wrap or parchment paper to ensure the sugar topping can be transferred easily onto each dough ball.
Now the fun part of making the design! You can do a traditional shell pattern, a circular shape, or a checkered pattern. Simply use a butter knife to score your design. I prefer to lightly make the design since the dough will expand more thus making the design spread apart.
Second Proof and Baking the Conchas
After all the conchas are topped with the sugar crust and the design is made. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to proof again for 1 hour. Again, make sure the baking tray is placed in a warm area or in a proofing oven. Once the conchas are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Make sure to remove them if they are in the oven proofing.
Bake the conchas for 15-18 minutes or until the sides are lightly browned and the top has slightly hardened. Allow conchas to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then remove to cool on a wire rack.
My favorite way to enjoy this Mexican sweet bread is while it's still slightly warm and with a hot cup of coffee. Please try it this way! My kids love conchas with warm milk or a cup of hot cocoa.
Conchas are best served the same day, however leftovers can be stored in a zip top bag or sealed container at room temperature for 3 days.
Watch the YouTube Video
Conchas- Mexican Sweet Bread Recipe
- Stand Mixer
- Add warm milk, sugar, and yeast to your stand mixer bowl. Set aside for 5 - 10 minutes until the yeast is activated and starts foaming. If the yeast is not foaming, check the expiration date, if still good, then start over and ensure the milk temperature is between 98-103 degrees F. Also make sure your mixer bowl is not too cold.
- Spoon and level 4 cups of flour and add it to the yeast starter in the mixing bowl. Then add sugar, salt, eggs, melted butter, and cinnamon to the bowl.
- With the dough attachment, turn the mixer on low speed until incorporated, then turn to medium speed for 8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and has a slight elasticity. If you are using All Purpose flour, or the dough still looks too wet, then add a tablespoon at a time until the dough starts pulling from the sides of the bowl and has some structure. Adding too much flour will cause the dough to be dense. Add 1 tablespoon at a time and mix it for a few minutes before adding more flour.
- For an even softer concha dough, remove the dough from the mixer, and knead by hand for another 5 minutes on a cleaned and floured work surface. Form the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a clean bowl that has been greased with butter. Then flip over to grease the other side. Cover your dough with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and allow it to proof in a warm place, for 1 hour. If you have a proof setting on your oven, use this. Otherwise if your house is cold, it may take up to 2 hours before it can double in size.
- In a clean bowl, combine room temperature butter and powdered sugar, mix until creamy. Add the cinnamon, vanilla, and flour. Continue to mix until a thick paste is formed. Divide the sugar paste into the number of colors you plan on using for the crust. Add desired Food Coloring and mix well. For a chocolate crust, add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa.
- Then divide sugar paste into 12 equal portions and roll them into a smooth ball and set aside until concha dough has doubled in size.
Making the Conchas
- Once the dough has doubled, punch it down and cut into 3-3.25 ounce pieces (weighing your dough ensures you have an even bake for your bread). This will make approximately 12 dough balls.
- Roll each dough ball into a smooth ball and place onto a lined baking sheet with parchment paper or silicon.
- Place each ball of sugar crust between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Use the bottom of a 1 cup measuring cup or tortilla press, and press down on the sugar ball to form a flat circle. Remove the top plastic wrap and transfer the sugar crust onto the top of each Concha. Once all the dough balls have been covered, use a butter knife and score the sugar crust to make it look like a shell, spiral circle, or crisscross pattern. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to rise again for 1 hour in a warm area or proofing oven.
- After an hour, Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place Conchas in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. Conchas should be slightly browned around the edges and sugar crust slightly hard. Remove and allow them to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Serve with a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate.