When I lived in San Francisco, there were dozens of markets near my apartment that catered to just about every culture you could think of. Russian, Chinese, Hawaiian and Japanese were a few that I frequented to get my fix of authentic goodies. One shop I went to a lot was this Mexican market that sold fresh conchas or pan dulce everyday. I loved going in and seeing the colorful rolls, each with their own distinct patterns. It’s been years now since I’ve had one, seeing as we don’t have markets like that here. Recently, I got a craving for those sweet rolls and started a little search for recipes in order to make them myself. I ended up going with the recipe for Pan Dulce off King Arthur Baking’s website- because they’re pretty much the gold standard of bread recipes for me. I wasn’t sure how it’d stack up against some of the more authentic-looking recipes from Mexican bakers on Youtube, but I knew that the bread itself would be good, so I got to work.
The recipe starts off by making a starter- don’t worry, we’re not going in sourdough territory. Trust me when I say I’ll make just about everything else before I start making sourdough. This starter simply combines all purpose flour, instant yeast and water in a bowl. Give it a good stir and then let it bubble away for about an hour. Sure enough when I checked back later, the mix was nice and foamy. I then added in some more flour, two eggs, an egg yolk (save the white), softened butter, sugar, vanilla and salt and let it mix for a few minutes until combined. I then increased the speed and let it knead for about 8 minutes- adjusting the flour accordingly so I ended up with a slightly sticky dough that gathered around the hook. Sticky dough makes for soft bread, so use only as little flour as necessary. I transferred the dough to a greased bowl, covered it and let it rise for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until doubled in size. Next came the topping which is pretty much like a cookie dough. Sugar and butter are creamed together, before flour and salt are added in until well mixed. The recipe calls for cinnamon which I read is traditional, but I wanted to try out a few flavors since I’d end up with at least a dozen rolls. I divided the topping in thirds, adding cinnamon into one, cocoa powder into another, and lastly some pink food coloring and strawberry extract to the third. Those mixed up well and I left them covered until I was ready to use.
Shaping is honestly my favorite part of bread baking, other than eating of course. The dough was tacky but still manageable, being easily divided into twelve similarly sized pieces. I then rolled them into balls, not being too critical as they’ll be covered up anyway. I then started to portion and roll out my topping. A few bakers on Youtube used a tortilla press for this step, which made me happy because I actually have one that I’d been dying to use more of. Each of the twelve portions of topping are pressed into discs and carefully placed onto the buns, using the leftover egg white as glue. Once covered, the rolls proof one last time for about 30 minutes. Just before baking, take a knife and carefully slice your patterns. I ended up going with the traditional shell pattern as well as some lines and crisscross cuts- more on those in a bit. Then, they’re ready to be baked for about 18-24 minutes.
The entire process of making these conchas went swimmingly, except for the topping. I think KAB’s quantities should be doubled, so you have more topping to work with. The tortilla press made them quite thin, which was difficult to get off the paper easily. Some rolls ended up with more randomized pieces that didn’t leave much room for a design of any sort. Still, they looked great after baking- but not quite as I intended. The topping is very much like a craquelin for a profiterole, baking up nice and crunchy and adding that extra element that takes the rolls up a notch. The flavors were amazing too- with the cinnamon, chocolate and (surprisingly) strawberry topping flavoring the entire roll. I’d definitely make three flavors again the next time I make this. The bread itself is incredibly soft and airy. It even held up well the next day, though the topping wasn’t quite as crunchy anymore. Overall, I’d call these a big success. They definitely satisfied my craving for conchas. Now onto the next nostalgic treat.
Full Recipe | Method by King Arthur Baking: