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Sep 16, 2015

Conchas (Mexican Shell Bread)

Conchas (Mexican Shell Bread) Pan Dulce

I am totally excited by these Conchas!

Conchas you ask? What are they? They are a brioche-like bread that is popular in Mexico as well as border states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

The first time I tried conchas was in a bakery in East Los Angeles in the 1970's (yes, I'm that old). They came covered with sugar shell coatings of pink, brown, and yellow.

Conchas (Mexican Shell Bread) Pan Dulce

Since I started my bread obsession, I kind of forgot about Mexican bread until I made these Cemitas. I've since made several other Mexican breads, along with a Funfetti version of conchas

While wheat bread is not native to Mexico, it was introduced to the country during both the Spanish and French occupations. Kind of like the Vietnamese Banh Mi inspired from French bread, the indigenous people of Mexico created these wonderful pastries.

Lately, I've seen these sitting in bins my local Mexican market, but I've been avoiding them, because I remember conchas as being a bit dry. Enriched breads (breads with lots of eggs, sugar, and/or butter) can go stale pretty quickly. Time to make a fresh version!

Thank goodness the Bread Baking Babes' Kitchen of the Month, Heather of girlichef decided to propose this bread! After all, it is Mexican Independence Day!

....and the birthday of my favorite colleague at work who just happens to be Latina. I needed to make these for her and her family. Not intimidating at all, right?

Conchas (Mexican Shell Bread) Pan Dulce

Speaking of intimidation, after I brought these to work, our student assistant arrived...

Student assistant: You can make these in a home oven?
Me: Yes.
Student assistant: My grandparents own a bakery in Mexico.
Me: Do they make these in wood fired ovens?
Student assistant: Yes

Silence (me slinking back to my office).....

Student assistant: These are really good!!! I can't believe you baked these!
Me: Giiiirrrrlll! (but silently saying to myself "oh thank God")
My colleague: OMG, OMG, OMG! (Pointing and laughing at me)

The birthday girl's family loved them too. Can I just tell you? The pressure!!!

Conchas (Mexican Shell Bread) Pan Dulce

The dough for this bread is pretty sticky, and it can be difficult to incorporate the butter without it sloshing around in your mixer. I used my paddle attachment to get the dough to come together, and then switched to the dough hook.

For the sugar shell coating, I used a mixture of butter, powdered sugar, and either cinnamon or cocoa. At work, the cinnamon ones were the most popular. I loved them both. The bread is like a pastry or a brioche, and is a wonderful breakfast. I totally recommend making these. Your family will love you.

Conchas (Mexican Shell Bread) Recipe



392 grams bread flour, plus more by tablespoon, as needed
2 large eggs and 1 large egg yolk
1/4 tsp salt
7 grams instant yeast. I used SAF Gold
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tbsp) at room temperature
140 grams/5 ounces superfine sugar (I ran granulated sugar through a food processor to make superfine sugar)

Sugar Shell Topping

114 g all purpose flour
114 g powdered sugar
91 g unsalted room temperature butter
2 T cocoa
1 T cinnamon


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, eggs, and salt. Mix with the paddle attachment until blended. 
  2. Add the yeast and water, and continue to mix until you have a shaggy dough. 
  3. Continuing with the paddle attachment, add the butter, one piece at a time, until you have a consolidated dough, about 4 minutes. 
  4. Add the sugar, and mix for another 4 to 8 minutes, adding flour by tablespoon, until the dough comes together and is not greasy. The dough should be sticky and gooey, but smooth and manageable. 
  5. Once everything is incorporated, switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 4 minutes on medium low. 
  6. Form the dough into a ball and place it into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.
  7. Let the dough rise for about 3 to 4 hours, until doubled.
  8. To make the sugar topping, mix the flour, sugar, and butter. Divide the mixture in half, and add the cocoa to one half, and the cinnamon to the other half. You will have to knead the two halves of the toppings with your hands to get all of the ingredients to combine. 
  9. Line two baking sheets with parchment, and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Form them into rolls and then slightly press them to slightly flatten. 
  10. Cover the rolls with damp cloths or oiled plastic wrap.
  11. Divide the sugar topping into 12 pieces. Form each piece into a ball, and roll each into a round disk between two pieces of wax paper. Press each piece over the rolls. It should cover the whole surface of the unrisen roll. 
  12. Take a sharp knife and carve shell patterns into the sugar topping. The extra cuts in the sugar topping will happen naturally. Don't stress. 
  13. Cover the sheet pans with damp cloths and let rise, about 2 hours. 
  14. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  15. Bake the conchas for about 20 minutes. They should be lightly golden and puffy. 
  16. Cool on a wire rack. 

Would you like to comment?

  1. Yay, such a fun story! These turned out so beautifully, I'm happy that you enjoyed them.

  2. This is THE COOLEST bread post ever! I can see the scene, and feel the shiver up and down your spine.... indeed, talk about pressure!

    you passed a tough test and survived to tell the tale! Awesome job......

    1. Thankfully, I had no idea in advance, or I might not have brought these to work!

  3. OK these are absolutely going on my to-bake list because Sammy would go insane with happiness. Maybe I will try them for her birthday. And love the cinnamon option--I have never cared for the cocoa ones although she does.

  4. Wow!! Look at the loft! Brilliant. And even more brilliant that your Latina colleague clearly thought they stood up to the wood-fire oven versions of her grandmother. Take a well-deserved bow. No, take two!

  5. That is an amazing compliment by connaisseurs! They look just great, the crumb picture is just perfect and even holes.

  6. I love sweet breads. Although the one I am most familiar with, challah, isn't exactly sweet, when you said this one had a sugar coating, I was enthralled - while I'ld love to make it, I love even more to have a slice of yours:)

  7. Karen, you are brave to make these as a birthday gift, but what a wonderful gift. The crumb is just perfect and the toppings are pretty, too.

    1. Thanks Elle. I knew my colleague would be happy, but I had no idea I had the grand daughter of real professional Mexican bakers as a taste tester!

  8. I've never had conchas... they look delicious!

  9. Well done! Always good to impress the experts! What a wonderful birthday surprise!

    1. Heather had perfect timing with this recipe!

  10. Wow you are one Daring Baker! So great to hear your coworker loved these. Scary to make them for someone who is used to "the real thing" but then again.... you nailed it big time! Good for you!

  11. Good grief Karen. Positively a fantastic story to go with a knock out bread! These are simply lovely. Everyone of my reads about these is bringing tears that I wasn't around to bake these. Beautiful.

  12. Aren't conchas wonderful? The ones I had in Quintana Roo, Mexico, were rather bland, but so pretty that I tried them at home, too. They taste even better if you leave the dough overnight in the fridge.

    1. They are wonderful Karin! Love the overnight idea. Thanks!


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