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Conchas Recipe

Why It Works

  • Using lard and butter in the dough produces flavorful and tender conchas.  
  • Kneading the dough in a stand mixer quickly develops a strong gluten network.  
  • A cold fermentation builds flavor and makes the dough easy to work with. 
  • Scoring the concha crust with a butter knife gives the conchas their distinctive seashell appearance.

With its soft, spongy dough, sweet, crunchy crust, and buttery flavor, nothing beats the taste of a freshly-baked concha. Sold at Mexican panaderias, the concha (which means “shell” in Spanish) is one of the most recognizable pan dulces, or sweet breads. However, finding a great concha can be quite the feat, especially if you don’t have a good panaderia nearby. 

After I left the restaurant industry to give birth to my son, I started a virtual bakery called Mexipino, combining nostalgic flavors and traditional desserts from my husband’s Mexican culture and my own Filipino background. I wanted to build a connection between our two heritages through food. Because of this, I began to learn more, digging deeper into Mexican breads, and eventually developed my own recipe for traditional conchas, which I’m sharing here. At Mexipino, I like to take it a step further and stuff the Mexican concha like a Filipino ensaymada, a soft sweet bread traditionally coated with butter, sugar, and grated cheese, with ube halaya (a Filipino purple yam jam) or black bean paste. 

Making the Concha Dough

A great concha hinges on the type of fat and flour used in the dough. Traditionally, lard, or manteca, provides flavor and richness, but nowadays, many panaderias and bakers use margarine or shortening for its stability, longer shelf life, and as a way to cut costs. I prefer a combination of processed lard, the hydrogenated semi-solid white version normally found in most grocery stores, and butter. Lard tenderizes the dough by coating and weakening the gluten strands, resulting in a softer texture. Lard alone can create a flatter bread, so I add butter too, which releases steam during the bake to create air pockets. In addition, the butter adds a richer flavor.

For the flour, I compared conchas baked with bread flour and all-purpose flour and I found that bread flour, which I call for here, gives the conchas a firm, springy, chewy texture that mirrored the ones I ate in Mexico City. All-purpose flour, on the other hand, made much lighter conchas. If you only have all-purpose flour on hand, you can substitute for the bread flour, just note that the texture won’t be as substantial.

Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Using a stand mixer helps achieve a brioche-like texture by slowly incorporating the fat into the dough and developing a strong gluten structure. While I provide an estimated kneading time below, it’s best to perform the windowpane test to check if the gluten is sufficiently developed: Once a smooth, shiny dough has formed that pulls away from the sides of the bowl, use your hands to remove a piece of dough and stretch it gently taut into a translucent sheet. Once the gluten is properly developed, I start the bulk fermentation at room temperature and perform a set of stretches and folds to add more strength to the dough. I then let the dough proof in the refrigerator for 12 hours, which results in a more flavorful dough and makes it much easier to work with. Afterwards, I portion the dough and shape each into a smooth ball before moving onto the crust.

Preparing the Concha Crust

If you’ve ever eaten or seen a concha, you’ve likely taken note of the crackly crust on top. Traditionally, the crust is made with lard, powdered sugar, and all-purpose flour, and is flavored with chocolate or vanilla (which is often dyed pink for a pop of color). The stand mixer makes quick work of bringing the crust together. Plus, with my recipe, you’ll be able to enjoy both popular flavors because I split the crust in half and flavor each half separately. Once the flavored crusts are made, I portion and chill both halves to help with assembly.

When it’s time to shape the crust, you have two options: You can flatten it with a rolling pin or press it in a tortilla press. Once the crust is flat, I place it on top of a dough ball, making sure to tuck in any overhang. To score the top, it’s traditional to use a concha cutter to engrave the signature seashell pattern, but if you don’t have one, I found that using a butter knife works just as well. Just make sure to score only the crust and take care to not pierce the dough underneath. 

Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

If I’m planning on making conchas on a certain day or for a special occasion, I make the dough the day before, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight, then bake it the next day in time for an afternoon snack. Meanwhile, the crust can be made ahead of time or while the dough is proofing. Conchas are best enjoyed the day they’re baked, either for breakfast with a steaming mug of café de olla (Mexican coffee prepared in a clay pot with cinnamon), or eaten as a snack with a tall glass of cold milk. Personally, I like eating conchas all by themselves but sometimes I’ll indulge and split one in half, stuff it with ube halaya or ube ice cream, and enjoy it for dessert.

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