Conchas!! Who kneads them? (BBB September 2015)

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BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for Conchas (Mexican pan dulce), based on a recipe from Pati’s Mexican Table; surprises about flavour combinations; is kneading necessary?; substitutions; a Bread Baking Babes project; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB) September 2015: Conchas (Mexican Pan Dulce)

shells wp-image-2280 The moment I see “shells”, I cannot stop reciting, “She sells seashells by the seashore. If she sells seashells by the sea shore, how many seashells does she sell?” But that’s doesn’t really feel very Mexican, does it? So I found a slightly more appropriate tongue twister:

La sucesión sucesiva de sucesos sucede sucesivamente con la sucesión del tiempo.

Today is Mexican Independence Day and BBB Heather (girlichef) has chosen to celebrate it with conchas – Mexican pan dulce.

Conchas are named after the shape of their sugar topping, which resembles a seashell. Conchas do have a hardened crust, but it is sugary, thick, crispy and crumbles right into your mouth as you take a bite. Right after you brake through that crust, there is a fluffy, soft, sweet roll made with flour, butter, yeast and eggs. With such a pleasing experience, no wonder it is one of Mexico’s most favorite sweet rolls or pan dulce.
– Pati Jinich, Pati’s Mexican Table, Sweet Conchas!

Conchas wp-image-2287 Well. The little conchas I made look not unlike the conchas that Heather suggested we make…. But. Do they taste anything like the way they’re suppose to?

Not to mention. Living in Toronto, can a Gringa who has never been even close to Mexico even expect to come close?

Or, to alter another tongue-twister I found:

Como poco coco conchas como, poco coco compro conchas creado.

Here’s how my adventure with conchas went (warning: as usual, it’s long and filled with needless drama):

BBB Conchas diary:

2 August 2015, 19:10 Oh boy! Conchas to celebrate Mexican Independence Day! T is going to be out of his mind with joy!! He LOVES sweet rolls. The crunchy shell part sounds like fun! What a great choice Heather has made for September’s bread!

11 September 2015, 07:53 What?! Why didn’t someone tell me that August is over?

Thank Heaven the heat has broken! I was beginning to wonder if the world really is ending when it didn’t go below 20C for over a week in September. I was especially miffed because the Dog Days of August were already over! It’s never supposed to be so hot here in September!! This is Canada….

But wait. I promised not to complain any more, didn’t I?

And. It’s time to get cracking on Heather’s shells, isn’t it? …ha. Just under the wire again.

I guess a good start would be to look at the recipe….

392 grams (14 ounces) bread flour + more as needed
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
102 grams (4 ounces / 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
-BBB Conchas recipe
Typically the amount of salt in a dough is between 1.8 and 2 percent of the amount of flour, by weight. 
– Susan, The Role of Salt in Bread, Wild Yeast

Oh oh. Already I have alarm bells ringing. I bet you know why too…. Eeeeeeekk!! The salt!! a.) It’s only measured by volume rather than weight and b.) that doesn’t seem like much salt at all.

Excuse me while I get out my calculator.

The USDA says that one teaspoon of salt weighs 6gm, then a quarter teaspoon of salt weighs [click click click click ...] only 1.5gm. And for 392 gm, that [click click click click ...] comes out to just 0.4%!

Whoa. That doesn’t sound right at all!

So, here’s what I’m going to do: I’ll use salted butter AND I’ll up the amount of salt. I hope the Salt Police don’t come after me! But I think I might be safe.

Heather handily linked to some other Conchas recipes and they range from calling for 1.2% to 1.5% salt.

  • Muy Beno Cookbook | Conchas: 1.2% salt…
  • Vegan Conchas | Mexican Pan Dulce: 1.4% salt…
  • YouTube | Como hacer Conchas – Pan Dulce: 1.5% salt…

When I asked about the salt, Heather reported that she has been making the Conchas like this for years and she and her family love them this way.

But we really love salt/sweet combination so I think I will go on the higher side and up the salt to 6g.

And while I’m transgressing, I think I will also halve the amount of sugar. :lalala:

Hahahaha – I see that I’m not alone!

All Concha recipes I had googled, contained lots of sugar. Being a gringo, I cut it down drastically, and, also, exchanged some of the flour with white whole wheat.
– Karin Anderson, Brot & Bread: Best Mexican Conchas

As for the “bread flour”, I’ll use Susan’s (Wild Yeast) formula I found that replacing the high-gluten flour […] with a mixture of 97% flour (the regular flour I use for bread) and 3% vital wheat gluten gave me [the result] that was virtually indistinguishable from the original.
-Susan, Wild Yeast

11:52 I know that I said I wasn’t going to complain. But, but, but… well, really, can you blame me? Our digital camera just died! *$`#!$**^&^@#+$#@;' It’s only eight years old. :stomp: :stomp:

I know. That’s almost an antique in computer terms, isn’t it? But come on! It’s not as if we haven’t treated the thing well, either.

15:26 Sigh. I’m afraid I can’t stop complaining. But maybe there is a little improvement: now I’m complaining about my complaining….

It turns out that the reason the camera broke is that there is a broken latch on the little door to hold the batteries in place.

Ha!! I KNEW there was a reason to keep those heavy duty elastic bands that come on broccoli! They are exactly the right size and tension to hold the little door in place.

Take that, ye promoters of planned obsolescence! It turns out that we don’t have to throw out our “ancient” camera after all!

Now I can get back to looking at the recipe. (I hope you are impressed that, for once, I’m actually reading ahead.)

Making the Dough:
Add flour, eggs, egg yolk, and salt to a mixer, set with the dough hook. 
-BBB Conchas recipe

Mixer? Dough hook?

That means a wooden spoon and my hands, doesn’t it? :-) …if you’ve been here before and actually got further than the first paragraph of any of my voluminous posts, you’ll know that we don’t have an electric stand mixer and that I always knead by hand.

And I’m always just a little nervous about high fat, sweet doughs. Because I’ve heard that you really have to develop the gluten in them, or they will fail.

But how times change! Take a look at the following:

Maggie Glezer, author of an excellent book about baking challah, revealed in an interview with Kosher Eye that she no longer kneads bread: “I mix all my ingredients together, make sure the dough is the correct consistency (add more flour or water, whatever the case might be) and put the dough in a container to ferment (rise). I don’t use the food processor or the stand mixer anymore. I have honestly not noticed any difference in my bread when I stopped kneading the dough. However, that is because the kneading machines available to home bakers are so awful. When I have used professional equipment, I notice a big difference. So if our kneading machines don’t really make a difference in the quality of the bread, why bother? There is really nothing to this method; you are just skipping a step. Any and all recipes can omit this step. Try it!”
So, wait . . . we don’t have to knead challah . . . . we can just mix it? […] Glezer seems to be saying any bread recipe can work without the kneading. She is not talking about adding more liquid, or changing how long the bread rises. She is not advocating intermittent kneading or stretch and folds. Just skip the kneading, she says!
– Laura, Pragmatic Attic | Need to Knead?
For years we used to say that it was important to knead in order to “develop the gluten”, but we now know this isn’t entirely true. High-speed dough mixing […] shows that the final elasticity and resilience in the dough can be increased by the amount of energy put into it. When dough is mixed relatively slowly by hand on a worktop, even by the most accomplished bakers, the changes that occur will be mostly due to the length of time since the water was first added, and the characteristics of and interactions between the ingredients. So you can knead the dough fast, slow, or even not at all, and end up with similar results. […] [W]e made the same recipe three times, one kneaded for 10 minutes, one kneaded intermittently and one not kneaded at all. We couldn’t see a difference between the last two and, curiously, the unkneaded one rose even quicker than the other two!
But a few of you have written to me over the years quite angrily, claiming I’d torn the pleasure of kneading out of breadmaking. No such thing. If you want to knead your dough for 10 minutes on a floury worktop, it won’t harm the dough. But it won’t help it either, and if you throw in flour to “stop it sticking”, you’ll only get a heavy loaf with all the ingredients out of kilter. Dough is always sticky when first mixed, but leave it for 10 minutes right after you mix in the water or other liquid and it will lose most of its stickiness.
-Dan Lepard, Basic Techniques: How to Knead, The Guardian

“Any and all recipes can omit this step”? Even the high fat, high sugar, high egg ones? Yay!! Count me in.

16:12 Heather doesn’t specify the topping and has given us carte blanche. Wheeeeeeeee!! How fun!

I’ve been thinking about it and was going to be a little mundane and Canadian with my choice (definition of a Canadian: someone who thinks Kentucky Fried Chicken is “a bit too spicy”) and just go with cinnamon, sugar and butter. But then I remembered the fabulous Mexican chocolate we got at our local Farmer’s market a few years ago. I’m not sure exactly what is in it, but there is definitely some cinnamon and chili pepper.

So I googled.

  • Brianne (Cupcakes & Kale Chips) mixes together cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper to add to any chocolate recipes she uses.
  • Michael Chiarello (Food Network) adds cinnamon, espresso coffee and salt to his hot chocolate and then garnishes with powdered chilis.
  • Ali (Gimme Some Oven) adds cinnamon, chipotle powder, cayenne and a pinch of nutmeg to her cocoa to make Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate.

When I discussed the toppings with T (note to self: never discuss), he nixed the chocolate. He thinks it will burn. But after seeing several topping recipes that include cocoa and cinnamon, I’m determined to use some cocoa. :-)

12 September 2015, 10:39 I mixed the dough early this morning just before having coffee. It was insanely easy to mix and knead. Was it because I had given myself permission to “not knead”? Or was it because I had transgressed even more with the recipe and decided to substitute yoghurt for the egg yolk that is called for?

As I was not kneading, T came into the kitchen to make our coffee and we discussed the topping alternatives a little more. I discovered, to my great surprise (considering that we’ve been married for more than a quarter century), the combination of chocolate and cinnamon makes T carsick.

Well! That pretty much clinches it, doesn’t it? I won’t be mixing cocoa and cinnamon in the topping….

form into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic or a kitchen towel and let rise at a warm room temperature until doubled in size, 3-4 hours.
-BBB Conchas recipe

Greased bowl? With all that butter in the dough already? I don’t think so….

16:08 “3-4 hours”, eh? The stupid dough hasn’t budged even one iota since this morning. Rrrrrr. WHAT am I going to do??

It’s looking more and more as if the correct term for the BBB bread I’m making might be “conchas fallidos” or “conchas inexistentes” or “conchas que son planas como tortillas”….

23:15 Well. The dough finally started to rise and has almost doubled. Here’s hoping it will be ready to shape the conchas tomorrow morning. :lalala:

13 September 2015, 09:17 Okay, I shaped them. Let’s just pretend that the dough had really doubled by this morning. (It was darn close.)

I mixed the butter, flour and sugar for the topping and then divided it in half. It was a little bit of a concern that the topping was crumbly. So I made an executive decision and added a tiny bit of hot water to each.

Yay! For once, one of my decisions appears to have been correct.

I then added cinnamon to one topping and because I really really wanted to use cocoa, a mixture of cocoa, powdered ginger and crushed (and sieved to get rid of the big lumps) cayenne chili pepper.

Shaping and carving the shell-like (sort of) pattern was easy!

They’re in the oven now, rising. I hope.

Maybe we’ll be able to have conchas for lunch….

Well. It seems that adding extra salt makes the dough much less apt to rise. I was afraid it would overrise in the night so I arrested its development by sticking it on the coolish counter overnight (the outdoor temperature dropped to about 10C, which means the kitchen was around 18C – or possibly lower – this morning). Then, this morning a little before 9am, the dough was pretty much at the same level it had been at midnight, so I decided to throw caution to the winds and shape it anyway. It was ALMOST doubled. Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. It was exactly the same as it was last night at midnight. :stomp:

I finally put the conchas into the oven around noon. They hadn’t quite doubled but I just didn’t want to wait any longer.

Conchas wp-image-2287 Because they were so small, I thought they’d be done in ten minutes. I was wrong. They ended up taking the full 20 minutes that Heather suggested.

We made coffee and, because we’ve transgressed so far already, served the conchas with cheese and butter.

They were fabulous! It’s no wonder that people clamour for conchas!

Thank you, Heather! Happy Mexican Independence Day!

Here is the BBB September 2015 Conchas recipe. And here is what I did to it:

BBB Conchas
based on a recipe for Conchas at Pati’s Mexican Table

for 12 small conchas


  • 50g salted butter ¹
  • 60g very hot water ²
  • 1 large egg + 1/2 egg yolk ³
       » 1 large egg
       » 1 Tbsp plain yoghurt
  • 30g sugar 4
  • 3g active dry yeast
  • 196g flour 5
       » 140g unbleached all purpose flour
       » 40g 100% whole wheat flour
       » 6g vital wheat gluten
       » 10g flax seeds, finely ground
  • 3g Kosher salt 6

Topping 7

  • 50g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 45g salted butter, softened
  • splash of hot water, optional
  • Flavouring
       » 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, for half
       » 1/2 tsp cocoa/powdered-ginger/cayenne-chili-powder, for half (just a pinch of ginger and a touch of chili powder)
  1. Mixing the dough: In the morning of the day you will be making the conchas, put butter for topping into a small bowl and place it in the oven with only the light turned on to ensure that it will be softened. Cut the butter for the dough into small pieces and put it into a large mixing bowl. Pour hot water overtop and mix with a wooden spoon or whisk to melt the butter completely.
  2. Add egg, yoghurt and sugar to the butter mixture and beat well to remove any lumps.
  3. Make sure that the mixture is not hotter than baby-bottle temperature (check it against the inside of your wrist: if it feels just warm or like nothing at all, it’s fine). Whisk in the yeast.
  4. Add flours, flax seed and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is incorporated. The dough will be “gooey, sticky, elastic” but not yet “very smooth”.
  5. Kneading (or not): Use your hands to turn and fold the dough in the bowl as many times as you feel like. Put a plate over the bowl and leave it to sit for about half an hour. Notice that after half an hour, the dough is quite smooth. Turn it a couple of times in the bowl anyway.
  6. Proofing:
  7. Cover the bowl with a plate and let it rise at warm room temperature (in the oven with only the light turned on) “until doubled in size, 3-4 hours”. Pretend you didn’t notice that the dough was supposed to go into a “greased bowl”. Realize that nobody will believe you and be prepared to exclaim that with so much butter in the dough, there is no need for greasing the rising bowl. After 3-4 hours, notice that the dough hasn’t budged at all and laugh hysterically. With fingers crossed, put it back into oven with only the light turned on.

  8. Check the dough again at bed time and see that it’s almost ready to shape. Cover the bowl with the plate again and put it into the unheated green section by the back door overnight where it will be quite cool because the night temperature is dropping to about 10C. Have a discussion about where you’ve put the dough and move it back into the oven with the light turned off so it won’t get too too warm. Put a note on the oven door so nobody will inadvertantly turn the oven on in the morning.
  9. Topping: On the morning after the day that you planned to bake the conchas, cream icing sugar and flour into the softened butter. If the mixture seems dry, add a little hot water to smooth it out. Divide the mixture in half and put it into two small bowls. Stir cinnamon into one bowl and cocoa/ginger/chili-powder into the other. Set aside.
  10. Shaping: Put parchment paper onto two cookie sheets. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form them into balls. Place the balls evenly spaced and well apart on the cookie sheets. Press each one down flat to make thick discs.
  11. Evenly divide the sugar topping into 12. Form each piece into a ball and place each ball on top of each disc. Wet your hand and press eac sugar ball down flat to cover the surface of its disc. Heather says, “The sugar should cover basically the whole surface-it will pull away from the edges as the dough rises”.
  12. Using a very sharp knife, cut shell-patterned lines through the sugar topping. Cover the shaped conchas with a clean tea towel and leave in the oven with only the light turned on, to rise until almost doubled.
  13. After a little more than two hours, notice that the discs have only just started to rise and are not really close to doubling. Decide to bake them anyway because you have to leave the house soon. What bad thing can happen? The worst thing is that they will be cookies instead of buns….
  14. Baking: Making sure the shaped conchas are NOT in the oven anymore, turn the oven to 350F with the rack on the top-most shelf. Bake the conchas for 10-20 minutes “or until the conchas are just golden around the edges and have fluffed up”. Watch them like a hawk while they’re in the oven. With all that sugar, they will want to burn or at the least “get very dark and the sugar topping will discolor”.
  15. Carefully slip the finished conchas onto a footed wire rack to cool completely. Remember, they are still baking inside! (Even if you’ve ignored the instructions about using hot water from the tap, please do not ignore this step.) 7


1.) Butter The BBB calls for unsalted butter but I decided to use salted because we love the combination of sweet and salt.

2.) Water You’ve anticipated what I’m going to say about the water, haven’t you? I don’t care; I’ll keep saying it: please do not use water from the hot water tap. Instead, heat the water in a kettle or microwave. If you are allergic to using a thermometer, you can check the temperature by putting a few drops of water onto your wrist: if it feels warm, it’s too warm; if it feels cool, it’s too cool; if it feels like nothing, then it’s fine. Please note that before the yeast is added, the liquid temperature must be BELOW 120F (49C) because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

3.) Eggs and yoghurt The full BBB recipe calls for 2 large eggs and 1 egg yolk. Because I was halving the recipe, I decided to substitute yoghurt for the egg yolk (because, really, how does one divide an egg yolk in half??) I am justifying the yoghurt by noting that several Conchas recipes I looked at call for milk or buttermilk in the ingredients. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

4.) Sugar The BBB recipe calls for twice as much superfine sugar. Because these rolls were going to be covered in a sweet crunchy topping, I decided we didn’t want the buns themselves to be that sweet. So I halved the sugar. Please don’t tell on me to the Mexicans.

5.) Flour The BBB recipe simply calls for bread flour. To mimic bread flour (we can’t easily get hold of unbleached bread flour anymore), I use 97% unbleached all-purpose flour and 3% vital wheat gluten (aka “high gluten flour”, usually available at health food stores and the Bulk Barn). But I just can’t bring myself to make anything with just white flour so I substituted some of the unbleached all-purpose with whole wheat flour and ground flax seeds.

6.) Salt The BBB recipe calls for hardly any salt, just “1/8 tsp fine sea salt” and “unsalted butter”. At 0.4% in Baker’s Percentage, that amount of salt seemed awfully low to a gringa like me. So I upped the salt amount to 1.5%. And because we often use Kosher salt (much bigger grain), we always weigh salt…. According the the USDA website, 1 tsp fine table salt = 6 g. (For more information about measuring salt, please see Salt is salt, right?.)

7.) Topping The BBB recipe says “Sugar Shell Topping: this is where I want you to get creative!” Most of the Conchas recipes I looked at simply called for cinnamon as the flavouring. Several called for cocoa as well. Many called for artificial colouring. Along with sugar/flour/butter mixture, I decided to go with natural colouring for all the conchas, and for half of them: cocoa, powdered ginger and cayenne chili powder, and for the other half: just cinnamon.

8.) But I LIKE warm rolls just out of the oven!! N.B. Of course you will want to serve warm rolls. Reheat them after they have cooled completely. (They are still baking when first out of the oven!) To reheat any UNsliced bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.

Here I was beating myself up that my conchas were too flat. And then I looked at the photos that Heather took of her Conchas. Maybe they’re supposed to be like that!

Actually, I don’t really care if they’re supposed to rise higher. Thinking about it, they were pretty perfect the way they were. What a ninny I was to make only half the recipe!


edit 17 September 2015: We finished the last of the conchas yesterday morning. Next time, I’ll use more spices in the topping. Or will I? The subtleness of the flavours was quite lovely. I particularly liked the gentle warmth from eating the cocoa/ginger/chili topping. …in fact, I’ve changed my mind; the amount of spice was just right! But now I’m wondering what flavour would be added, if any, if annatto were used to colour the topping red.

Bread Baking Babes Conchas!! Who kneads them?  (BBB September 2015)

Heather is our host for September 2015’s Bread Baking Babes’ project. She wrote:

The reason that I snatched up September when this year’s schedule went up is because I thought it would be timely (and fun) to post a Mexican bread ON Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16). So, in honor of that, I wanted to revisit my personal favorite of all the Mexican breads-CONCHAS! Conchas translates to shells in English, and they get their name from the beautiful sugar crust that tops them, as it resembles the shape of a seashell.

I’m so glad that Heather forced me to make the conchas, even though I am constantly in terror of making any bread that calls for lots of butter, eggs and sugar. It was definitely worth all the anxious moments.

T LOVES them and is insisting that I make them again. He made the demand when we haven’t even finished what I baked the other morning!

We know you’ll want to make conchas too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the conchas in the next couple of weeks and post about them (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 September 2015. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.

Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please make sure to directly contact the kitchen of the month if you want to be included in the BBBuddy roundup.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ September bread.

As Katie has so fittingly said in the past:

As always, we have some very busy Babes at the moment….. But just so you know: We’re all still BABES! (You can tell by the panties….)


Conchas (BBB)



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11 responses to “Conchas!! Who kneads them? (BBB September 2015)

  1. Lien

    Well personally I like these small ones, I’ll make mine smaller next time around. I applaude you for kneading, o no for not kneading this sweet, fatty dough by hand. Living dangerously eh!?
    They go very well with coffee or tea I think.

  2. Heather //

    You’re right, they’re not your typical concha – but they look and sound delicious nonetheless! I don’t know if I could actually bring myself to use any ww flour in mine since I’m such a traditionalist when it comes to some things, but I’d happily eat the ones you made in your kitchen. ;)

  3. Elle Lachman

    A fun read, as always Elizabeth :) Glad the clever band solution worked for the camera, and yes, annatto to color the topping would be very cool with the chili enriched version. Wish I could try one of those… sounds like a great flavor combo with your pretty conchas.

  4. Baking Soda

    I do love your thought process re the topping choices. Spouses are fun that way… I discovered mine didn’t care for endive at all after serving this to him for years…. (no one else likes it here so I just did it for him and the oldest) can you imagine my suprise when he said I really really didn’t need to?)

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      It’s bizarre, isn’t it? How on earth could we have gone so long without me knowing about that forbidden flavour combination?

      Having to play with the flavours also turned out to be a good thing. I would never have thought of the ginger/cocoa/chile combination otherwise. And it was delicious!

  5. tanna jones

    And once again we prove beyond a doubt – bread baking is NOT rocket science.
    You’ll be delighted to know I’ve used that rubber band trick myself.
    I must bake these.

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      You must, Tanna. You must. They’re delicious! And make sure you are renegade like me and add flaxseeds to the dough.

      (I wish that I had known about your rubber band trick before we panicked and started calling repair places. But ha! The joke’s on them. If they hadn’t quoted such a high price to do the repair, we never would have thought of trying the rubber band.)


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