My son and I were watching an episode of Sesame Street that featured a film about making Mexican Bread. The clip shows a little girl in a Mexican bakery (panadería), helping to make various pan dulce (sweet breads). They make Conchas (sweet yeast buns with a cookie topping and a stamped shell pattern), Barra de Mantequilla (bread slices slathered with butter and dredged in sugar before being baked), and Niño Enbuelto (jelly roll).
Most of the film focuses on the making on the Conchas, which are also known as Pan de Heuvo.
My son said that he wanted to go to the bakery and help make Pan Dulce, too. That sounded like a good idea, so I looked for a recipe. In the end, I tried making a recipe from Beth Hensperger (p. 272 of The Bread Bible).
I had issues. I don’t know what went wrong, but the dough was so wet that it was batter-like. I added a lot more flour (to the original amount of 4 1/2 cups, I added another 2 cups, using in total about 30 ounces of all-purpose flour), and the dough was still fairly sticky. And then the bread refused to rise because I must have killed the yeast with excessively hot water. So, after nearly two hours of nothing happening, I added in another Tbl. of yeast to the dough. Then I put the dough in a 200 degree oven to give the dough a little push.
That did it. The dough rose nicely after that.
I divided my dough into 16 pieces, but I got larger rolls than I think I was supposed to because of the added flour. I think that each concha should be about 2 ounces, but mine were about 3 ounces each. Actually, this is a nice size, if a bit generous.
Instead of making the sugar topping suggested in the Hensperger recipe, I followed (or thought I followed) the topping suggested in a recipe by Diana Kennedy in the Art of Mexican Cooking. The cinnamon topping is 2 ounces each of flour and powdered sugar, one ounce of shortening, plus a tablespoon of cinnamon. The cocoa topping is the same, but with 2 tablespoons of cocoa instead of the tablespoon of cinnamon. I must have gotten confused, because I used double the amount of shortening (so it was 2 ounces each of flour, powdered sugar, and shortening).
This topping kind of reminded me of babka filling and topping. The filling gets divided into 16 balls (8 cocoa and 8 cinnamon)–one for each roll. The balls get flattened out into circles that get slapped onto the top of the rolls. Then the rolls get stamped with a shell design stamp. I used a round cookie cutter to make the shell-like cuts on top of the bread.
If I were to make these again, I might try Kennedy’s Pan Dulce recipe, or possibly Ari’s recipe on Bakingand Books. Or, and I think this will work really well, I might try using a favorite challah dough.
The conchas were really delicious, though, despite everything. The crumb was light and airy, with a lightly sweet taste. Perfect with coffee for breakfast.
The topping recipe worked really well (despite being a mistake), and I would use it for making cookies all by itself, or use it for a babka topping. I think that it could easily be flavored in all different ways (peanut butter? coffee?, chocolate chip?).
I am sending this to Yeastspotting.
update: I just saw (and loved) this post by Patricia Jinich about making conchas (also with kids!). I love Pati’s beautiful site in general. And–not to digress–there is a wonderful article about Pati in the NYT. The article, by Joan Nathan, talks about a class that Pati taught at a Lubavitch center on cooking Mexican for Passover. Doesn’t this chocolate pecan cake sound great?