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Pan Dulce is Spanish for sweet bread, but you may also know this breakfast staple as conchas. Whatever you call them, you’re in for a treat with these pillowy, cinnamon-scented Mexican morning buns.
When it comes to bread-y baked goods, pan dulce is quite unique. The base is a brioche-like roll — cloud-like, lightly sweetened and flavored with vanilla. This is good!
But then it gets even better. The top of the brioche is encased in a crisp, crunchy topping that’s reminiscent of a sugar cookie. The contrast in textures between these two layers is a delight — who needs icing when you can top your morning buns with a sweet, buttery cookie-like topping instead?
As a child, my dad would often get up early on the weekends and bring an assortment of pan dulce home from the panadería (bakery) down the street. Then he’d sit down with the paper and enjoy a concha or bigote with his coffee. My favorite variety was definitely the conchas, which is the kind of pan dulce shown here. Mantecadas were also popular in our house!
Despite the morning buns moniker, you can enjoy pan dulce any time of day. Like churros, they’re a great match for a mug of Mexican hot chocolate or a honey vanilla latte.
What You’ll Need
Pan dulce is one of those glorious recipes where you probably already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen. Here’s a quick overview. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for specific amounts.
For the buns:
- Warm water
- Instant yeast – Also known as rapid rise yeast.
- Warm whole milk
- Vanilla extract – Almond extract is nice too, or try one part vanilla to one part almond.
- All-purpose flour
- Unsalted butter – The butter needs to be room temperature, so take it out a little bit before you plan on starting the recipe.
For the topping:
- All-purpose flour
- Confectioners sugar
- Whole milk
- Vanilla extract – Again, you can change things up here by using almond extract
- Ground cinnamon – Cinnamon plays a starring role in this recipe, so if there was ever a time to spring for the fancy stuff, it’s now. (Don’t get me wrong, though, supermarket cinnamon is good too!)
How to Make Conchas
If you’ve never made your own yeast doughnuts or buns before, pan dulce is the perfect recipe to try your hand at it. Here’s how to make Mexican morning buns, step-by-step:
- Make the dough. Combine the warm water, yeast, milk, eggs, vanilla, salt, and sugar in a large metal bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat in 1 cup of flour; once the mixture is smooth, beat in a second cup. Beat in the butter, then add 2 more cups of flour 1/2 cup at a time. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. It will be sticky, but that’s okay!
- Knead the dough. Dust a marble pastry slab or work surface with flour; dust your hands to keep them from sticking to the dough. Turn out the dough onto the surface and knead for 4 to 5 minutes, dusting with a tablespoon of flour at a time when it starts to feel sticky again.
- Let the dough rise. Once the dough is soft and springs back when you press your thumb into it, shape it into a ball. Place the ball in a large, lightly greased mixing bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl to coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm area, away from drafts, for about an hour.
- Form the buns. Dust your work surface with more flour if needed, then turn out the dough again. Use a knife to cut the dough in half, then cut the halves in half so you have four pieces of dough. Cut each of these four pieces into four more sections, then roll these into smooth balls. Transfer the dough balls to two parchment-lined baking sheets, then gently press down on them to flatten slightly. Space the buns at least three inches apart so they have room to spread.
- Let the dough rise (again). Cut three slits on top of each bun. Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap — lightly spray the wrap with nonstick cooking spray first to keep it from sticking to the dough. Let the dough rise for an hour.
- Make the topping. Combine the flour, confectioners sugar, butter, egg, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Using two metal spoons, place a tablespoon of the topping onto each pan dulce, and gently spread it around with the back of one of the spoons.
- Let the dough rise (last time!). Allow the buns to rise for another 30 minutes; near the end of this time, start preheating the oven to 375ºF.
- Bake. Remove the plastic wrap from the baking sheets and make the conchas for 18 to 24 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Cool on a rack, then serve warm or at room temperature.
Tips for Success
Here’s what you need to know to make the perfect pan dulce:
- Don’t use too much flour. The amount of flour you use while kneading depends largely on the humidity in your kitchen. When there’s a lot of moisture in the air, the dough is likely to be stickier. Don’t feel like you need to use a full 5 cups of flour if your dough isn’t sticking to your hands and the work surface.
- Don’t over-knead, either. The springs-back-when-poked test is my go-to when it comes to knowing when to stop kneading, but another sign that your dough is done is when it’s stretchy and elastic. If it breaks when you try to stretch it, the dough has been overworked.
- Get creative with your conchas. The word “concha” means shell; traditionally, the topping on this type of pan dulce was shaped and cut to look like a seashell. You can do that if you like, or use a knife to gently cut other designs into the top layer.
Can Pan Dulce Be Frozen?
You can freeze the baked pan dulce for up to 3 months, then let it thaw at room temperature overnight before eating. That said, the best method for freezing pan dulce is to freeze the buns before baking. Then you’ll get that perfect crispy topping! The easiest way to freeze the dough before baking is to line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then freeze them flat before putting the frozen, unbaked buns into an airtight, freezer-safe container.
How Should I Store This Recipe
Storing pan dulce is tricky because you want to keep the topping crisp, while keeping the rest of the morning bun soft and moist. Make sure you cool the pan dulce completely, then place the buns in a resealable bag. Store them on the countertop at room temperature for up to 2 days.
There are so many things you can do with conchas — the world is your oyster! Mexican morning buns are great just the way they are, but feel free to customize them with different flavors and fillings:
- Add food coloring to the topping for bright colors.
- Make a chocolate topping by adding a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder instead of the cinnamon.
- Once they’ve cooled, fill the pan dulce with pastry cream.
- Cut your morning buns in half lengthwise and use them to make strawberry shortcake.
Conchas (Mexican Morning Buns)
For the Buns
- ¼ cup warm water
- 2½ teaspoons instant, rapid rise yeast
- ⅔ cups warm whole milk
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small pieces
For the Topping
- ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup confectioners sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small pieces
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
For the Buns
- In a large metal bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the warm water, yeast, milk, eggs, vanilla, salt and sugar. Add 1 cup of flour and beat until smooth. Add another cup of flour and mix well, then add the butter and mix until incorporated. Add two more cups of flour, half a cup at a time, mixing between additions. This will bring you to four cups of flour already used in the dough. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes. It will be very sticky.
- Generously dust your work surface and hands with flour, then turn the dough out. You are going to knead the dough by hand for 4 to 5 minutes, but will need to dust the it with flour 1 tablespoon at a time at intervals to prevent it from sticking to the work surface or your hands. Don’t overdo it with the flour. Use just enough to prevent sticking. You will probably use another ½ to 1 cup of flour during the kneading process.
- Once the dough is soft, slightly sticky and springs back when you press your thumb into it, shape it into a ball and place it in a large, lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm area for 1 hour.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. With a knife, cut the dough in half, then cut each half in two. Now you’ll have four pieces of dough. Cut each piece into four more sections, then roll each section into a smooth ball. Place the balls onto your prepared baking sheet, gently pressing down and spacing them at least three inches apart.
- With a sharp knife cut three slits on the top of each ball of dough. Cover each tray with plastic wrap, lightly spraying the wrap with baking spray before putting the oiled side down onto the dough. Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
For the Topping
- In a large bowl, make the topping by combining the flour, confectioners sugar, butter, egg, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. With two metal spoons, place 1 tablespoon worth of topping on each bun, gently spreading the topping around with the back of one of the spoons.
- Allow the buns to rise for another ½ hour, then bake at 375 degrees F for 18-24 minutes or until golden brown. If your oven isn’t big enough for both baking sheets to fit at once, it’s fine to bake one tray at a time. The buns that go in second will just have risen a bit more.
- Cool on a rack, then serve warm or at room temperature. The buns will keep for about 2 days in an airtight container.