Pillowy soft concha is a classic Mexican sweet bread (pan dulce) with a crackled and flavored shell-like topping. This recipe makes vanilla and chocolate pan dulce, giving you the best of both worlds!
If you’ve been lucky enough to try Mexican pan dulce before, then you know about the magic that is concha.
This super soft and pillowy Mexican sweet bread is as addictive as any donut but swaps the powdered coating or vanilla glaze for a swoon-worthy crackled seashell topping. My homemade recipe makes a batch of vanilla and chocolate conchas, although you can have fun customizing the flavors and colors any way you like!
Table of Contents
What is concha?
Concha (meaning “shell” in Spanish) is a type of soft Mexican sweet bread. The concha dough is rolled into smaller balls before each one is topped with a “shell” made from a streusel-like dough. The topping, whether it’s white, yellow, pink, or brown, is scored with a knife to give it the same shape and look as a clam shell.
Conchas are an iconic Mexican pan dulce (sweet bread) you’ll want to snack on again and again, and pair with coffee and hot chocolate! Here are some reasons why I LOVE this recipe:
- Soft and sweet. Mexican concha is known for its pillowy soft enriched dough and deliciously sweet flavors.
- Vanilla and chocolate conchas. This recipe splits the dough for the topping in two, giving you a batch of vanilla conchas and chocolate conchas.
- Rustic dessert. Don’t worry about your conchas looking perfect. Their rustic presentation is what makes them so special and fun to make (like churros).
While white and brown (vanilla and chocolate) are two of the most popular concha colors and flavors, the topping can easily be customized with your favorites. Head to the Variations section to learn more!
For the concha dough:
- Milk. Use regular whole milk.
- Active dry yeast. To help the dough ferment and rise.
- Sugar. Granulated white sugar.
- All purpose flour. Bread flour should work just as well.
- Kosher salt. To taste.
- Unsalted butter. Vegetable shortening should work well, too.
- Eggs. Remember to set the eggs on the kitchen counter before making this recipe so they have time to come down to room temperature.
For the topping:
- All purpose flour. Use the same kind of flour you used to make the big batch of dough.
- Powdered sugar. To sweeten the topping.
- Butter. Set the butter on the kitchen counter for 20 to 30 minutes before baking so it can come down to room temperature.
- Vanilla extract. Adds a warm and delicious flavor to the vanilla concha topping.
- Unsweetened cocoa powder. To give the chocolate concha topping a decadent flavor.
How to make concha
I’ve included step-by-step photos below to make this recipe easy to follow at home. For the full printable recipe instructions and ingredient quantities, scroll to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Step 1 – Activate the yeast. Heat the milk in the microwave until it’s about as warm as bath water (or 110ºF). Add the yeast and sugar into the bowl with the milk and set it aside until it’s foamy.
Step 2 – Mix the dry ingredients. Whisk the flour and salt together in the bowl of a standing mixer.
Step 3 – Add the wet ingredients. Add the melted butter, eggs, and activated yeast mixture to the bowl with the flour. Mix on low speed until it becomes a smooth and elastic dough.
Step 4 – Let it rise. Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with oil. Set it aside to rise until doubled in size.
Step 5 – Shape the dough. Cut the dough into 10 equal-sized pieces. Shape each one into balls, then place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Step 6 – Make the topping. Whisk the powdered sugar and flour together in a bowl. Use clean hands to work in the butter until the mixture is crumbly and streusel-like. Transfer half of the filling into a separate bowl. Stir the vanilla extract into one half of the topping, and the cocoa powder into the other half.
Step 7 – Roll out the topping. Cut each topping half into 5 pieces, then roll out the pieces using a rolling pin or tortilla press. Drape each piece over the dough balls.
Step 8 – Score the topping. Use a sharp knife to score each topping until it looks like a clam shell.
Step 9 – Bake. Bake the concha bread until the dough is lightly golden and the topping is crackled. Set aside to cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Recipe tips and variations
- Always use fresh yeast. If your yeast mixture didn’t foam, it means your yeast is likely dead. It’s best to start over with fresh yeast at this point.
- Adjust the consistency. Does the dough feel too sticky to work with? Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until it feels tacky but not quite as sticky.
- Don’t overbake. You’ll know the conchas are ready when the topping is crackly and the dough is lightly golden.
- Add food coloring. You can add any food coloring you like to make the vanilla concha topping extra fun. Some of the most popular choices are red, pink, blue, yellow, and orange.
- Infuse the dough. Keep the recipe as-is, but fold a pinch of ground cinnamon, Mexican cinnamon, crushed Oreo cookies, crushed nuts, or nutmeg into the concha dough.
- Flavored toppings. Instead of vanilla or cocoa powder, you can flavor the concha topping with strawberry powder, beetroot powder, dried spices, citrus zest, or different flavored extracts (like almond or lemon).
To store: Keep the conchas in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. They should last for about 1 week when they’re stored in the fridge.
To freeze: Freeze the baked conchas in an airtight, freezer-safe container for up to 1 month. Let them thaw before serving.
Frequently asked questions
Yes! Make the concha dough as normal, then divide it in half. Store the two halves in separate airtight containers or ziplock bags, then freeze. You can also freeze the rolled dough balls to save even more time. Just let the dough thaw before adding the topping and baking.
I haven’t tested this recipe with anything other than all purpose flour. However, if you want to try making gluten-free conchas, a good quality 1:1 gluten-free flour blend might work instead.
More desserts you’ll love
- Powdered Donuts– Fluffy, doughy, and dusted in so much powdered sugar.
- Cake Batter Dip– Perfect as a dessert or party dip.
- Cake Pops– The BEST use of leftover cake.
Concha Recipe (Pan Dulce)
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
- In a microwave-safe bowl, heat milk until it reaches 110F. Add yeast and sugar and set aside for 5 minutes or until foamy.
- Melt the butter and let it cool to room temperature.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add melted butter, eggs, and yeast mixture. Stir or mix on medium-low speed until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. The dough will be slightly tacky, but not completely sticky. If your dough is sticky, add another tablespoon of flour.
- Transfer the dough into a clean bowl, greased with some oil, and let it sit for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces. Shape the dough into balls. Place the balls onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Set them aside for 30 minutes.
- Make the topping; whisk flour and powdered sugar in a bowl. Add butter and work it in with clean hands or process it all in a food processor until you have a streusel-like topping.
- Divide the topping in two and add vanilla in one part and cocoa powder into the second part. Stir well to combine.
- Divide each topping into five portions. Roll out the topping by rolling pin until lightly flattened, or use a tortilla press to flatten them out. Drape the topping over the dough and pat gently to secure it.
- With a sharp knife cut grooves into the topping so it resembles a clam shell. You can also use a concha cutter.
- Bake the concha bread for 20-22 minutes or until the dough is lightly golden.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
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