Monday, January 27, 2014

Pan Dulce

As part of my holiday baking list, I decided to make one of my favorite types of pan dulce (sweet bread), a batch of mini conchasConchas are a sweet bread roll topped with a sugary crust that resembles a shell. You can get these in any Mexican panaderia. The topping is usually white, but sometimes you can get yellow or pink colored ones, or even chocolate flavored ones.

The best conchas I've ever tasted are from a bakery close to my parent's house called La Superior. Growing up, most Sunday mornings (and sometimes week nights) involved buying some yummy sweet bread from this bakery. The white conchas were always a favorite. We knew that at 10:00 am the white conchas would be freshly baked, so we always made sure to get there in time to get a warm one to enjoy with hot chocolate or coffee.

Even though I love sweet bread, I haven't made any attempts at baking my own pan dulce. I guess since there is no shortage of excellent panaderias where I live, I haven't really felt the need to. But this year, I wanted to bake something other cupcakes for Christmas. Making them was pretty challenging and time consuming, but mostly because I am not experienced in bread making and because I doubled the recipe. I think the next time I make these, I'll have an easier time. 

The first part of the process is to make the dough. I prepared the dough in my stand mixer and divided it into two bowls to rise. It should be left to rise for about an hour, but mine took much longer since I initially thought the dining room table was warm enough. After an hour with no change to the dough, I was worried. I looked online for ways to help dough rise and learned that it needs to be really warm and also moist. One tip is to put the bread on the stove with the oven on. I also placed a small pot of boiling water close to the bowls to let some steam help to activate the yeast. Sure enough, after a couple of hours my dough had doubled. 

While the dough was rising, I prepared the sugar topping and divided it into three batches to color and flavor each type. I rolled each flavor into logs and chilled them until I was ready to use them. This helped because the sugary dough can dry out. I cut off sections of each log and flattened them out. I wanted to be sure to have them all ready to go because once the rolls are ready you have to work quickly to cover them and cut the shell pattern. I placed them between sheets of wax paper to help keep them from drying out.

The next step involved cutting the bread. I had never done this before and I assumed that literally meant to cut the bread dough with a knife, so I did. The dough was very moist and airy when I flipped the bowl, so I flattened it a bit and then sliced it up into strips, then small pieces. I rolled up the smaller pieces to form the mini rolls and placed them on the cookie sheets. They actually started rising while I was laying them all out, so working quickly is key.

After all of the rolls were on the cookie sheets, I began to cover them with the sugar dough I had rolled out. Once all are covered, I used a small knife to cut slits in the dough to create the shell pattern. I covered the cookie sheets in saran wrap and let them rise for a second time. Then, you could really see the shell pattern and they were ready to go in the oven.

I followed this recipe, which was easy and just made adjustments to the process here and there. It was time consuming, but a fun experience and actually turned out really delicious.  

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