You either know this sweet bread treat or you don’t know what you’re missing! Sourdough Pan Dulce Conchas, translated to sweet shell bread in English, is such a fluffy, sweet, cakey bread with a greater depth of flavor from longer fermentation.
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What difference does sourdough make?
The main two reasons I love baking with sourdough are better digestibility and flavor.
Wild yeast in the sourdough starter rise the pan dulce without the use of conventional yeast* (e.g. instant yeast, active dry yeast). And the good bacteria in the starter break down the gluten so it is more digestible.
During the long fermentation required, the starter creates a more complex flavor as starches are made into simpler sugars. This long fermentation creates flavor with more depth than the traditional version.
I also find that breads made with sourdough maintain their moisture longer and don’t go stale as quickly.
If you haven’t attempted sourdough yet or still feel confused on how to use it, check out my sourdough courses and resources here: Intro. to Sourdough online course
*Note: This delicious sourdough based recipe is inspired by a non-sourdough version I made in my book Celebrate with Bread Baking!
Sourdough Sweet Bread
The flavor in the bread reminds me of the flavor of cookie dough. The brown sugar makes this dough uniquely flavored
Everyone who tastes these loves the incredible flavor and the soft, fluffy, moist sweet breads.
Long fermentation takes longer with rich breads
Fermentation speed depends on time and temperature, but it also varies based on ingredients.
Sugar in bread dough speeds up fermentation as well as certain flour types like rye and whole wheat. The sugars are easier for the yeast to eat so the fermentation is faster.
But fats like whole milk, butter, oil, and eggs slow fermentation down since the yeast and good bacteria do not consume fats like easy to consume foods like starch and sugar.
So plan your bake schedule by looking through the steps because short cutting the proof will not give you the optimal results.
When is the dough done fermenting?
For the bulk ferment (when the dough is in a bowl or container and not shaped yet), the dough should double in volume and be tacky but not so sticky that it’s still to your fingers.
In this post I describe what to look for with a video.
Designing the pan dulce conchas (sweet shell breads)
The sugar topping is easy to put together and is really fun to decorate.
Traditionally the top is scored in curved lines to look like a seashell. But my kids and I have enjoyed cutting cross hatch patterns, leaves, spiders at Halloween, and lots of other designs.
It is important to only cut through the sugar topping and not cut the dough so I have found that a butter knife works best.
To avoid using unfermented flour, you could substitute a gluten-free all purpose flour blend or cassava flour.
What occasion would you make them for?
These are festive sweet breads and could work for many occasions!
When you add the food coloring to the sugar topping, you could coordinate it with the holiday.
These would be a traditional dessert to enjoy for Cinco de Mayo or Day of the Dead.
We have made them three years in a row for Halloween at my son’s insistence and now they’ve been proclaimed an annual tradition.
Making the bread
Sourdough Pan Dulce Conchas are a new favorite for our kids!
Check out the fast motion video at the bottom of the post to get an idea of what the process looks like.
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Sourdough Pan Dulce Conchas
- Food Scale
- Saucepan or Small Pot
- Parchment Paper
- Cooling Rack
- Dough Scraper
- Flat Baking Sheets
For the starter
- 55 grams Water
- 15 grams White Cane Sugar
- 30 grams Active Sourdough Starter
- 100 grams All-Purpose Flour
For the dough
- 160 grams Whole Milk warmed and divided
- 80 grams Brown Sugar
- 160 grams Active Starter prepared from step 1
- 480 grams All-Purpose Flour
- 24 grams Lard (unsalted butter, softened is okay to substitute)
- 56 grams Unsalted Butter, softened
- 6 grams Vanilla Extract
- 6 grams Salt
- 2 Eggs
For the topping
- 75 grams Powdered Sugar
- 75 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 gram Baking Powder
- 45 grams Lard softened
- 24 grams Unsalted Butter softened
- 2 grams Vanilla Extract
- 1 to 2 grams Cinnamon Powder or Cocoa Powder optional
- Food Coloring optional
- Make the starter: Use an active sourdough starter (this is ideal). Mix together the thick sweet starter. Leave it at room temperature to ferment and become active for 8 to 12 hours.
- Warm milk: Measure out at least 170 grams of milk into a pot (some will evaporate while it is heated). Heat milk over medium heat until you begin to see steam rising off it or reaches a temperature of 115 – 120º F.
- Scale: Add 150 grams of the warm milk to the mixing bowl, add in the sugar and 160 grams of the starter prepared in step 1. Allow the sugar to dissolve. (Remember to use the scale’s tare function to remove the weight of the bowl and previous ingredients to only weigh the current item added) Add the flour, lard*, and butter.
- Mix: Mix ingredients until a shaggy dough is formed, then add vanilla extract, salt, 10 grams milk, and eggs. Continue mixing dough using the spoon and a dough scraper to scrape the sides of the bowl. (Mixing and kneading steps can be done in a stand mixer for 3 to 7 minutes with a dough hook on lowest two speeds, if available.)
- Knead: Fold and knead dough 10-15 minutes or until dough is smooth, no longer sticky, and releases easily from the bowl or work surface.
- Bulk fermentation: Cover the dough and allow to ferment until doubled in volume, about 6 to 10 hours. This dough is very rich, so give it time.
- Prepare the baking sheets: Cut two large pieces of parchment. Place parchment papers on two flat baking sheets.
- Make topping: Scale dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Stir with a spoon to combine. Add lard, butter, and vanilla extract. Mix until a very smooth paste dough is formed. To make different colors or flavors, divide the paste dough. If dividing in half, for two flavors, add 2 grams of cinnamon powder or cocoa powder and mix until a cinnamon or cocoa colored paste dough is formed. If dividing into thirds for three flavors, add 1 gram of cinnamon or cocoa powder. Color can be added to the white vanilla paste dough as well.
- Divide: Divide dough into 12 equally sized pieces (weighing about 87-88 grams each).
- Shape: Gently press each piece into a small disc then fold edges into center, pinching together to form a seam. Turn dough over onto the seam and rotate dough on work surface with light pressure and quick movements until it becomes a smooth ball. Place ball of dough onto parchment paper lined baking sheet. Gently press down so that the roll is wider and stands about 1-inch high. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough. Balls of dough should be 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets.
- Top: Lightly grease the top of the rolls. Divide the paste dough prepared in step 7. Scale 12 pieces weighing about 17 grams each. Roll a divided piece of the paste dough into a ball. Pass back and forth between the palms of your hands to flatten into a thin disc that is wide enough to cover the tops of the rolls. Press the disc on the top of the shaped rolls. Repeat until all the rolls are topped. If you have a concha press, use that to cut pattern into the paste dough. Otherwise, use a regular table knife to cut curved lines or a crosshatch pattern in the paste dough. Take care not to cut the dough of the roll underneath.
- Proof: Cover rolls with plastic wrap and proof in a warm place for 2 to 4 hours, until at least 1.5 times larger, double in size is ideal.
- Preheat: Preheat oven to 375º F.
- Bake: Place rolls into the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350º F. Bake rolls for 20 to 22 minutes until just turning light golden brown around the bottom.
- Cool: Cool rolls on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes before serving. These are best enjoyed fresh.