Feliz Cinco de Mayo! As an Argentine, I was never aware of this holiday until I moved to the United States and made some friends in the Mexican American community It was nice to meet Mexican hermanos y hermanas who shared the same language, many customs, and could relate to the experience of living with two cultures at home. Contrary to what many might think, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. That is actually observed on September 16 each year. Cinco de Mayo instead commemorates the Battle of Puebla that took place on May 5, 1862, and in the US, it has become a day in which the victory in this battle is celebrated as well as Mexican American culture here in the States. For this holiday, I really wanted to give my friends in the Mexican American community a shout-out, not only to celebrate their wonderfully colorful bon vivant culture, but also because without Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla, the French Army would have assisted the Confederates in the American Civil War and the outcome today might be very different.
For this Cinco de Mayo, I made traditional Mexican pan dulce in the shape of seashells, also known as conchas, which is a sweet brioche-like bread with a crunchy streusel topping. This recipe was created as part of a contribution for a Cinco de Mayo collaboration hosted by the lovely Sandra at @pastry-tales. This was an incredibly fun collab, not only because the seashell breads were so much fun to make, especially with their pastel-colored hues, but also because I was able to meet virtually so many fellow Latinx bakers, foodies, and bloggers, and we could all support and celebrate the Mexican American community on this significant date and reflect it in our repertoire of recipes, both sweet and savory. You can check out the #5demayocollabfriends for all the recipes.
When it comes to Mexican pan dulce, it is worth noting that this term encompasses a wide variety of breads and pastries including cuernos, puerquitos, chocolate-dipped pata de elefante, mantecada, polvorones, empanadas de frutas, and conchas, and are typically purchased at a panaderia. There are actually over 2,000 different types of pan dulce, and they are sold at panaderias all over Mexico, with some specialties being regional varieties. Bread first came to Mexico when the conquistadors brought wheat to the New World in the 16th Century, and pan dulce as we know it today gained popularity in the mid-1800s. French influence on Mexico’s gastronomy grew between the 1880s and early 1900s, and it left an impression on the baking techniques and palate for sweet breads and pastries. However, the techniques were adopted by Mexicans and they transformed them into uniquely Mexican creations, with a variety of flavors and shapes that are uniquely Mexican and exist to this day.
The first time my Mom and I walked into a Mexican panaderia, we had been exploring the West Side neighborhood of St. Paul, which is home to St. Paul’s Latinx community and is filled with wonderful restaurants and incredible river views. We hadn’t been in Minnesota long, and we were nostalgic for a popular pastry-like item from Argentina known as facturas. We gravitated toward the West Side of St. Paul because of its vibrant Latino community and the fact that so many people were speaking in Spanish, just like us! That day, we experienced a Mexican mercado for the first time, and although we didn’t find facturas, we discovered Mexican pan dulce, and realized that the Mexican baking tradition had an array of goods completely different from countries like Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and other South American countries. There was a bit of an intersection with the orejas, which are similar to our palmeritas, and roles de canela, which are similar to American cinnamon rolls but contain raisins and no frosting. The Mexicans also had a rosca de reyes to celebrate Dia de Reyes (or Epiphany), but the traditional Mexican decorations were different from the Argentine ones. It was so fun to learn more about Mexican and Mexican American culture, and to see that it was a world all its own. There are many panaderias on the West Side of St. Paul, and I always love visiting [El Burrito Mercado] to see their wonderful array of fruits, vegetables, baking products, and their panaderia.
The Mexican pan dulce featured in today’s recipe is traditionally known as conchas bread, because the topping is shaped like a seashell. The streusel-like delicate topping sits on top of a brioche-like light and airy bread. Some toppings are vanilla-flavored and some have cocoa mixed in. For a special twist, my recipe has strawberry extract in the topping, which was later tinted to blush rose and pale lavender. This was such a fun collab and, if you decide to make this recipe, I think you will discover that the most fun part is the last step, when you get to decorate the streusel topping and create patterns. I hope you will have a festive Cinco de Mayo and remember the historical significance this battle had for Mexicans, the Mexican American community, and the United States. Viva Mexico, y Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Mexican Pan Dulce
Prep time: 20 min.
Resting Time: 2 hours 30 minutes, non-consecutive
Chilled Time: 6 hours or overnight
Bake Time: 20 min.
For the Brioche:
- ¾ tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 6 tbsp warm water
- 4 tbsp honey
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
For the Streusel:
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2/3 cup cane sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp strawberry extract
- Food coloring gels
Make the Brioche:
- In a small bowl, mix together the warm water, active dry yeast, and sugar. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until proofed.
- While the yeast proofs, melt the butter and let it cool slightly.
- In a small bowl, combine the melted and cooled butter, salt, and eggs. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, place the flour, creating a well in the center. Add the proofed yeast and then the egg and melted butter mixture, stirring gently or on a low setting until everything is completely incorporated. Make sure that the dough is fully combined, soft and smooth. It will be very sticky.
- Place the dough in a bowl and cover. Let it stand in a warm area for 2 hours, until doubled in size.
- After this step, leave the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 6 hours or overnight.
- The next morning, remove the dough from the fridge and, on a well-floured surface, gently knead it for about 10 minutes. You may potentially need to add a little extra flour if it is still sticky. It should not stick to your fingers.
- Divide the dough into 12 to 14 equal parts. I weighed them into balls of 85 grams.
- Form the balls of dough into rounds, repeating until you have used up all the dough. Place the buns onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper 1 inch apart.
- Let the dough rest half an hour.
- Meanwhile, while the dough rests, preheat the oven to 350°F and assemble the topping.
Make the Streusel:
- In a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, and strawberry extracts.
- Mix until very smooth and until this topping forms a paste or dough, about 2 minutes.
- Divide the topping in two, placing each half in a small bowl. Add to each food gel coloring to tint it as desired. I used blush pink and created a shade of purplish lavender. You can choose any colors you want. Alternatively, you could make them all one color.
- Take about 2 tbsp of the topping you have prepared and roll it out using either your palms or a rolling pin, flattening it into a round of about 1/6 inch thick.
- Carefully drape it over one of the buns, patting it down lightly.
- Using a knife, cut grooves in the topping, like a seashell or clamshell. You could also try other types of patterns, like a crisscross pattern or circles. I just really liked the seashell pattern, and it is the traditional shape for Mexican Pan Dulce, or conchas.
- Bake the pan dulce seashells for about 18-20 minutes in your preheated oven, or until golden brown.
- Cool the buns at least 10 minutes and serve with hot chocolate or coffee! They are best served the same day they are baked.
© 2021 Carol’s Baking Adventures