Colorful Pan Dulce Conchas Cupcakes Recipe

Looking for a weekend baking project that is just perfect for Halloween and its calendrically adjacent (though culturally distinct) Mexican holiday, Dia De Los Muertos? Then stop right here, and look no further than this recipe forpan dulce conchas cupcakes. This comes to us from Illinois-based recipe developer and food photographer Stephanie Rapone of Pantry to Plate Meals

Pan dulce conchas cupcakes are, as Rapone tells Mashed, a "mini version of a very popular Mexican dessert called 'conchas,' [which are] meant to resemble a conch shell." But classic "conchas" are not nearly as sweet as the standard American cupcake, according to Rapone. In fact, the classic conchas is a sweet yeast-risen bread with a light and crispy sugar topping that resembles a glaze more than ultra-sweet American frosting. 

Of course, that may be just perfect for you and yours. "I really don't like cake much, and my youngest son doesn't really like traditional frostings," Rapone tells Mashed. "So this is a great sweet treat for us to put together when we want something fun, but cupcakes are just not our thing." Even if you happen to love cupcakes, we think you're going to really enjoy making Rapone's wonderfully light and delicately sweet pan dulce conchas cupcakes, not only because they're so yummy, but also because as you do, you're going to learn everything you never knew about working with yeast. 

Gather your ingredients

For Rapone's pan dulce conchas cupcakes, which are yeast-risen, you will naturally need active dry yeast (1½ tablespoons). That comes along with ½ cup of warm water and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar (which helps the yeast to come alive). You'll also need another ¾ cup of granulated sugar, 5½ cups of all-purpose flour (divided), four large eggs, 1 teaspoon of table salt (divided), 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract (divided), 16 ½ tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided (which is just over 2 sticks), 1½ cups of confectioners sugar. And if you want your conchas cupcakes to look as colorful as Rapone's, be sure to grab some gel food coloring. Gel is preferable, as it won't alter the texture of the final product like a liquid food coloring will.

As you go about gathering your ingredients, do keep in mind that some ingredients need to warm up just a bit. Rapone recommends that about an hour before you begin, you take the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator in order to allow them to come to room temperature.  

Begin by proofing the yeast

"Proofing" yeast refers to the process of "waking up" dry yeast by mixing it with water. This also means that you can know for certain that your yeast is alive and can work its magic in the cupcakes. 

In a bowl or other vessel that can accommodate two cups of liquid, microwave your water in 10 second increments until it reaches 110 F. You can use an instant read thermometer for this, but if you don't have one, 110 F feels warmer than your skin. However, it definitely won't be burning hot, because that can "kill" the yeast, as Rapone explains. 

Add the yeast and the one tablespoon of sugar, stir, and set aside for 10 minutes. At that point, the yeast should be "nice and puffy," according to Rapone, meaning that it will have become foamy. If the yeast never reaches that state, it's either a sign that your water isn't the right temperature or that the yeast is no longer any good. In that case, you will need to start again with new yeast and new water.

Start mixing your dough

While the yeast, water, and sugar are working their magic, sift 3½ cups of flour, ¾ cup sugar, and ¾ teaspoons salt into a large mixing bowl. Set this mixture of dry ingredients to the side.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. Add the eggs and vanilla extract mixture to the flour and sugar and stir lightly. Once your yeast has proofed and looks all puffy, you can also add it to this mixture. Stir with a spatula until a shaggy dough forms. If you're already a seasoned baker, then this will look similar to the kind of shaggy dough that you get when you make biscuits

Knead the dough and add some buttery goodness

For the kneading of the dough, you'll first want to lightly flour your work surface. Rapone suggests that you measure ½ cup of flour right off the bat so that you won't be inclined to use more flour in the dough than you really need. Using too much flour could impede the rise and also result in a tough dough overall. 

Empty the dough onto your floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding in a sprinkle of flour as the dough becomes sticky. By 10 minutes, the dough should form a smooth ball that is barely sticky. You should have 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour remaining at most. Now, add those 4 tablespoons of room temperature butter on top of the dough and knead for about 5 minutes to fully incorporate the butter. You may need to use the remaining flour for this part.

Allow the dough to double

Now the dough must rise. Rapone notes that it's really important not to rush this step, so it's time to practice a bit of patience. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, which could take anywhere from  1½ to 3 hours. 

First, grease a large mixing bowl with butter. Form the dough into a ball, then place it in the bowl and rub another ½ tablespoon butter all over the top and sides of the dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and set aside in a warm place (at least 75 F, but preferably 80 to 95 F). 

If you've got a bit of a chilly kitchen, Rapone has a great hack for you. She preheats her oven to 170 F for 5 minutes, then turns it off and puts the dough in the oven to rise at a relatively gentle but rising-friendly temperature. She also keeps the light on in the oven to generate additional heat. 

Make the conchas topping while the dough rises

While the dough is rising, you can use the time to make the topping. In a medium bowl, add 1½ cups flour, all of the confectioner's sugar, ¼ of teaspoon salt, and stir. 

Then add the remaining 12 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. Use your hands to form this into a dough and pat it into a smooth ball. Divide it into smaller pieces and add a few drops of gel food coloring to each, assuming that you want to use food coloring. Gently mix the smaller dough pieces by hand to fully incorporate the food coloring (you may want to use non-latex gloves here to keep the dye off your own hands).

Divide the risen dough into even pieces

Once your bread dough has doubled in size, transfer it onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half, then in half again, and again. This will give you 8 evenly sized pieces. 

Assuming you haven't dramatically changed the shape of the dough ball, this will leave you with 8 wedges of dough that you'll divide into three pieces each. "I like to roll each triangle up from the narrow end to give me an even log, then divide that into thirds," Rapone says. Then roll each piece of dough into a ball and set it aside. The idea, if you haven't guessed, is to make sure the balls of dough are sized fairly uniformly. You should end up with 21 to 24 small pieces.  

Turn the sugar dough into "conch" shells

To make the topping for your cupcakes, roll the sugar dough to ¼-inch thick. Lay sections of the sugary topping over the dough balls you made earlier. Cut away the excess sugar dough from around the sides, then press the curved edge of a cookie cutter on top of each sugar dough-covered dough ball. 

Be sure to cut into only the sugar dough for this. When you're done, line cupcake tins with paper liners and place a sugar-dough-covered dough ball into each liner. Cover the filled tray with plastic wrap and a towel, then allow to rise for another 40 minutes.

Bake your pan dulce conchas cupcakes

If you've been allowing your cupcakes to rise in the low-heat oven, take them out and set your oven to preheat to 350 F. When the oven reaches that temperature, place the cupcakes in the oven for 13 minutes. 

At the end of the cooking time, the concha tops should be crackly and the enriched bread underneath will show through and have begun to brown slightly. If they aren't quite there yet, then keep them in the oven for 2 more minutes, watching carefully to make sure they don't burn.

If the cupcakes are done, transfer the cupcakes in their tins to a cooling rack. Allow them to cool completely before serving. At that point, the sugar dough topping should be hard, but the bread underneath will still be soft like a "fresh bakery loaf of challah bread," says Rapone. 

Colorful Pan Dulce Conchas Cupcakes Recipe
5 from 45 ratings
These colorful pan dulce conchas cupcakes draw on traditional Mexican recipes to create a sweet yeast-risen bread with a light and crispy sugar topping.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Pan dulce conchas cupcakes
Total time: 58 minutes
  • 1½ tablespoons active dry yeast
  • ½ cup warm water
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
  • 5½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon table salt, divided
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 16 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided (just over 2 sticks)
  • 1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
Optional Ingredients
  • Gel food coloring
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the yeast with the water and one tablespoon of granulated sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes to proof.
  2. Sift 3½ cups of flour, ¾ cup sugar, and ¾ teaspoons salt into a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add 1 tablespoon of vanilla.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla to the flour and sugar. Stir together lightly.
  5. Once your yeast has proofed, add it to the mixture. Stir with a spatula until a shaggy dough forms.
  6. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed, up to ½ cup.
  7. Place 4 tablespoons of butter on the dough. Knead for 5 minutes to fully incorporate. Add small amounts of flour as needed, using no more than ½ cup.
  8. Grease a large mixing bowl with ½ tablespoon butter. Transfer dough to the buttered bowl, and rub another ½ tablespoon butter all over the top and sides of the dough ball.
  9. Allow the buttered dough to rise in a warm but not hot place until it has doubled in size.
  10. To make sugar dough topping, add 1½ cups flour, all of the confectioner's sugar, and ¼ of teaspoon salt in a separate bowl. Stir.
  11. Add remaining butter and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract.
  12. Use your hands to form a dough and pat it into a smooth ball.
  13. If you're using food coloring, separate the dough into smaller pieces. Add a few drops of food coloring to each piece, mixing to incorporate.
  14. Roll the sugar dough to ¼-inch thick.
  15. Lay the sugar dough over the dough balls. Cut away excess sugar dough, then press the edge of a cookie cutter on top of each sugar dough-covered dough ball. Cut only into the sugar dough.
  16. Line cupcake tins with paper liners. Place a sugar-dough-covered dough ball into each depression.
  17. Cover the cupcake tins with plastic wrap and a towel. Allow dough to rise for another 40 minutes.
  18. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  19. Bake cupcakes for 13-15 minutes, until topping is hard and bread underneath is showing through.
Calories per Serving 247
Total Fat 9.0 g
Saturated Fat 5.3 g
Trans Fat 0.3 g
Cholesterol 52.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 36.6 g
Dietary Fiber 1.0 g
Total Sugars 14.3 g
Sodium 111.3 mg
Protein 4.4 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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