Pan Dulce: The Curious Case of La Mujer Misteriosa

I drove home feeling more than a little annoyed at myself for wasting my precious gasoline and getting laughed out of every Mexican bakery in town. Foolish to think any panadero [baker] in his right mind would hand over to a stranger with a blog his super secret recipe for pan dulce. I got down from my car and walked up to my gate.  It was then when out of the corner of my eye I saw her step out of the shadows.

She was all ruby lips, high cheekbones and flowing dark hair. There was a pair of 5-inch heels on her feet and a peacock blue satin sheath on her curvaceous canela-colored body. It looked like she was dressed for a fiesta, but I got the feeling those lovely legs of hers had never seen the insides of a pair of jeans. I could smell her Maja perfume, she was standing so close.

She smiled with a kind of defiant confidence as if to say, ándale [go ahead], stare at me all you want, see if I care. All the while, her large eyes examined mine.

Buenas tardes, Señora Clementina, that is your name, isn’t it? There is something I would like to show you.”

Dangling in front of my face was a piece of paper. In large flowery writing was the recipe no panadero in town was willing to part with—pan dulce. A sort of sly conspiratorial grin came over her face.

“I would like you to have it, gratis.”

I smiled back, but my middle-aged bones knew this muchacha’s motives were far from altruistic.

“¿Quién eres?--Who are you?” I asked.

“Una amiga.”

“So you won't tell me your name.  Well, a-mi-ga, why are you doing this? Are you in some trouble?”

Almost immediately, her face darkened and the haughty smiling María Felix mask fell off, revealing a shiny-eyed almost tearful wistfulness. But it lasted just for a moment. By a powerful but subtle force of will, the confident cool veneer came back to her face.

“I have my reasons.  You can't expect me to tell you everything, que no?  There are secrets every woman should keep to herself.”

Ay, si.  I know what you mean." I smiled.  "We all have our secrets, but I know yours—it’s a man. Hasta lo puedo oler—I can even smell him.”

“Look,” I said as gently as I could. “No me andes con misterios—don’t get all mysterious on me, okay? You want me to put this recipe on my blog, right?”

Sí, quiero que lo mire todo el mundo—I want the whole world to see it.”

“Including el panadero you stole it from?”

“Especially el panadero I stole it from. I want to see him suffer when he sees that his precious secret recipe isn’t so secret anymore.”

Oooooo, qué castigadora—you’re a tough little torta, Señorita.” I laughed.  Only a panadero of all people would consider this the ultimate act of betrayal.

“Tell you what. Go back and make up with that panadero of yours—ó mándalo a la porra—or tell him to get lost. Forget you even knew him. It’s just not worth it.”

“I see."  Her ruby lips dropped a couple of inches. "Pues ya me voy—I’m leaving now.” Then she stopped and looked at me with the furious eyes of a tigresa [tigress]. “You know, Doña Clemen, I thought you were different. I thought you of all people would understand me, but I see you are just like every other vieja celosa—jealous old hag.”

With a sudden motion, she reared her face against mine.  For a second, I was afraid she would knock me down or push me against the gate.  Instead she crumbled the paper with the pan dulce recipe on it and threw it at my feet.

“Here! Take the recipe for all I care.”

And with that she stalked off, her 5-inch heels making tacón-tacón-tacón sounds as she headed to the curb.

Espera—wait!” I cried after her, but it was too late. I ran up just in time to see her shiny black ’59 Chevy Impala roaring past me. Its back lights grew ever smaller as I stood silently watching them before they disappeared onto Whittier Boulevard.

And that was the last I saw of her.

Who was that mujer misteriosa who walked out of the shadows that evening? I cannot say. All I know was that she was beautiful, her voice was as sultry as a hot city street after sunst—and she was out for the sweetest recipe of them all—revenge. Whoever that hombre is, whatever he did to wrong the heart of a woman like that, I have only one thing to say to you, Señor Panadero. You had it coming.

(As much as I wish there was a mystery woman standing by my gate with a secret recipe, this story is pure fiction.)

“Conchas” de Pan Dulce
Mexican Sweet Bread “Shells”

The recipe for pan dulce is no great mystery, but those of us who have always eaten them from a panadería are in for a sweet surprise. Who can resist a pan dulce when it’s hot from the oven, with its soft, yeasty just right sweetness and that incomparable crumbly, shell shaped vanilla-cinnamon or chocolate topping? Wake up early on a Sunday morning to bake them and find out why el panadero wants to keep this recipe under wraps. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour, but I love the lighter texture bread flour gives these panes dulces. Serve them the traditional way, with Mexican hot chocolate.

4 cups bread flour (or, all-purpose flour if you prefer a denser pan dulce)
2 ½ teaspoons dry active yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/3 cup butter, melted
½ - 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For Chocolate and Vanilla-Cinnamon Toppings:

2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered cocoa

In a medium bowl, stir together yeast and warm water. Add milk, ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter, salt and eggs and mix well.

Pour the flour and cinnamon onto a large flat surface. Make a large “hole” in the middle of the flour.

Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the flour and stir together using a large fork until the dough starts to come together.

Knead the dough for 7 or 8 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. The dough should be moist and “bouncy”. Do not add too much extra flour.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl. Turn the dough to coat, then cover with a loose towel. Place the dough in a warm place (the top of a warm oven or dryer is ideal) and wait until it rises and doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Make the chocolate and vanilla-cinnamon topping: In a medium bowl, beat 2/3 cup sugar, cinnamon and ½ cup butter until fluffy. Stir in the flour and mix until it resembles a thick paste. Take half of it and set it aside. Take the other half and mix it with the powdered cocoa until well blended. Wrap the toppings in plastic and put them in the refrigerator to firm up.

Remove dough from the oven. Cut and shape the dough into 12 - 24 balls, depending on the size you want. Line a cookie sheet with lightly greased parchment paper. Place balls on the cookie sheet and gently flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Space balls 2 ½ - 3 inches apart.

Roll out the chocolate and vanilla toppings under plastic wrap as shown.

Take a bowl or a glass that is wider than the balls of dough to cut the topping into circles.

Use a steel spatula to gently lift each circle . . .

. . . and gently place it over each ball of dough.  Use a small sharp knife to score the toppings in a clam shell pattern or any pattern you want.

Preheat oven to 370° F. Let the balls rise for another 30 to 40 minutes. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  When they have cooled off, you can give them a light dusting of granulated sugar (optional).


Nena said...

Thanks for the recipe. I just made a print depicting pan dulce. Come by and take a look.

rox said...

I have not made pan dulce for at least 15 yrs ! the chocolate toppers look so good ☺
my toppers always shrunk on mine is there a secret to keep them from doing that ? maybe I just did not secure them well enough .
I've only had the vanilla and never tried but the kids always loved those pink ones .
I think I might be up to try making them again .

MistressCatgirl said...

What an interesting woman. I've always liked the word tigresa. It sounds sexy and dangerous.
Gracias por la receta. I recently moved to Northern Nevada and there are no ( and I mean NO) panaderias in our area. I'll have to try this as soon as as I get all my ingredients.

Clementina said...

Hola, Mistress Catgirl,
I love the word tigresa, but in the end I will stick to the domestic feline variety of tigresas, my fellow cat lover. Hope you'll enjoy the pan dulces!No panaderias? Now that is sad.

Hola, Rox
It is not that the tops are shrinking, but that the panes are expanding when you are baking them. So make sure that the diameters of the tops are wider than the panes. That way they will fit just right!

Georgina said...

Loved your story...very funny. Thanks for the recipe...I love pan de huevo, but I don't know if I could make it as good as Valentine's up the street from me...just opened and I'm a regular now...bad for the waisline, which is now a wasteland!!

Again, thanks for the recipe and just might attempt it come the winter months...yum!!

Rachel said...

I love you.

How many years, how many military moves have I searched high and low for a local panaderia to sell me conchas? I've finally come up with a decent empanada de la calabeza, but not these. And just in time for Easter! Thank you so much. I enjoy reading your stories and recipes, and I even tried to write an abuelita story for you, but it never moved beyond my memory.

Kobi Ko said...

Oh, you evil woman. Do you know how many of these I can eat in one sitting? I'll be wider than I am tall!

Clementina, I think you have a promising future writing steamy romance novels. Just don't stop food blogging to do it.

Tiffany said...

Wow, what a fantastic story! I can't wait to go home and try this. Muchas gracias!

Clementina said...

Hola, Kobi Ko!
I love film noir, mysteries, romance and food. Do think I could be the Mexican Miss Marple? :^)

Thank you, Tiffany!

Lupe said...

Ah, this post brings back memories from waaayyy back. I am a lover of Mexican bread. I had a friend, (who hoped to be a special friend), who actually delivered a bag of freshly baked bread on my doorstep one morning. He didn't stick around to deal with my jealous and very Mexican papa. I guess he just ran the doorbell and split. Although papa eyed me suspiciously and didn't believe me when I said I knew nothing about it, we all enjoyed pan dulce that morning!

Clementina said...

Hola, Lupe!
If you are who I think you are, this sounds familiar!
I know all about jealous Mexican dads--God bless them!

Clementina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tera said...

I LOVE that you posted this!!!!!

Kobi Ko said...

I look forward to the tales of Señorita Mármol (the closest rhyme I could fit with Marple)! Or maybe a Doña Juana or a female Zorro?

Clementina said...

Hola Kobi Ko!
Oh, to be as smart as Senora Marmol but look like the female Zorro . . . !

La Poeta said...

Clementina, I enjoy your postings. Many years ago (35, I think) I took a workshop in Monterrey, NL, Mexico: "Como hacer pan de dulce", and I just found the notebook where I wrote some recipes. The teacher was a traditional panadero
I was wondering what to do with it. If you want the recipes, you can have them, but they are written in Spanish, and I'd like you to keep them unchanged.
My mail address is

Luv2sew said...

Hi y gracias for the recipe. I'll be trying these soon, my girls & I love them. Hard to find here where I live in FL. One panaderia sells them for almost two bucks a piece. I go crazy back home in Texas when I visit my Mom. I have fresh pan dulce every morning there. I bake and cook alot so I'm always trying to find something new to try. Aver como me salen, can't wait. In regards to the last post, La Poeta, if Clementina doesn't take your offer I would gladly take those recipes from you. I read and write in Spanish so that wouldn't be a problem.

Luv2sew said...

Did you ever try the recipes yourself? And if so how did they come out? I replied on the post itself and said if Clementine doesn't take your offer that I would gladly take those, that is if they are still available. I can't wait to try the concha recipe she posted! Thx ;-)

janice15 said...

I'm glad I finally came by to see if you had come back or not...This is a recipe I have been wanting to make for some time..My granddaughter Rosalinda has been asking me to make these..but I only had a recipe in Spanish which I cant read very well..but was trying to translate..So thank you very much...and I loved the story it was memorial weekend with love Janice...come by and visit

Clementina said...

Hola, Chicas!
Wow, thank you for your great comments! And yes, I did email La Poeta and told her I would love to have all those recipes for pan dulce. I haven't heard from La Poeta yet, but I am sure that those recipes must be fantastic! I'm very grateful that she would even ask me.
Hasta la proxima!

Pilar said...

I saw you on the NBC... congratulations.
I love Mexican food, I'm staying to learn more.

OvenDelights said...

Dear Mrs. Clementina,

I just came across your blog, I love it. I'm a wife and mother of 4 four children, I love to cook and bake! There hasn't been a recipe I've tried I haven't been successful with, until now. For the last 2 years I've struggled to find the perfect Polvoron recipe (like the ones from the Mexican bakery's). Maybe you can help me figure out the secret in this recipe. I had just blogged about it recently, and I'm so happy I came across your blog. Hopefully you can tell me what I'm doing wrong. I will attach the link to my post.
Your help is greatly appreciated.

berta de la garza said...

que rico se ve! voy a tener que tratar esta receta. I have always wanted to know how to make conchas...and now thanks to you i have a recipe to follow :)

Mark said...

I would kill for one of these every morning with my cappuccino. Muchas gracias.

Clementina said...

No hay de que--you are welcome, Mark! BTW, I just love your blog. I really need to go low carb!

JUNE said...

Well you fooled me! I was right there with ya the whole time...well done you!
In the meantime, I've never had this treat and am curious to attempt it...thx for the recipe...and by the way, your blog is AWESOME looking! Really, it's so artistic and I find I want to just look at every single did a great job here.
I've been away for a while, so I'm just blog hopping my favorites and checking glad I stopped by.
Thx, june

Clementina said...

Thank you, June. I'm blushing!

hanseata said...

What a nice and funny story - and a great blog.
When we were on a trip on the Yucatan (Tulum), being a semi-professional baker myself, I went into every bakery to check out what they offered. Everything looked so beautiful!
But, sadly, that was it! Which ever pastry I tried, they are were just sweet and bland, as if baked from pre-fabricated dough.
I'd really like to bake conchas, they are so attractive. I'll definitely try your recipe.

Clementina said...

Hola, Hanseata, and willkommen! Yes, I know what you mean. For a very long time, I didn't eat too much pan dulce. I do I must say that your bread is sooooo beautiful--and must taste fantastic. To be perfectly honest, baking is not my strong suit,and if you have any suggestions, please let me know!
Gracias for visiting!

Home delivery said...

They look so well! I doubt if i can do it so perfect :)

Anonymous said...

Super excited to try the recipe this morning. Just realized that the sugar added in the directions isn't in the list of ingredients. I should have read more carefully, but thought I would mention. Not sure what to do with my half risen dough but will start over and see how it turns out.

hanseata said...

I finally got to making the Conchas, with a few changes to make them less sweet, but boost the taste by slow overnight fermentation.
They were real treats!