Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Babes Bake Shells

The wonderful Kitchen of the Month hostess, Heather of Girlichef, chose Conchas as the September bread for the Bread Baking Babes. Conchas are Mexican sweet rolls with a sort of sugar cookie topping that is incised in shell patterns. Although you can use natural colors including cocoa, finely ground freeze dried fruits and matcha tea, I went with gel food colors this time for my topping. The end result was so pretty!

I tried to make these in a gluten free version, but that was a washout. I used butter flavored shortening instead of butter and I guess the totality of the oil was too much for the little yeasties. They barely grew, even when I added more flours and yeast after the first rising time produced little result. The taste was OK and the topping was delicious, but the rolls themselves were the opposite of light and fluffy, more like dry and crumbly and pretty flat. I will probably try making them with butter and regular flour and just have Sweetie eat them. I'm beginning to think that the GF sandwich bread success was a fluke.

I'll almost guarantee that if you make these that they will be better than mine. The link for the full recipe on Girlichef is at the bottom of the Sugar Topping recipe. To become a buddy, bake the conchas, send a photo and link to your post to Heather and do it by September 29th. Would love to see your beautiful conchas! Also, be sure to check out all the other Babes sites. Will be trying to do the linky thing and if I am successful, links to Babes posts will be at the very bottom of this post.

I'm not going to give any recipe for the rolls because the results were so poor, but I will give my topping recipe, just in case you want to try GF topping. Here is what they looked like right after I added the toppings.

Sugar Shell Topping for Conchas: 

1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

1/4 cup margarine or shortening (I used Earth Balance margarine)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (1/4 cup almond flour and 1/4 cup tapioca flour)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Assorted gel food colors

While your conchas are doing the initial rise, make the sugar paste topping: Beat the sugars and margarine together until light and fluffy. Stir in flour and mix until a thick dough forms. Add additional flour if needed. Divide dough into 3 or 4 even pieces and tint each with food color. If the dough becomes sticky from the food color, add more flour. Cover the sugar toppings with plastic wrap so they won't dry out until you need them to top the formed conchas.

Making the Sugar Topping:
Divide your sugar topping into 12 or 16 equal pieces (same number as dough balls). Roll out the sugar paste pieces on a lightly floured surface (I used confectioners sugar instead of flour). Cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter (or pastry ring or ring with diameter to fit top of concha, covering whole of top). Use the pastry ring to score lines into the paste to resemble the ridges on a seashell (concha). Don't cut all the way through the paste if possible. Transfer the scored sugar paste rounds to the buns using an offset spatula. If the paste doesn’t want to adhere naturally, use a pastry brush to apply dots of water on the underside before applying to the buns.

Let buns rise as directed in the conchas recipe, bake, cool and enjoy.


  1. Well that's a bummer! But they are pretty at least... right? =)

  2. Wow, the blue colour is intensely wonderful! But too bad about the texture of the gluten-free buns. Alas, that's what I remember about much of the baking we did for my dad (he was a celiac). I have a vague recollection of Mum saying that it was essential to whisk the gluten-free flour mixture first - to really sift it - before adding the rest of the ingredients.

    But did you see this page? The part about making sure to add some protein to the gluten-free flour mixture is interesting.

  3. Yes I love those bright colours too, they look so festive.

  4. Aww, some things I find just don't translate -- at all -- to nut and rice flours, etc., which means I now tend to make more things like pies and fewer things like breads. GF flour works nicely as pastry, fortunately!

    Those conchas are lovely, and I've always admired them in stores, though they look like they're for children, since they're colored, and to my mind, that means they're super-sweet, which isn't for me anyway. But they look pretty!

  5. I love your pretty sugar shells! Although I had fun going the natural route this time, I have a special place in my heart for those brightly colored conchas I get at the Panaderia. :) Bummer that the gluten free option didn't work - but I think I'll search to see if I can find a good gluten free version anywhere (it would be handy to have)!

  6. Karen, they are pretty and the topping was delicious, plus it was fun to give the recipe a try.
    Elizabeth, I did sift the flour but I think that the richness of the dough, plus the super greasiness of the shortening versus butter got in the way of yeast development. Thanks for the has some really helpful hints.
    Lien, It was fun to play with pretty colors, but your more natural ones are lovely, too.
    Tanita, I agree that it is harder to do bread gluten free. I thought of you when I made the conchas because long ago you asked if I had a good recipe. Will let you know when I do make them with butter and regular flour, but I don't think the bun part will be too sweet for you. :)
    Heather, I'm so glad you chose conchas and will try them again as written. It is useful to see how the gluten free strategies work in different recipes. Just made a cake two days ago that was delicious gluten fact no one who ate it could tell. If you find a good GF conchas recipe I would love to try it!

  7. There so pretty! Too bad they weren't wonderful as well.....

  8. I admire taking this to gluten free, really impressive Elle. I can imagine it is such a hard learning process. Too bad these didn't work out as well, they look lovely though!

  9. Gluten free seems like the challenge of a baker's life time. Here's looking for your healing and perhaps a great breakthrough in gluten free baking.
    But your shells are gorgeous, love that blue!