My gluten free Mexican conchas are beautiful sweet buns traditional in Mexico. They’re pillowy soft and topped with colorful scored streusel.
Have you ever tried Mexican conchas? Once when I was in Texas visiting my sister, I saw conchas for the first time in a convenience store. They were prepackaged, but they looked beautiful and enticing. I didn’t try them then because I felt if I was gonna have a concha ever in my life, I didn’t want it to be a convenience store version.
To this day, I have never tried an authentic Mexican concha. However, when I made these and tasted them for the first time a few days ago, I was in love!!! Not only are they colorful and beautiful, they have such a great taste but an even better TEXTURE!!! Soft and pillow sweet bun with a crunchy streusel-like topping that I’ve kinda made my own with a few secret ingredients (that aren’t necessary, just something I wanted to use).
What are Mexican Conchas?
Mexican conchas are a type of Mexican sweet bread (pan dulce) that are formed into round rolls. You’d think they’d be just any old roll. But when you start talking about the beautiful “shells” (conchas in Spanish) that are scored on top of each roll, then they get interesting. These “shells” are made from a sugar cookie-like dough that becomes this crunchy streusel on top of the buns. The contrast of soft roll with crunchy topping is so satisfying.
Making Gluten Free Mexican Conchas
When I first thought of making Mexican conchas gluten free, I knew I would start with my favorite dough. It’s probably THE most versatile dough on my blog (and the most versatile gluten free dough of all time). That would be my gluten free sweet dough–used to make cinnamon rolls, donuts, Hawaiian rolls, kolaches–you name it!
If you’re knew around these parts, go to the “Breads” section of my recipe index and just start looking around. Then check out the “Breakfast” section, too. You’ll find so many options for this dough, you really won’t believe it!
The dough for the streusel topping is made with gf flour, baking powder, salt, butter, powdered sugar, and milk. It’s basically a sugar cookie dough and it’s super simple to pull together. In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. Place the butter and powdered sugar in a large bowl (stand mixer or other) and beat on medium high until creamy and smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Add the vanilla, followed by the flour mixture and a couple tablespoons of milk.
Divide the dough in as many amounts as you want colors and color each with your color of choice. In researching conchas, I found that the top colors seem to be white (no coloring at all), brown (which is actually chocolate–add a tablespoon of cocoa powder), and pink. But I don’t think there are rules for the colors you choose, so I chose pink and orange. When testing, I made a couple of chocolate ones but didn’t care for the cocoa flavor as much.
Natural Coloring and Flavoring
I’ve been really obsessed lately with using real fruit to color and flavor some of my desserts and breads. One of those examples would be my gluten free strawberry angel food cake. Not only is the cake flavored with ground freeze dried strawberries, but so is the whipped cream frosting! What I love about using fruit “powders” is that you get an enormous amount of flavor (and color) without changing the consistency of whatever you’re adding it to.
You don’t have to use fruit “powders,” but if you choose to, this is how to do it:
- Pick any fruit you can find, from strawberry to banana to grape (yes, there are actually freeze dried grapes! For my two flavors and colors, I chose strawberry and tangerine (affiliate links).
- Using a food processor (I like using my mini food processor), grind each fruit into a fine powder. It’s okay if the strawberry seeds don’t grind down all the way. I leave them in mine for a little texture, but you can strain them through a very fine mesh sieve if you want to remove them.
- Divide your streusel between however many bowls you want to make colors for, add about 1/4 cup of the fruit powder to each bowl (depending on how many colors you choose). Also add another tablespoon of milk (because the powder will act like extra flour). Stir to combine well.
- If the color isn’t to your liking, you can also add a drop or two of food coloring to your dough. I left the strawberry as is, but added a little orange gel food coloring to the tangerine dough.
Topping Before or After the Second Rise
I tested this recipe 3 times before settling on what I felt to be the perfect gluten free Mexican conchas, and the method for making them. In the first test, I spread butter on top of the unrisen rolls and then placed a flattened out piece of the streusel on top. Then I scored them right on the buns. When they rose before and after baking, half the streusel popped right off.
So the next time, I decided to use an egg wash for a better stick. But I also chose to roll out the streusel between two sheets of parchment (like cutting out sugar cookies). Then I cut each into almost a 1/2-inch thick circle and placed it on the rolls before scoring. This worked slightly better, but some of the topping popped off when the rolls went into the oven. And it was way too thick.
The third time was a charm. I shaped each roll, allowed them to rise (the final, or second, rise). While they were rising, I rolled out the streusel dough (this time to about 1/4 of an inch), cut them with a round cutter, and then scored my shapes right on my counter. When the rolls were completely risen, I brushed them with an egg wash and used my bench scraper (affiliate link) to lift them from the counter and gently slide them onto the rolls. I pressed very, very gently to adhere the streusel to the rolls and they went right into the oven. Success!!! The rolls were beautifully risen and soft, the streusel wasn’t too thick, but thick enough, and all of it stayed on each roll.
These gluten free Mexican conchas are seriously soft and pillowy with the right amount of sugary crunchy streusel for the best Mexican sweet bun!
Gluten Free Mexican Conchas
- ½ recipe cinnamon roll wreath dough*
- 1 large egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water and a pinch of salt (for egg wash)
- 2½ cups (350 g) Kim's gluten free flour blend (or your favorite store bought blend containing xanthan gum)
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup plus 5 tbsp (296 g) butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups (250 g) powdered sugar
- 2-3 tbsp whole milk, divided
- ¼ cup freeze dried strawberry powder**
- ¼ cup freeze dried tangerine powder**
- food coloring, if desired***
For the Rolls:
- Make the dough according to the recipe instructions through the first bulk rise and refrigeration. Remove half the dough from the fridge and leave the rest for another application (see the Breads or Breakfast recipe sections for ideas).
- Divide dough into 8 equal pieces (roughly 3 ounces each). Roll into tight rolls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet a couple of inches apart. Press down on top of each roll with the palm of your hand to flatten into about ½-inch thick round rolls.
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, ½ hour to 45 minutes. It may take longer, depending on your environment. A great trick is to heat your oven to the lowest possible setting (mine is 170° F). Turn it off and place your rolls into the warmed oven. It will NOT kill the yeast and will provide a perfect rising temperature for proofing. Just remember to take them out before preheating the oven.
For the Streusel:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and powdered sugar on medium high until smooth, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the flour mixture and two tablespoons of milk and beat just until combined. Keep a few tablespoons of milk aside for adding individually to each flavor/color.
- Divide into two bowls. Add strawberry powder to one and tangerine powder to the other, followed by a tsp or two of milk in each. Add food coloring, if using, at this time. Stir with a spoon to combine well. You'll eventually need to get your hands in there and knead the dough to incorporate everything well.
- Roll dough out between two sheets of parchment to roughly ¼ of an inch thick. Cut with a round 3-inch cutter (such as a biscuit cutter). To make shells, you'll use the edge of the biscuit cutter (see video and pictures). To make a grid pattern, cut with a sharp knife going one way and then the other.
- When rolls have fully risen, preheat the oven to 350° F. Brush rolls with egg wash, being careful so as not to deflate rolls. Use a bench scraper to carefully slide underneath each scored round of streusel, lift it up, and carefully slide off the bench scraper and onto each roll. Press lightly to adhere to the egg wash.
- Bake rolls at 350° F for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and they spring back when lightly pressed.
- Allow to cool to warm before serving. Rolls will keep well wrapped at room temperature for 2-3 days, or can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in fridge and refresh or reheat in a 300° oven, fully wrapped in foil, until warmed through (about 15 minutes). The streusel will eventually soften on the rolls as they sit.