How the pan dulce supply chain shortage made me appreciate the art of making sweet bread


Pan Dulce. Photo by wendolyne78 CC 2.0.

Since I was a kid, a special morning for me has included a cup of cafe con leche and Mexican sweet bread known as pan dulce. My favorites are the pillowy conchas or the pig-shaped molasses-flavored marranitos. But in March 2020, the party was over. My mornings were filled with a lonely cup of coffee when my pan dulce supply was suddenly cut off.

Due to the pandemic, every non-essential business in El Paso had to close. You would be surprised how many people think bakeries and its pan dulce are not essential. Crazy right?

What I took for granted, Supreme Bakers, my right-around-the-corner bakery that had fresh pan dulce daily, was now closed.

Whoever said “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” was right. I wanted a whole box of pan dulce more than ever. So I decided to make it myself.

After searching countless recipes on conchas and marranitos I found a recipe on Google that didn’t seem too hard and was very straightforward. I gathered all the ingredients and followed the steps. However, they didn’t turn out like the ideal bakery type concha or marranitos sold by small businesses. My conchas were heavy and the bread looked like a wheat bread.

The marranitos were also too small, and not brown enough, and tasted a lot like baking powder.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the problem was with the baker and not the recipes. So, what are bakeries and small businesses doing that I am not? Supreme Bakery in Northeast El Paso walked me through some things that could have made both of my breads faulty.

“If it’s too heavy you used too much dough or didn’t let it rise enough,” said Chris Pacheco, who took my phone call at Supreme Bakery.

Patience may be another important ingredient, along with knowing your tools.

“The recipe and the mixers we use are different, we also do the bread in large batches, the baking time in the oven is also different since we use convection ovens. We let our bread rise for up to 8 hours,” Pacheco said.

I also found a small online-based business named Pan Dulce Factory, owned by Liz Camacho in Yuma, Arizona. Camacho started her pan dulce business from home at the end of January 2021. She said the right flour is the key for home baking.

“I use King Arthur bread flour which makes a huge difference and challenge, I use butter in the dough and as a concha topping. Most bakeries use shortening which I think is probably easier to cut but much less tasty than butter in my opinion,” Camacho said.

Useful information like this would have been helpful before I messed up two batches.

Now that I know I need to let my dough rise for a longer period of time, I can attempt to retry baking conchas again. As for the marranitos, I need to be careful with measurements. The recipe I followed was not intended for a small batch like mine.

Here are some recipes I found helpful on YouTube. To make conchas you can follow this video by the popular YouTube channel, Views on the Road. To recreate the pan dulce marranitos you can also watch YouTuber Claudia Regalado for this sweet treat.

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