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Pumpkin conchas. Conchas mochi. Sourdough Conchas. There has never been a more interesting time to eat the classic pan dulce in the Bay Area.

With their swirling cookie-shaped filling and range of colors, conchas always stand out in the event of a panaderia. Now local bakers are putting their own creative twist on the Mexican treat.

Among the tempting new options: A former Zuni pastry chef vegetates conchas for her Oakland pop-up Cafe Con Pan, while Calaca Coffee serves up a mochi-concha hybrid at Crockett. Napa’s La Cheve Bakery and Brews stuffs the conchas with spinning flavors like guava jam and Nutella. And in La Cocina’s large dining room in the Tenderloin, Los Cilantros recently started making conchas for the new Fluid coffee – if you’re lucky, they’ll still be hot from the oven.

These conchas aren’t just more Instagrammable versions of the classic. They are entities in their own right: although conchas are traditionally prepared to be steeped in coffee or chocolate, they are soft enough to be eaten on their own. They tend to use better ingredients than those available in grocery stores and large bakeries, resulting in softer butterscotch bread.

Some of the most delicious conchas in the Bay Area currently come from Raquel Goldman’s fast growing bakery, Norte 54. Former pastry shop Nopa started tinkering with a concha recipe last year at home, licensed at start of the pandemic. It started as a curiosity as opposed to a business idea: Could the Mexican native recreate the pan dulce of her childhood, but on a level that matched her palate as a Bay Area chef?

Looking at the proportions of ingredients in a basic concha recipe, Goldman began altering the percentages to push the dough into luxurious brioche territory. She launched Norte 54 last fall and now sells in farmers’ markets, restaurants and cafes across San Francisco.

Goldman’s current recipe uses butter instead of the more common choices of vegetable shortening and lard, as well as local flour from Central Milling. While she likes to stick with familiar flavors like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, she’ll also let the seasonal bounty of the farmers market trigger changes, like filling a vanilla concha with blueberry compote.

Raquel Goldman of San Francisco’s Norte 54 Bakery likes to stick to classic flavors for his conchas, like strawberry. But sometimes, she incorporates seasonal ingredients or toppings like feuilletine for added texture.

Courtesy of Raquel Goldman

Another concha hotspot debuted last year at Napa: La Cheve, which sports a pink concha design on its logo and sold nearly 1,000 conchas on opening day.

“We didn’t anticipate how much they would sell or how popular they would be,” owner Cinthya Cisneros said. “It’s hard to explain the madness of it all. “

Her mother and pastry chef, Juana, starts cooking at 3 am because she makes the conchas by hand; the restaurant sells over 800 on a typical Saturday. Basic conchas are loved for their smooth texture and not too sweet flavor, but Juana takes it up a notch with creative stuffed conchas as well.

The idea came up one day last fall when Juana had leftover cream from a cake recipe. Rather than throwing in the cream, she whipped it to fill the conchas. Now she’s trying to come up with unusual but culturally Mexican flavors like the Mexican rice pudding stuffed conchas known as arroz con leche or thickened rompope, a cocktail similar to eggnog.

Stuffed Conchas Have A Moment On TikTok And Other Social Media Platforms – But So Are conch bouquets, turtle concha, concha earrings, conch ornaments and more.

“People are playing with the whole concha aesthetic,” said Christian Soto, owner of Calaca Coffee with Jose Rodriguez. “There is a big boom in the Chicano movement – it’s a good representation of our past, of our culture.”

For Calaca, serving mochi conchas seemed like a natural extension of the duo’s previous business, La Vida Boba, a food truck that paired tapioca pearls with Mexican drinks like horchata.

“We are in the Bay Area: these cultures always mix,” Rodriguez said. “How about putting a concha on it (a mochi muffin)?” We tried it and it was amazing. The crunchiness of the top and the softness of the mochi go hand in hand.

Maria Cecilia Hernandez holds a mini marbled chocolate concha, baked for her vegan pop-up Cafe Con Pan in Oakland.

Maria Cecilia Hernandez holds a mini marbled chocolate concha, baked for her vegan pop-up Cafe Con Pan in Oakland.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

While many of the Bay Area’s new conchas taste quintessentially Mexican-American, Adriana Dominguez-Porter turns to Mexican experts for inspiration for her upcoming Mexican café Tal Palo in Los Altos.

Dominguez-Porter took classes – some online, some in person – with bakers from across Mexico, noting that each person has a slightly different process for forming conchas. She remembers trying conchas there that blew her away, the ones that were naturally leavened or finished with a crunchy filling made from ancestral cornmeal.

Cafe Con Pan: Pop-up specializing in vegan pan dulce at Nido’s Backyard. 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday through Sunday, 104 Oak St., Oakland. instagram.com/cafeconpanoakland

Calaça coffee: Outdoor cafe selling conchas mochi. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to Sunday, 649 Loring Ave., Crockett. calacacoffee.com

Fluid: Café inside the municipal market of La Cocina offering conchas cooked by the neighbor Los Cilantros. 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 101 Hyde St., San Francisco. fluidcoopsf.com

La Cheve bakery and brasseries: Large scale restaurant with classic and stuffed conchas. 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday to Monday, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 376 Soscol Avenue, Napa. ilovelacheve.com

North 54: The modern Mexican bakery sells conchas at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Mission Community Market on Thursdays, as well as at Grand Coffee, Nopalito, and Tahona Mercado. Various locations in San Francisco. norte54.com

Tal Palo: Upcoming café and boutique in Los Altos, with plans to sell sourdough conchas in a pop-up format this fall. 149 Main Street, Los Altos.instagram.com/tal_palo


That said, she also wants to serve sourdough conchas, which sound extremely Bay Area. It’s a challenge. She wants to create something much softer than the mass-produced, rock-hard conch shells available in many supermarkets. But neither does she want her sourdough to turn into a creamy, airy bread-like bread.

“It has to have the right density, so when you dip in hot chocolate it builds up a lot of it,” she said.

With conchas a key aspect of his coffee – chilaquiles the other – Dominguez-Porter hopes to finalize his recipe soon and start offering Tal Palo preview baskets, full of goodies like chocolate and ceramic mugs. of Mexican artisans this fall. And, of course, conchas.

For Goldman de Norte 54, bringing his handcrafted conchas to the Mission Community Market was a wake-up call. People kept telling him how excited they were to see pan dulce for the first time at a farmers market. While Goldman had read a lot about why it is necessary to have diverse cultural representation in different industries, she hadn’t personally felt it.

“I discovered this new link which is why it is important for me to do this,” she said.

Janelle Bitker is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker


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