Conchas, the bready Mexican pastry covered with a crunchy cookie topping, hold special status in my heart. It may be because the ubiquitous sweet staple, shaped to resemble a seashell, reminds me of madeleines, which I grew up with. But this year, I saw conchas vault to new heights. Their curved domes easily become a canvas of creative expression, the biscuit topping artfully tinted to any shade. I saw unicorn pastel-hued swirls popping up in San Antonio and El Paso and conchas filled with whipped cream and strawberries and crowned with Oreos burbling up in Miami. In L.A., vegan conchitas came in flavors like coffee and guava. And closer to home, conchas rule.
In the hands of some of our city’s most dexterous bakers, the sweet treat is an object of pure beauty. With that in mind, here are some of our favorites—some are newcomers, vegan, or gorgeously swirled versions; others are longtime classics, bringing comfort. All will make a morning sip of cafe de olla more wonderful.
We fell hard for the ornate and beautiful work of a newcomer to the scene. Chanel Wilkins is a concha crusader. The cottage baker, who is a part-time library assistant with the Plano Public Library, sells bake boxes filled with treats one weekend each month and fills special orders under her baking shingle, Cakelamb. Hers use the cookie topping as a canvas to become roses or dainty strawberries. Variations by season include sweet summer corn conchas filled with seams of sour-cream frosting and blueberry jam or fall’s pumpkin-spice treats in the shape of the gourd. Fillings, too, add layers. “I think conchas are definitely underrated, and they have been for a long time,” she says. “There’s so much more to conchas than people understand.”
At this Davis Street staple, tongs hang from central pillars and milk gallons await in a nearby fridge if needed. Coffee will be freshly brewed (with powdered creamer, which is part of the we’re-focused-on-the-pastries vibe) and you’ll want more than one of the glorious conchas. Vera’s brings the gaiety of purple, blue, and yellow oilcloths on tables and the smell of freshly baked pastries wafting from a kitchen that feels as though it’s been humming since long before you were awake.
Tumbled in with the pink-frosted cake slices and icing-laced cinnamon buns, this outstanding (and long-standing) panaderia’s conchas steal a spotlight. When you’re lucky enough to arrive just as another volley leaves the oven, they should be your focus—the tacos are an afterthought, though delicious.
When the world is in need of brightening, head to this Jefferson Boulevard cafe, home to lattes and mochas brewed from beans that owners Mauricio Gallegos and Gerardo Barrera source from Mexican coffee-growing states like Oaxaca. Crossing the light, modern, plant-bedecked space, find the delicate, palm-size treats in the counter-side case. Their flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, but also variations long to be paired with a cajeta macchiato or house horchata.
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During the months leading up to Dia de los Muertos, we haunt this staple for its rich, fragrant pan de muerto (in our opinion the best in town). The rest of the year, we flock for the conchas, which boast particularly puffy, criss-crossed domes. (We admit, we also love this family-owned bakery’s flan.)
Tucked into the warren of streets near Kalachandji’s in Old East Dallas, Del Norte is a beloved custom-cake haven, but its case also holds bright, pillowy-soft conchas. The biscuit tops are particularly tender—the kind that flake off in your hand and make you long for a cup of café de olla.
At the Dallas Farmers Market, let yourself be drawn to the rainbow hues of vegan rainbow conchas, which peek from their packages on the stand of this family-owned, plant-based Mexican food micro-company whose claim to fame is its corn husk-swaddled tamales. The soft sweet breads’ crumbly cookie tops function as mood rings. We love to be surprised by the whimsical inspirations that lead to pink-purple-blue swirls on the market’s Watermelon Day, for example. Currently, of course, it’s warmly spiced pumpkin concha season.
More vegan treats await in this bright Pleasant Grove bakery that doubles as an animal product-free taqueria. We love their swirled vanilla-bean conchas, brilliantly paired with the jamaica agua fresca.