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Mexican Sweet Breads: An Essential Glossary

Abrazos! Bizcochos! Conchas! Oh my!

There are, by some estimates, over 1,000 different varieties of Mexican sweet breads or what the locals call pan dulces. Here's our guide to the most popular pastries you'll find in Mexico City, from the concha and its many variations to sweet danishes made with lard, corn flour, amaranth, and piloncillo, a type of unrefined cane sugar that's scraped off of compressed cones.

It's hard to imagine Mexico City without its sweets. Together, bread bakeries (panaderías), pastry shops (pastelerías), and candy stores (dulcerías) outnumber the city's gas stations and grocery stores. Just as the denizens of Paris and Madrid are accustomed to their neighborhood bakeries, Mexicans rely on DF's bakeries for breakfast, la merienda (a mid-day snack), coffee breaks, celebrations, and holidays — whether national or Catholic.

At some of the oldest panaderías and pastelerías, the selection of items for sale can be overwhelming. At the largest shops, the process of ordering is mostly self-service. Grab a tray and a set of tongs, and help yourself to whatever suits your fancy. The name of each item is usually on display, though descriptions and prices are not always indicated. Fortunately, everything is usually between three and 10 pesos — a paltry sum for pastry artistry. Here's a guide to some of our favorites.

Conchas (left); a chorreada (right).

Concha and Concha-style

Concha: A sweet bread roll covered in a cookie crust, it's traditionally flavored with either vanilla or chocolate — though conchas are found in every color of the rainbow, and are Mexico's most popular sweet bread. The name refers to a seashell, which is what the best versions look like. The concha and its cousins are sometimes split along their equator and filled with cream or custard.

Chilandrina: Like a concha, but instead of cookie dough it's a crust made entirely of hardened brown sugar. The name literally means "trifle."

Chorreada: A concha baked with a topping of piloncillo, unrefined cane sugar, instead of the standard cookie crust.

El Volcán: A sweet bread roll baked with a small pile of white sugar on the top, which looks a little bit like a volcano once baked.

Lima: A concha shaped with a small round nipple in the center, so that it resembles a lemon; sometimes lemon oil is added to the cookie crust for flavor.

Monja: A concha in which the topping is shaped to look (roughly) like a nun's habit.

Nevado: A concha where the cookie crust is even sweeter, and is affixed to the bread roll in a way that makes it resemble a snowy mountain top.

Novia: The name means "girlfriend." This a concha where the cookie topping is scored into radiating circular lines, mimicking the layers of a voluminous skirt.

Nube: A vanilla concha that is sprinkled heavily with white sugar before baking, so that when it emerges from the oven it looks like a cloud.

Perla: A concha baked without its cookie crust, and then covered in a layer of butter and granulated sugar after it's come out of the oven.

Picón: The name means something like "cinder." This is a concha where the topping is brushed with egg before baking, for a slightly different, crisper texture.

Sargento: Using the same ingredients as a classic concha, in this variation sweet bread dough is shaped into a rough rectangle and cookie dough is laid atop in a striped pattern to look like a sergeant's stripes.

Sweet Breads for Holidays and Celebrations

Pan de Muerto: Known as "bread of the dead" and baked for special occasions (especially Dia de Los Muertos), this is a sweet roll that's been scored in a cross shape, or affixed with extra pieces of dough to look like a decorative cross.

Rosca de Reyes: Kings' Cake is a ring-shaped, cake-like pastry decorated with colorful frosting, sugars, and candied fruit, and baked with a tiny plastic doll inside that represents the baby Jesus. It's found at bakeries in the early part of the year, and served at parties for the Catholic holiday of Epiphany.

Everyday Shapes

Many Mexican sweet breads are shaped like their ingredients — so even if you don't recognize the name, the visual of the pastry might give you clues to what the bread is made from.

Abrazo: Named for a hug, it's made when a dollop of cream or jam is placed in the center of a square piece of danish dough, and two opposite corners are folded over into the center, like a baby's blanket.

Almohada: Made of puff pastry, the name means "pillow." It's usually a rectangular piece of dough sprinkled with sugar before it's baked.

Corbata: Made of puff pastry twisted into its namesake, a bow tie, and often sprinkled with a little sugar.

Cuernos: Horn-shaped danishes filled with cream or custard.

Elotito: A sweet bread in the shape of a corn stalk, with corn flour used in the dough.

Gusano: The name means "worm." A small length of sweet bread dough is rolled into a narrow log, scored (to mimic a worm's striations), and sprinkled with sugar before being baked.

Ojo de buey: It literally translates as "eye of the ox"; idiomatically, it refers to a porthole. Sometimes made from biscuit dough and sometimes made from sweet bread dough, it's shaped into a round and topped with a slightly smaller circle of cookie dough, so that it looks like an eye.

Oreja: This is what English-speakers call an elephant ear (the name means "ear"), and the French call a palmier.

Paloma: The name of this flaky, sugar-coated pastry means "dove" or "pigeon," which is also the name of a popular homemade firecracker which is shaped into a triangle —€” roughly the shape of a bird in flight. It's sometimes stuffed with sweet or savory fillings.

Puerquito: Also known as cochinito, this sweet bread is baked in the shape of a pig, and is generally made using lard instead of butter.

La Reja: Soft pastry dough is cut into strips and then woven into a rough "grill" shape before being baked.

Ratón: Named for a mouse, this is a small, oval-shaped roll coated in pecans.

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