One of the defining characteristics of Mexican pan dulce (sweet breads) is their playfulness. These pastries aren’t fussy and restrained, but joyful and exuberant, often colorful, boldly flavored, and dubbed with pun-filled names. And while colorful conchas (named for their decorative shell-like pattern) might be the best-known pan dulce, or besos (two sandwiched cookies “kissing,” thus their name) might be more cheeky, perhaps no baked good best embodies this playfulness than the soft, swirled bigote.
Named after the Spanish word for mustache, bigotes are like a cross between a flaky laminated croissant and a squishy, tender crescent roll. And despite their impressive results, they come together without the stress-inducing laminating process required of most flaky breakfast pastries. Instead, they’re made from an enriched, Danish-like dough that’s folded to create layers, which yields a flaky, buttery pastry without having to make a butter block, encase it in yeasted dough, and painstakingly roll, fold, and chill. In some ways, the bigote-making process is like a slightly more complicated biscuit, just on a much longer timeline. And though it’s a project bake, much of the time required is simply downtime in the fridge.
Our Bigotes recipe comes from Mexico-born pastry chef and cookbook author Fany Gerson, who says that “it’s straightforward and hard to mess up. You just need a little bit of patience!” To make this pastry, Fany has you mix flour, sugar, yeast, and salt together, then add cold butter, cut into chunks. Like pie or biscuit dough, the cold butter is broken down in the flour mixture until it’s the size of peas and the mixture resembles coarse meal. This step is crucial: Keeping the butter cold and intact here is what guarantees flakiness in the finished pastries. As the dough bakes, the pieces of butter melt in the heat of the oven and the small amount of water in the butter evaporates; this leaves little pockets of air in between the dough and creates distinct, separate layers.
After adding an egg and some milk and letting the dough chill for several hours, the dough undergoes a series of letter folds to build even more buttery layers. Then it’s off to the fridge for an overnight rest before it’s time to roll, cut, and shape — perfect for timing your bake for breakfast. This process hews closely to croissants, with the dough cut and stretched into long, thin triangles and coiled tightly to form a crescent shape.
Once baked, the pastries are a delightful hybrid of tender and flaky. As Fany describes, they should have visible layers, but still be soft and spongy, without the shattering crispiness of a croissant. “It’s crunchy, it’s more pillowy [than a laminated pastry], and I think the texture always surprises people,” she says.
And of course, part of bigotes’ whimsy is their infinite flavor combinations. Fresh from the oven, each bigote is liberally brushed in melted butter, then coated in a mixture of granulated sugar. You can keep things simple and classic by just using plain sugar, but the real fun is playing around with all sorts of different flavor options. Fany likes a chocolate version made by adding cocoa powder to the sugar; you can also spice the sugar by mixing in a pinch of cayenne or cinnamon. Or try a citrusy spin by pulsing the sugar with lime zest in a food processor, yielding a fragrant, slightly colorful coating. Dried fruit powders would also make particularly eye-catching iterations that would be at home behind any panadería case. (See options at the bottom of the recipe page and in Fany’s instructional video.)
The most important thing about making bigotes? Enjoy the process. As Fany recommends, “Put on some Latin music and just have fun.” That’s what pan dulce are all about, after all.
For more recipes, check out our feature all about pan dulce.
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne.