Chanel Wilkins leads a revolution from the concha to a woman



A conch is a small thing. Breaded Mexican pastry covered with a crispy cookie filling is a ubiquitous morning staple so common you might forget it in places like neighborhood panaderias or the Fiesta Mart. But not for Chanel Wilkins.

Plano’s pastry chef sells boxes of baked goods filled with goodies one weekend a month and fills special orders as part of her bakery business Cakelamb. “I’m just a person in a tiny apartment kitchen,” she reminds bread fans, who know how to follow her on Instagram. And yet, she makes vanilla, chocolate and strawberry conchas, garnished with cookies. And you realize, indeed, that it is Neapolitan.

Wilkins grew up eating conchas in a heavily Latino neighborhood in Anaheim, Calif., Where she abuelo would wake her up on weekends and say, “Let’s go to the market.”

Still, she studied the bakery cash register with the conchas. “They were so fascinating to me,” she says. “I remember thinking, What is this architecture? How do they get this design over the top? … They were so beautiful to me.

Tops are his canvas. Sometimes they represent roses (as in, she mixes balls of pink and green and white in wreaths). Other times, purple, yellow, and green flowers bloom on the palm-sized domes. Some are dressed like a strawberry.

She makes birthday conchitas: a happy explosion of rainbow nuggets. A Boston custard pie concha sends yellow vanilla pudding spouting out of a dome of dripping chocolate frosting. The whipped cream conchas are layered with berries and apricot jam and so on in a split mound and filled like a cake.

Cake lamb

The clever conchas and madeleines adorned with graham crackers from Cakelamb.

The August baking box featured a sweet summer corn concha filled with seams of sour cream frosting and blueberry jam, and crispy corn cookie crumbs; a marmalade sandwich cake; a cottage cake riff on a churro (base of sweet and savory Ritz, vanilla cake wrapped in cinnamon and cugar, and topping of dulce de leche and buttercream, with more Ritz on top); and cookies and cream madeleines. Wilkins is currently working on pumpkin conchas for the September box.

Also, she makes madeleines dipped in white chocolate, cookies and creams that look rather dark. And what she calls “cottage cakes,” which are round, chewy cakes that she covers with frosting and crumbs of, say, salted graham crumbs.

Last week was her first full-time baking week after leaving her part-time job as a library assistant for Plano’s public library system, and it’s the conchas that she cares most about. (They come in flavors of strawberry, lemon, Neapolitan, mazapan, anniversary, and “marble moo” with a cow print, as well as cookies, cream and churro.)

And when she moved to Frisco at the end of high school and couldn’t find them with such ease, she took the plunge as an adult and worked hard to get “that nostalgic taste that I had the used to have when I was a kid “.

“I want you to take a bite and take you to a happy time in your childhood.”

“I think they were a lot of things that I didn’t really have [grasp]She says of the importance they had in her childhood and still have today. “They represented Mexico to me. But I was not born in Mexico. I didn’t grow up in Mexico, although I have family in Mexico. But I felt this connection, like It comes from a house that I don’t know very well, but I have it here in front of me, and I can experience it here. When I think of the conchas, I think of this other house that I have. I knew there was this meaning that I might not fully understand.

Croissants and donuts have been innovated in countless ways, but people don’t always think of conchas as a place where one can innovate and compose ornate and delicate design work – a staple, but one that doesn’t. does not necessarily need to be explored. And yet, Wilkins picked up this canvas.

“I think the conchas are definitely underrated, and they have been for a long time,” she said. “There is so much more to conchas than people realize. There are so many more elaborate ways to dress them.

At the start of the pandemic, she saw people doing inspiring things in YouTube videos (all in Mexico). She realized she could do the same. “Let’s make a whole themed conch shell.” How could we make s’mores concha, put marshmallow in it? How could we put all kinds of nostalgic elements into it that will take you back to your childhood in one bite? She wondered.

She mixes all of her pasta by hand, does everything by hand.

In her cakes too, and in her madeleines (the shellfish thing is funny: “I have an affinity for delicacies in the shape of shells”, she says laughing), what holds them all together is the nostalgia, a little romantic inclination.

“I want you to take a bite and take you to a happy time in your childhood,” she says. “It’s almost universal.

Dark cocoa, malt powder and milk powders create impressions with this mighty tug. Grind the Oreos into a fine powder or make an Oreo cream filling from scratch in a dark cocoa cake; make a crumble made from a Ritz cracker; or baking a yellow malted milk chocolate chip cake, it all appeals to his desire to appease with the reconfigured familiar.

“What was my favorite childhood snack? She asks herself. “How do I take parts of it and put them in a concha or a cake?” Break it down. It becomes a fun challenge for her.

The swirling Neapolitan conch shells.

Courtesy cake

Now Wilkins sometimes makes 10 dozen conchas a day in his apartment. It is his mission to raise the beautiful underdogs.

She will never stop defending them: “They are really so versatile. I want people to know this. I want people to know that they are fun and beautiful… There is so much love and hard work in them. I know it’s not a $ 4 or $ 5 croissant. It doesn’t have the elaborate process [of a croissant], but so much love enters them.


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