Back in 2002, Marisela Sanchez and her mom, Rosa Sanchez, won the International Dutch Oven Society World Championship Cook-Off. She was just 16 at the time. I was a judge, and I was impressed with Marisela’s Razzleberry Pie that was part of their entry.
Fast forward to summer 2014, when I was covering an event at Snowbasin Resort for the Standard-Examiner. The pastry chef arranging all the gorgeous desserts looked familiar. Yes, Marisela, now grown up, has become Snowbasin’s pastry chef, turning out pastries, cakes, cookies, croissants, rolls and other baked goods for hungry skiers, as well as banquets, weddings and special events. She honed her baking skills at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas.
I waited until the ski season to write a column about Marisela and her “rising” profession for my Standard-Examiner column. Yes, when you write about baking, there are lots of puns.
“She’s on a roll…”
“One smart cookie…”
“She makes a lot of dough…”
“Her baking takes the cake.”
“Her job is a piece of cake.”
Don’t get me started.
Ski resort bakeries have the challenge of baking in a high altitude. Most recipes are written for sea level. The higher the elevation, the less atmospheric pressure there is. So the leavening gases expand more quickly, causing doughs to rise faster, often before the structure of the batter can form to hold them up. Also, so liquid evaporates faster, causing candies to be “done” at a lower temperature.
“I didn’t know why my cakes were falling and my rolls were as hard as a rock,” Marisela said. “You find out that baking is really a lot of science and chemistry and math.”
To help her understand the science behind high-altitude cooking, Sanchez spent a week training with pastry chef Rachel Goddard, who left Snow Basin to work at Little America. Goddard recommended the cookbook, “Pie in the Sky,” by Susan Purdy, as a reference. In the book, Purdy tested and adjusted her recipes at different altitudes across the country.
“It’s all about your leavening agents,” Sanchez said. “I learned to reduce the amount of baking soda or baking powder, and add a little more liquid,” she said. “But each recipe is a little different, so you have to experiment.”
For those who looking for a similar career, Sanchez advises getting some culinary school training. You also need to brush up on your math skills.
“It’s a lot of math, converting ingredients for big batches into cups and pounds and ounces,” she said.
Baking is also a science, she said. With cooking, you can taste and adjust ingredients as you go along. But with baking, once it’s in the oven, you can’t make any adjustments.
You also need to measure ingredients, “Otherwise your products will never come out the same. It’s too easy to over-salt or to end up with a denser cake.”
Professional baking is also physically demanding.
“You are lifting a lot,” she said. “You are making big batches, and a batch of cookies can weigh 50 pounds. A bag of flour is 50 pounds,” she said. “And it takes nothing but muscle to laminate dough for croissants and pastries. It’s a long process and it takes several hours.”
Lamination is the technique of wrapping dough around butter, rolling out and folding the dough, and repeating the process over and over to develop flakiness in croissants or Danish pastries.
She said she loves the work environment at Snowbasin, which seems like a “second family.” A co-worker taught her to snowboard. (And let’s hope that the winter weather picks up a little so that everyone can get in more skiing and snowboarding.)
Sanchez will likely be at the IDOS World Championships this year (it’s March 12-14). But nowadays instead of competing, she’s more likely to be a judge with her mother, Rosa.