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Alaska teen wins national baking competition

An oven frames King Career Center alumna Jordyn Baker, who claimed top honors in commercial baking at the SkillsUSA Championships this past summer in Louisville, Kentucky. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

If you're going to compete in a national baking competition, it's best to be overly prepared.

Anchorage's Jordyn Baker was more than ready. She spent almost two months perfecting a set of baked goods. White bread. Pie crusts. Sugar cookies. Fully decorated sheet cakes. For eight hours a day, five days a week, she practiced baking them over and over again, going through more than 114 pounds of bread flour and 30 dozen eggs.

One thing she couldn't prepare for: tearing the seat of her pants the very first time she bent down during the beginning of the SkillsUSA commercial baking competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

"For the rest of the eight hours that day, I was just waddling," she said in a phone interview earlier this month from her hometown of Kotzebue.

Jordyn Baker of King Career Center competes in the SkillsUSA Championships this past summer in Louisville, Kentucky. (Kellie Puff / King Career Center)

Baker was competing against 42 other high school bakers from across the nation — all of whom had already won regional or state competitions. The judging panel was a crew of professional bakers assembled from around the United States.

With a time limit of 7 1/2 hours, Baker had to bake fast. The items she had to prepare for the judges:

* A pan loaf of white bread

* A braided bread loaf

* Two dozen "knot rolls"

* Two pie crusts, both filled and unfilled

 * Sugar cookies

* A blueberry quick bread, made without yeast

* Choux pastry, used for making eclairs and cream puffs

* A filled and fully decorated two-layer cake

She said there's enough time to do it all, but just barely.

"If you hesitate for just a minute, just to breathe, you run out of time," Baker said.

Baker's work paid off. In June, the South Anchorage High School graduate won the competition, and, with it, a full-ride scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America.

Kellie Puff, King Career Center culinary instructor and Baker's coach, said it's been about 30 years since an Alaskan has placed in the baking competition.

King Career Center alumna Jordyn Baker, left, and her culinary arts instructor Kellie Puff earned medals after Baker claimed top honors in commercial baking at the SkillsUSA Championships this past summer in Louisville, Kentucky. She finished first among 43 contestants. Puff helped Baker train after school ended last May before the two headed to Kentucky. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

Baker, 18, said her love for the craft she shares her name with started at age 8, when she began helping family members in the kitchen. At 13, she helped a relative make specialty fondant-decorated cakes and discovered a passion for it.

During her senior year of high school, she enrolled at the King Career Center to expand her baking expertise and learn about working in a commercial kitchen.

Puff said Baker is unflappable in the kitchen and that made her a strong competitor during the national competition. Puff said with all the items to bake, learning to manage time and stress without having a meltdown is important.

"(During practice) she would listen to everything I said, and if she made a mistake we would try to recap why," Puff said. "She would remember the things that we had talked about previously. It was like she really invested, especially to know the whys on how to fix it so she wouldn't do it again in the future."

With all the practicing, Puff joked, the two "actually got tired of fresh-baked bread."

For now, Baker is preparing to start her two-year associate's degree in pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus. After that, she'll continue her bachelor's studies at the institute's main campus in Hyde Park, New York — all of it paid for with her SkillsUSA scholarship.

Baker hopes to one day return to Alaska to open her own European-influenced pastry shop. In the near future, meanwhile, she's considering her options. There's a world competition set for Russia in 2019 that should could attend — though it would mean taking a year off to train.

"It's twice as intense," she said.

Jordyn Baker completes a pie while practicing at King Career Center for the SkillsUSA Championships, which took place this past summer in Louisville, Kentucky. There she earned the gold medal in commercial baking. (Kellie Puff / King Career Center)

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