Pastry chefs enjoy a deliciously rewarding career that allows them to use their cooking skills and creativity to create sweet masterpieces that are as eye catching as they are mouthwatering. In this guide, readers will learn how culinary schools prepare students for this profession, as well as information on the types of degrees that are available and how to choose the right pastry program.
Expert Contributor: Michelle Mullooly
Pastry & Baking Quick Facts
- While pastry chefs use knives like everyone else in the kitchen, theirs are extremely dull. In fact, the knives that pastry chefs use could not cut an onion.
- Ancient Egyptians were the first to make pastries. Their crude recipes included grain meal that was flavored with fruits and honey.
- The baking industry accounts for about $311 billion, or 2.1 percent, of the country’s gross domestic product.
- December 9 is National Pastry Day.
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Culinary & Pastry Schools and Programs
In order to whip up delicious desserts that everyone loves, pastry chefs must complete a number of tasks throughout their day. Some of the job duties of pastry chefs and bakers include:
- Ensuring that baking ingredients are fresh and high quality
- Developing recipes of new products
- Decorating baked goods
- Rolling, kneading, and shaping the dough that is used for cookies, rolls, and pie crusts
- Buying products and maintaining inventory
- Coordinating deliveries of baked goods
- Selecting and buying baking equipment
In order to learn the art and the science of working as a pastry chef, many prospective bakers go to culinary school. Students in these programs not only learn about how to decorate pastries and make confections—they also learn about the business of being a baker, and how they can build a sweet career inside and outside of their kitchens.
Pastry degree programs are not just found in culinary schools. Students who are interested in studying pastry and baking can also enroll in degree programs at vocational schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities.
Vocational schools provide an intensive and hands-on pastry and baking education that allows students to quickly finish their studies. These programs prepare students to obtain entry-level jobs in the industry, such as dessert specialist, cafeteria baker, bakery chef, and bread and pastry baker. Although students learn culinary theory when they attend these schools, the focus is generally on providing as much experiential learning as possible so they can immediately get a job after graduation. In addition, vocational school programs can be used as a stepping stone to further students’ education later.
Culinary schools are uniquely equipped to train future pastry chefs because cooking degree programs are all that these institutions offer. As a result of this focus, the schools often have state-of-the-art equipment, world-class instructors, and a curriculum that is solely focused on preparing pastry chefs for every aspect of their jobs. Programs at these schools provide intensive hands-on baking experience coupled with cooking theory and business education.
Students who attend culinary programs at community colleges can expect to receive a well-rounded education that encompasses both cooking courses and general education. While they take courses that include subjects such as cooking and baking methods, food preparation, gourmet pastries, and how to use and care for commercial baking equipment, students are also required to take classes outside of the culinary department. Coursework in subjects such as math and communication help to enhance the education that culinary students at community colleges receive, as they teach skills that can also be applied to their careers. With this combination of technical education and theory, students who graduate from these programs can pursue jobs as pastry chefs, bakery managers, and cake designers.
Similar to community college culinary programs, four-year colleges and universities also provide students with a holistic approach to education that includes coursework inside and outside of the culinary curriculum. As a result, these programs require students to take liberal arts courses in addition to culinary studies. In addition, pastry programs at universities and colleges are also designed to groom students to adopt leadership positions in the industry. To that end, there are courses designed to develop student's business acumen so they can become managers at bakery facilities, or own and operate businesses of their own.
Culinary Pastry School Must-Have List
With all of the options available to culinary students, those who want to study pastry and baking may have a difficult time choosing the right school for them. Culinary school is a big investment of time and money, so it's imperative that prospective students choose a pastry program carefully—ensuring that the school they choose will help them meet their educational and professional goals. It can be helpful to not only look at schools’ websites, but to also speak to former students, professors, and local pastry chefs in order to find out information about different schools. When doing their research, the following are some questions that students should ask themselves as they consider different pastry programs.
Is the school accredited?
Not all culinary schools are created equally, and some may not provide a quality education that students need to find employment in the competitive workforce. In order to ensure that they are enrolling in a pastry program that delivers high-quality training, students should look for schools that are accredited by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). This organization is charged with overseeing the curriculum at culinary schools, ensuring that institutions meet high standards in terms of coursework, facilities, and instructors. By enrolling in an ACF accredited school, students can be confident that they are receiving the knowledge and skills they need to jumpstart their careers.
Does the school provide hands-on training opportunities?
Students are able to receive a great deal of hands-on training in the classroom when they enroll in a pastry program. However, the classroom work is just the beginning when it comes to preparing for a career. It's important for students to look for schools that also provide experience outside of the classroom through internships programs. Many culinary schools are partnered with local businesses, such as restaurants, bakeries, and hotels, so that students can work as interns in these companies and get a real-world view of what it's like to work as a pastry chef. Also, students may get the opportunity to shadow professionals in the industry in order to watch them work and solve problems throughout the day.
How much pastry coursework is available?
Students need to look for pastry programs that give them access to a wide array of courses to get the specific training they need. They should think about what they would like to do in their careers and find a school that has the coursework that will help them get to where they want to go. For example, someone who is interested in becoming a chocolatier would benefit from a program that has a lot of coursework in confections so they learn the tools of that specific trade. Also, if students are interested in learning a specific pastry and baking technique, they may favor schools that have multiple courses in these subjects.
Who are the instructors at the school?
The instructors who teach at a culinary school are just as important as the classes that students find there. Pastry chefs should look at the backgrounds of the professors that teach in the programs they’re interested in, so that they can determine if the experience and knowledge of instructors match up with their specific goals. If a student is interested in opening a bakery one day, finding a school that has bakery owners teaching courses can be extremely beneficial to them.
What are the schools facilities like?
The culinary profession is constantly evolving, so schools need to be in touch with the changes and have state-of-the-art equipment available to students. If possible, prospective pastry school students should tour the facilities of each school that they're interested in, checking to see if these institutions have the baking equipment needed to prepare them for the realities of the modern kitchen.
Culinary Pastry Degrees and Certificates
As students consider what school they would like to attend, they should also consider what type of pastry degree program will be the most valuable to them. Different degree programs approach education in different ways, so it's important for students to understand the types of degrees that are available to them and what kind of education they’re going to receive when they enroll.
The following table provides information on pastry school degrees and what students can expect at different levels of education.
A pastry certificate program provides a great deal of hands-on job training designed to prepare students for entry-level pastry and baking positions at restaurants, commercial bakeries, or hotels. Through intensive baking and pastry labs, students learn skills such as how to develop and prepare breads, pastries, wedding cakes, and cookies.
Students in associate’s degree programs receive culinary education combined with general studies courses. Through hands-on laboratory courses and culinary theory, students get the foundation they need to begin their careers or further their education. In addition, the courses outside of the culinary department help them develop skills that can be used in any workplace, such as math and verbal and written communication skills.
Bachelor's degree programs are often completed by aspiring pastry chefs who have an eye toward becoming business owners or managers. These programs provide more in-depth information on pastry and baking techniques and theories, while also giving students a look at the skills needed to take on a management role in the industry. In addition, bachelor’s degree programs also require students to take liberal arts electives outside of the department, which can give them additional skills that can be used in the workplace. Experiential learning is also emphasized in these programs.
Culinary Pastry Certificates
What are the prerequisites for a pastry certificate program?
Generally, culinary schools require applicants to have a high school diploma or its equivalent to enter a pastry certificate program. How many credits must students earn to complete this program?
Students are required to complete about 29 credits. This can be done in six months to a year. Where are pastry certificate programs found?
Pastry certificates can be found at culinary schools, community colleges, and vocational schools. What courses do students take when they enroll in pastry certificate programs?
|Baking Techniques||Students learn about the principles of baking and the production of baked goods. Specific course topics may include how to identify and use bakery tools, measuring and weighing ingredients, creating laminated doughs, and preparing flat and hard crusted breads.|
|Cake Decorating||This course teaches students how to use decorating techniques that turn baked goods into beautiful masterpieces. Classwork includes subjects such as calligraphy, decorating tiered cakes, writing with gels and chocolate, and the equipment used to decorate cakes.|
|Batter Based Cakes||Pastry students can expect to learn about the ingredients and techniques used when making high and low ratio cakes. Subjects covered may include whipped cake methods, filling multilayered cakes, baking specialty cupcakes and addressing common challenges that pastry chefs face when making these kinds of desserts.|
|Pastry Techniques||From cake batters to mousses to fillings and foams, students in this course learn the art and science of pastry production. The course may cover topics such as syrup preparation, sourdough applications, wedding cake assembly and sugar work.|
|Chocolate and Sugar Artistry||Focuses on using chocolate and sugar to make confections or decorate pastries. Students can expect to learn topics such as the pulled and blown sugar techniques, producing chocolate confections and using gum pastes. In addition, this class introduces students to the tools that pastry chefs use when working with chocolate and sugar.|
What else is required of students in these programs?
Students in certificate programs may be required to attend demonstrations in addition to their regular coursework. They may also be expected to maintain a certain grade point average in order to graduate.
Culinary Pastry Associate Degrees
What are the prerequisites for a pastry associate’s degree program?
Individual programs have their own requirements for admission, but generally those who apply to pastry associate’s degree programs are expected to have a high school diploma. Some schools also want applicants who have some work experience in the food service industry. How many credits must students earn to complete this program?
It takes about two years to complete a total of 69 credits. Where are pastry associate’s degree programs found?
Pastry associate’s degrees can be found at community colleges and culinary schools. What courses do students take when they enroll in pastry associate’s degree programs?
|Plated Desserts||Introduces students to the preparation and presentation of plated desserts. Students in this course learn plating design and techniques, textural considerations and portion control.|
|Hot and Cold Desserts||Covers the different techniques associated with preparing and serving hot and cold desserts. From ice cream cakes to hot fudge, this course gives students the skills they need to create desserts of any temperature.|
|Basic and Classic Cakes||This class provides an overview of cake making techniques, from the classic methods to the more modern approaches. Specific course topics may include how to make tortes, cream filled cakes and glazed desserts.|
|Breads and Rolls||This class covers the fundamentals of making breads and rolls, including how to mix, shape and bake these products. Students learn how to produce large quantities of baked goods, use baking equipment and create the best texture for different kinds of rolls and breads.|
|Chocolate and Confectionery Techniques||The use of chocolate and sugars when creating artisan products is emphasized. This course includes topics such as chocolate temperature methods, the use of dairy products, chocolate handling techniques, and crystalline and non-crystalline sugar confections.|
What else is required of students in these programs?
Students may also be required to complete an externship in order to graduate.
Culinary Pastry Bachelor’s Degrees
What are the prerequisites for a pastry bachelor’s degree program?
Prerequisites can include the completion of a high school diploma and work experience in the field. Some programs may expect applicants to have a culinary associate’s degree or certificate. How many credits must students earn to complete this program?
During the four years of a pastry bachelor’s degree program, students are generally required to complete about 130 credits. Where are pastry bachelor’s degree programs found?
These programs can be found at four-year colleges and universities, as well as culinary schools. What courses do students take when they enroll in pastry bachelor’s degree programs?
|Human Resource Management||This course helps students understand the process of hiring, training, and retaining quality employees, as well as how to deal with disciplinary issues and firing. Specific class topics may include determining employee compensation, human resource planning, diffusing employee conflict and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.|
|Advanced Pastry||This course builds on the previous pastry knowledge and experience that students have and trains them to incorporate advanced techniques into their repertoire. Provides an in-depth look at creating and evaluating recipes, comparing ingredients, advanced baking techniques and incorporating spices into desserts.|
|Menu Development||Provides information on the anatomy of menu development, considering variables such as cost, equipment, labor and production time.|
|Baking Science||This class discusses the science behind the art of baking. Topics include how ingredients interact with each other, the chemical makeup of baking ingredients, and how the science of baking influences the quality of specific dishes.|
|Food Service Financial Systems||Discusses the financial considerations associated with running a food-related business. Students in this course learn about inventory, budgeting, sales, purchasing and financial management.|
What else is required of students in these programs?
Completion of an externship may also be a graduation requirement.
Pastry Chef & Baker Toolbox
A quality education can help pastry chefs build a strong foundation for a successful career. However, the knowledge that culinary students gain in the classroom is only just the beginning. In order to enjoy a thriving career, pastry chefs and bakers must have a number of skills and tools in their arsenal. The following are examples of the items that can be found in a successful professional’s toolbox. Pastry Chef Tools
- Kitchen shears
- Cake decorating air brushes
- Fruit zester
- Melon baller
- Apple corer
- Dough docker
- Waffle iron
- Cooling rack
- Muffin tin
- Blow torch
- Fruit juicer
- Food processor
- Large head spatula
- Fluted cutter set
- Inventory management software
Pastry Chef Skills
- Math Pastry chefs need good math skills in order to convert recipes when they need to change serving sizes.
- Critical Thinking Sometimes things go wrong in the kitchen and pastry chefs need to be able to think on their feet in order to figure out how to address the problem. Critical thinking skills allow chefs to reason through these issues to get to the root cause and find a solution.
- Time Management Pastry chefs and bakers are often making different dishes at the same time, so time management skills are needed to stay on track. Also, if they are in supervisory jobs, they need to be able to manage the time of their staff members.
- Communication Skills Bakers and pastry chefs who start their own business must be good communicators, as they have to assign tasks to their employees. These skills allow them to explain what needs to be done and ensure that workers understand what is expected of them.
- Decision Making Pastry chefs and bakers need to make many decisions, including what products to buy and how much inventory should be kept on hand at any given time. Strong decision making skills allow them to confidently make these choices so their kitchens run smoothly.
Pastry Chef and Baker Credentials
Pastry chefs and bakers are not required to earn certifications, however, if they want to advance in their careers, these credentials can be a useful way of competing in the marketplace. Pastry chefs can pursue a Certified Master Pastry Chef (CMPC) credential from the American Culinary Federation, while bakers can receive a certification issued by the Retail Bakers of America.
|Commercial Bakers||Work for companies that manufacture large volumes of baked goods. They must ensure that goods are made according to a strict production schedule.|
|Retail Bakers||Work in settings such as grocery stores, bakeries, and specialty shops. They often prepare goods to order and interact directly with customers.|
|Executive Pastry Chefs||Responsible for training and managing staff, ordering ingredients, maintaining inventory, and kitchen cleanliness. May work in restaurants, hotels, and resorts.|
|Wedding Cake Chef||Design and produce wedding cakes based on the specifications of customers.|
Interview with a Culinary School Professional
Michelle Mullooly, the associate director of admissions communications at The Culinary Institute of America, discusses pastry chef degree programs. Why should someone who wants to become a pastry chef or baker go to culinary school?
Students who aspire to be a pastry chef or baker should look for a specialized degree program. Our students have extensive hands-on training in our kitchens, bake shops, cafes and restaurants. During their associate’s degree, students gain the fundamental skills and knowledge to dive into a successful career. The CIA’s bachelor’s degree offers the opportunity to further specialize and gain business acumen to propel their careers to the next level. What can students studying pastry and baking expect to learn in culinary school?
The world of baking and pastry is a field of specialists. Students studying baking and pastry should expect to master the fundamental skills, methods and techniques and then expect to develop a specific focus in which direction they wish to take their career. What should these students look for in a school? How can they choose the best culinary school for them?
Students seeking a successful career in baking and pastry should look for an accredited degree program. They should learn the difference between for-profit and not-for-profit schools. Students should look for a program that can give them a high number of hands-on hours, provide them with real-world experiences and career support. What is the most challenging part of culinary school?
Baking and pastry students need to learn how to be artistic and detail oriented in a fast-paced environment. How does culinary school prepare someone who is interested in pursuing a career as a baker or pastry chef?
In addition to the skills, techniques, and knowledge, a degree program can provide students with invaluable experience, work ethic, industry connections, and mentors. CIA students have access to over 170 faculty experts whose experience and credentials are unmatched in culinary education.
Pastry Chef & Baker Resources
American Culinary Federation
Provides education, job postings, and events for members of the culinary industry.
American Pie Council
Pastry chefs can find recipes, attend events, and find industry news through this association.
American Society of Baking
A professional association for those who work in wholesale baking.
Bakers - Bureau of Labor Statistics
Provides information on the baking profession, including required education, job duties, salary, and job outlook.
Cookie and Snack Bakers Association
Allows bakers who specialize in cookie making to connect with one another and share ideas about the industry.
International Cake Exploration Societé.
This professional association provides resources and events that help cake decorators learn more about their craft.
Retail Bakers of America
Professional organization that provides networking and education opportunities.
The Bread Bakers Guild of America
Provides services for the artisan baking community.