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Good baking calls for equal measures of science and art. Bakers understand the kitchen math and timing required for hearty bread and flaky croissants, but they also have the sensitivities of a painter when they are decorating a wedding cake. Attending baking and pastry schools online or on campus can help pave the way to a career as a commercial baker in a manufacturing facility, a baking entrepreneur with your own shop, a pastry chef in a modern restaurant or a retail baker in a café or grocery store.
This page covers how to become a baker or pastry chef, school programs where you can learn the right skills, salary and job outlook figures for the profession and more. If you love baking and you've ever thought about an associates degree in baking and pastry arts, read on to learn more about turning your passion into a career.
What do bakers and pastry chefs do?
There are many different types and styles of pastry and baked goods, and the establishment where you work will end up determining most of your specific day-to-day tasks, but the general responsibilities for graduates of baking and pastry schools are often pretty similar. Here's a quick rundown of some typical duties behind the scenes at a bakery:
- Ensuring that stocks of baking ingredients are of sufficient quantity and quality
- Preparing work surfaces, kneading machines, ovens, racks and other equipment
- Measuring, weighing and mixing dry and wet ingredients
- Kneading, rolling, cutting, shaping, resting and proofing dough
- Arranging dough on appropriate pans or trays and setting ovens for baking
Nearly 75 percent of bakers and pastry chefs work in bakeries, restaurants, cafés and grocery stores, and approximately five percent were self-employed in 2016. Almost one-third of bakers work part-time schedules.
How to Become a Baker or Pastry Chef
There may not be any formal education requirement for bakers and pastry chefs, but employers may prefer candidates who have completed a training program at a culinary school, vocational institute or community college. Here's a quick rundown of the most common steps that bakers and pastry chefs take on their path to a career in the field:
- Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent
- Earn a certificate, diploma or associates degree in baking and pastry arts
- Consider professional certification by an industry association
- Gain experience in an entry-level position and continue learning on the job
Whatever formal education program you choose, you're likely to study a range of career-relevant subjects like these:
- Scratch baking
- Decorating and icing
- Bread and rolls
- Chocolate and confections
- Culinary foundations
- Safety and sanitation
- Basic nutritional science
- Hospitality management
Baking and pastry degree and certificate programs
The three different types of formal training programs at baking and pastry schools take different lengths of time to complete and cover the subject in varying degrees of depth. Take a look at this breakdown of each level of program available:
- Undergraduate certificates are often the shortest programs at pastry chef schools, but the range of program lengths is vast. Depending on the institution and the program, you may need to earn more than 40 credits or fewer than 18 credits to graduate.
- Diplomas tend to average 40-50 credit hours in length and cover baking and pastry concepts in some depth. The level of training here is close to that offered with a full two-year degree, but the curriculum usually includes few general education courses.
- Associate degrees commonly take around two years of full-time study to complete and guide students well beyond the basic level of skill needed for an entry-level position in the field. They also feature courses in academic subjects like communications, math and science that typically transfer to higher degree programs without much trouble.
Although they are rare, four-year bachelor's degrees in baking and pastry arts can also be found. They're typically designed for working bakers looking to move into management roles or become baking and pastry educators, however, and not usually recommended for aspiring bakers looking to get their start in the business.
Hands-on training at baking and pastry schools
Some classroom work is essential to a robust baking and pastry arts program, but you'll also be spending plenty of time in a teaching kitchen where you'll view demonstrations and practice the techniques learned in class. Your program may also include an internship or externship section that allows you to put your new knowledge and skills to the test in a supportive professional environment.
Online baking and pastry courses and programs
Despite the high level of hands-on learning typically required at baking and pastry schools, online courses can still be used to earn your degree. Some programs deliver their curriculum in a hybrid format, conducting classroom sessions online and bringing students to campus for hands-on work, while others offer a pastry arts degree entirely in the virtual classroom.
Attending baking and pastry schools online can bring you into contact with methods of teaching, learning and grading that may be unfamiliar to you at first, but schools that offer these programs can often provide strategies for getting accustomed to them. It helps to be prepared as possible before enrolling in your first class -- there also may be online learning readiness tests or other tools available to help you get comfortable.
Baking and pastry certifications
Multiple industry organizations offer certifications for bakers and pastry chefs. Certification is typically not required for employment, but bakers who become certified have an easy way to demonstrate their specific areas of expertise to potential employers.
Here's a list of certifications offered by the Retail Bakers of America:
- Certified Journey Baker (CJB)
- Certified Baker (CB)
- Certified Decorator (CD)
- Certified Master Baker (CMB)
The American Culinary Federation also offers five levels of certifications for bakers and pastry chefs:
- Certified Fundamentals Pastry Cook (CFPC)
- Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC)
- Certified Working Pastry Chef (CWPC)
- Certified Executive Pastry Chef (CEPC)
- Certified Master Pastry Chef (CMPC)
Each of the above credentials comes with its own set of education and experience requirements that must be met before you can sit for the certification exam. Check with each certifying agency for more details.
Career advancement options for bakers and pastry chefs
As you gain more experience on the job, master difficult techniques and earn industry certifications, the positions available to you are likely to grow in salary and prestige. Top restaurants, resort hotels and other establishments typically seek out established, expert-level bakers and pastry chefs to ensure that their guests have premium culinary experiences.
Another way to advance in a baking and pastry career is to shift into the administrative side of the profession. Earning a certificate or a degree in hospitality operations or culinary management can set you up to become the boss of the bakery.
Skills and Abilities for Bakers and Pastry Chefs
The challenges and opportunities of baking and pastry careers are unique, and the Occupational information Network (O*NET) has compiled a list of skills and abilities that can help new workers weather the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. Here are a few of the key traits from that list:
- Coordination of your actions with the actions of others is a vital part of a well-run bakery, helping foster efficiency among the crew
- Visual color precision is the ability to distinguish shades of color and levels of brightness from one another and helps you tell the difference between underdone and golden brown
- Monitoring, or the ability to assess the performance of systems, organizations, people and oneself, is an important part of day-to-day quality control
- Judgment and decision making can be especially valuable for bakers or pastry chefs in high-volume or high-pressure environments
- Active listening can help you stay on top of the goings-on at various stations in a bakery or pastry kitchen and provide a more complete picture of the operation
Baker and Pastry Chef Salary and Career Outlook
Pastry chef salary expectations depend on quite a few factors, including your level of education and experience, advanced knowledge, certifications and more. Different states have different salary ranges for bakers and pastry chefs, as well, and certain organizations may pay more for baking and pastry expertise than others.
We went to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and collected some median national salary figures for bakers and pastry chefs, in order to give you a general idea of the pay you can expect on average. Check out the table below:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
Professional Resources for Bakers and Pastry Chefs
There are numerous organizations around the globe that either advocate on behalf of bakers and pastry chefs or provide valuable professional resources like continuing education courses and networking opportunities. Take a look at this short list of professional organizations that work to serve students and graduates of baking and pastry schools:
- Pastry Chefs of America (PCA) offers two membership categories for individuals and two at the enterprise level. Individual memberships offer opportunities to network with other members and provide a subscription to the organization's newsletter.
- The American Bakers Association (ABA) has been focusing its efforts on the wholesale baking industry for more than 120 years. It works to lobby congress and interface with regulatory authorities on the behalf of baked goods producers throughout the country.
- The American Culinary Foundation (ACF) is home to a global network of bakers, chefs, restaurateurs and other industry personnel. Members get deep discounts on registration for ACF regional and national conferences and save up to $200 on certification fees.