Many roads can lead to a career as a dessert and pastry chef, and there are many options for where to practice your skills as a creator of sweets and treats. You can attend a professional education program and earn a degree or certification; you can work your way through the ranks on the job, learning from employers and colleagues as you go; or you can seek out a formal, paid apprenticeship. Some dessert and pastry chefs later choose to earn a certification, which involves ongoing training to maintain but allows for further development of culinary skill.
Dessert and pastry chefs are culinary professionals who specialize in cakes, cookies, chocolates, confections and other treats. They often work in bakeries, restaurants, hotels and cafes, crafting and decorating high volumes of goods for individual customers and catered events. Professional training is necessary for this career, and it can be gained on-the-job, through an apprenticeship, or via a formal certificate or degree program in baking and pastry arts. Voluntary certification is available from organizations like the American Culinary Federation.
|Required Education||High school diploma at minimum; certificate, associate's degree and apprenticeship programs are common|
|Other Requirements||On-the-job training for those with only a high school diploma|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||9% for all chefs and head cooks|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$41,500 for all chefs and head cooks|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Dessert and Pastry Chef Education Requirements
There are no strict education requirements for a career in dessert and pastry culinary arts. Some chefs gain instruction through employer-sponsored, on-the-job training; however, most chefs complete some form of postsecondary training. Dessert and pastry chefs may pursue formal training through certificate or degree programs available at culinary institutes, community colleges, technical schools and 4-year universities. Chefs may also enter the profession through apprenticeship programs.
Formal Training Program
Culinary arts training programs, such as Associate of Applied Science in Baking and Pastry Arts programs, equip students with the technical and practical skills necessary for careers in the pastry arts. These 2-year degree programs are usually comprised of classroom and in-kitchen instruction, and often require students to complete externships in commercial kitchens. Courses may include:
- Baking fundamentals
- Cake design
- Chocolate arts
- Specialty cakes
- Plated desserts
- Sanitation and safety
- Culinary management
Many chefs are trained in dessert and pastry arts through apprenticeship programs. Such programs are available through culinary associations like the American Culinary Federation (ACF), which offers apprenticeships to ACF student-members who are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor (www.acfchefs.org). These programs last 2-3 years and provide paid, on-the-job instruction under the supervision of certified chefs. Apprentices are also required to complete 12 formal courses in culinary subjects, such as food safety, nutrition and management. Completion of apprenticeship programs may result in professional credentials or associate's degrees.
While not mandatory, many dessert and pastry chefs demonstrate culinary skills by earning professional certification. The ACF offers four levels of certification for baking and pastry professionals, from beginning to master pastry chefs. Each certification requires varying amounts of education and experience.
The lowest level of certification, which results in the Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC) designation, is available to chefs with high school diplomas or the equivalent and two years of entry-level, pastry arts experience. Alternatively, chefs with certificates and one year of experience or associate's degrees and no experience are also eligible. Also required are 90 hours of coursework in food safety and sanitation, nutrition and culinary management. Candidates must then pass written and practical exams to earn certification, which must renewed every five years through the completion of 80 continuing education hours.
Career Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pastry chefs are listed under chefs and head cooks. These workers were projected to see an increase of 9% in job opportunities from 2014-2024. The median annual wages for chefs and head cooks were $41,500 in May 2015.
Whether you want to open your own bakery or work in a fine-dining restaurant, most pastry chefs do undergo training of some kind, either in a formal program such as culinary school or as an apprentice. After training is complete, earning a certification can lend a dessert and pastry chef further credibility and allow him or her to show off specialized skills. Maintaining such a certification requires continuing education.