Pastry chefs prepare desserts, breads and other pastry products, usually for bakeries or restaurants. There are several ways to train to become a pastry chef, but many aspiring bakers enroll in pastry education programs offered by culinary schools at the certificate, associate's and bachelor's degree levels. In these programs, they learn the skills needed to work in the industry, often gaining hands-on experience at student-run facilities. Graduates can pursue professional certification, which is not required but can help with career advancement.
A culinary school education is highly desired by most employers of pastry chefs. A pastry education program combines theory and practical applications. Most programs require students to work in a student-run public bakery or restaurant to hone their skills and gain industry experience. Completion of a pastry education program prepares students for entry-level work in restaurants, hotels, catering companies and retail establishments.
The American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits 200 programs in the United States to ensure the quality of instruction, course content and facilities. The ACF also offers 14 certification levels for pastry professionals, providing independent assessment of pastry chef skill level.
Certificate and Degree Programs
Certificate programs in the pastry arts usually take less than one year to complete and provide focused, entry-level training. Associate's degree programs typically require two years to complete and includes courses in the business and technical aspects of being a pastry chef. A bachelor's degree program offers a well-rounded education that requires four years of full-time study. In addition to hands-on pastry training, coursework includes math, English, biology, physiology and history as well as nutrition, computers and food chemistry.
A limited number pastry arts programs lead to a master's degree. These programs spend less time on general pastry technique and focus on the science of pastry. Most graduates students focus on a specialized aspect of culinary arts.
Graduates of pastry education programs produce baked goods, decorate and plate pastries and desserts, keep the kitchen organized and order supplies. In addition to a pastry education, creativity, attention to detail, math, reading comprehension and good communication skills are beneficial. Entry-level positions for those with a pastry education include baking and pastry assistant, baker, pastry cook and assistant pastry chef. Pastry program graduates can also find careers as personal chefs or in food writing or styling.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected a 7% or average growth in jobs for bakers from 2014-2024. In May 2015, bakers earned a median annual salary of $24,170. By comparison, chefs in general will see a 9% or faster-than-average growth in jobs from 2014-2024. In May 2015, chefs in general earned a median annual salary of $41,500.
Remember, that if you're still interested in pursuing a formal pastry education, you may be able to find classes and programs through one of the 200 programs accredited by the American Culinary Federation. As of May 2015, bakers and chefs in general earned median annual salaries of $24,170 and $41,500 respectively.