How to Become a Dessert and Pastry Chef in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a dessert and pastry chef. Learn about education and training options, job duties, certification and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Baking & Pastry degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Dessert and Pastry Chef Do?

A dessert and pastry chef makes cakes, pies, eclairs and baked sweets of all kinds. They may work in a commercial setting, making goods in large volumes, or retail settings such as grocery stores or bakeries. They are responsible for checking the quality of ingredients, preparing equipment, measuring and mixing ingredients, and kneading or rolling doughs before baking. They also apply glazes, icings, and other topping after baking. In a retail setting, they may also take and prepare orders, clean their work area and unload supplies. If a dessert and pastry chef owns their own shop, they may also hire, train, and supervise staff, and create a budget. The following chart gives you information about three pastry chef career options.

Executive Pastry ChefAssistant Pastry ChefBaker
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Post-secondary certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree High school diploma, post-secondary certificate
Education Field of Study Culinary arts Culinary arts, pastry chef Baker, pastry chef
Key Responsibilities Oversee all pastry and dessert preparation in restaurant; create and test recipes; manage costs, purchasing and inventory; direct and manage pastry staff Assist executive pastry chef in kitchen and supervise staff; assume supervisory duties in executive pastry chef absence; implement and supervise sanitary practices; present desserts and pastry according to executive chef direction Measure or weigh ingredients, combine, mix and bake according to recipe; prepare and clean work area and equipment; manipulate, shape and cut all kinds of dough; finish baked product with toppings, glaze, frosting and decorations
Licensure and/or Certification Certified Executive Pastry Chef and Certified Master Pastry Chef certifications are available Certified Working Pastry Chef is available Certified Pastry Culinarian is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% for all chefs and head cooks* 9% for all chefs and head cooks* 7%*
Median Salary (2017) $62,209** $40,702** $24,170*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Is a Dessert and Pastry Chef?

A dessert and pastry chef prepares pies, cakes, donuts and other types of sweet baked goods as well as unbaked desserts. In this role, you may work alone or serve as an assistant or head chef for a team of bakers. In addition, you may research, develop and test new pastry recipes. Your work requires in depth knowledge of the properties of baking ingredients -- flour, sugar, eggs, fruit, oil and leavening agents -- the proportions to mix them and the effect of heat on a mixture. You may also have administrative duties, which may include preparing budgets, preparing schedules and ordering supplies.

Step 1: Enroll in a Certificate or Degree Program

Completing a certificate or degree program from a community college or culinary school is one option for gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to become a dessert and pastry chef. You may earn a certificate or degree in baking and pastry arts or consider a Bachelor of Professional Studies (B.P.S.) program in Culinary Arts.

Certificate programs introduce fundamental baking concepts, kitchen safety and different varieties of pastry. Associate's degree programs explore more advanced techniques and might devote entire classes to particular types of pastry, such as cake and cake decorating. B.P.S. programs introduce a broader range of food preparation topics beyond pastries and provide you a well-rounded education that may give you a better chance at advancing to managerial-level positions later. Programs may include an internship or externship, which provides hands-on training and enables you to make contacts within the industry.

Step 2: Participate in an Apprenticeship Program

Instead of completing a program at a college or university, you may complete a chef apprenticeship program with a pastry arts option. An apprenticeship usually lasts from 2-3 years and blends academic coursework with supervised on-the-job training. Apprenticeship programs may cover similar topics as a degree program including menu planning, food preparation, baking techniques and sanitation. During the hands-on training portion of the program, you put the skills and knowledge you learned in the classroom to work through preparing recipes, following kitchen protocols and maintaining a sanitary work environment.

Step 3: Get a Job

Approximately 176,610 people worked as bakers in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). Commercial bakeries and grocery stores are possible options for employment. Food service establishments and general merchandise stores may also provide some opportunities. Total employment of bakers was expected to increase by 7% from 2014-2024. In some cases, you may be able to secure employment through your internship, externship or apprenticeship.

Employment for chefs and head chefs, which includes pastry chefs, was 129,370 in 2015. Pastry chefs primarily work in restaurants. Employment was expected to increase by 9% from 2014-2024 according to BLS.

Step 4: Obtain Certification

They aren't mandatory, but the American Culinary Federation offers four levels of certification for pastry chefs (www.acfchefs.org). As an entry-level chef, you may earn the Certified Pastry Culinarian designation. If you supervise a pastry section or work shift, you may consider earning the Certified Working Pastry Chef credential. If you're a chef and an administrator, the Certified Executive Pastry Chef (CEPC) is an option. You're eligible for the Certified Master Pastry Chef if you have the CEPC certificate and demonstrate a high level of professional knowledge and mastery of baking and pastry making.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

If you work for a commercial baker, you may be able to accumulate enough seniority to become a manager or supervisor. If you prefer working in restaurants and are located in an urban area with multiple restaurants, you could make a series of transfers every few years, both to gain experience and as stepping stones to higher level chef positions. You could buy into a franchise or open your own bakery, catering service or restaurant.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Careers similar to dessert and pastry chefs include food preparation workers, who prepare meals under the supervision of a chef or cook, and food service managers who oversee the day-to-day operations of restaurants, supervise staff, and manage the business. While no formal educational credential is required for food preparation workers, a high school diploma is typically required for food service managers. A career as a cook is also similar to one as a dessert and pastry chef. Cooks may prepare a wide range of foods, including entrees and desserts. Cooks may gain on-the-job training or attend a culinary school.

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