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Information on Pastry Chef Schools

Anyone who has ever eaten a wedding cake, cracked the top of a crème brûlée, or bitten off a chocolate curl from a beautiful dessert has experienced both the art and precise science of pastry arts. Behind these pieces of edible art lies the work of chefs trained in pastry arts. Because of the chemistry and physics involved in baking and sculpting sugary concoctions, highly specialized training, a delicate hand, and a creative mind are all necessary to work as a pastry chef.

Pastry School: Necessary or Not?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many pastry chefs are taught on the job and some earn their titles through years of working their way up the ranks of restaurant, hotel, or supermarket kitchens. Increasingly, other chefs have been learning their craft through culinary schools and in colleges offering 2 or 4-year degrees in culinary arts.

But because this is an elite profession, competition is keen. In fact, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) says that only 3 percent of its culinary membership's jobs are held by pastry chefs. Additionally, a 2008 survey by the ACF found that 76 percent of respondents working in the culinary arts attended culinary school.

Many employers simply prefer to hire those with certifications or degrees from pastry schools. In general, workers with a good sense for business should have better job prospects. Plus, having more advanced training often leads to better opportunities for advancement and higher salaries.

How to Become a Pastry Chef: Training and Practice

Understanding the many recipes for pastries and desserts, down to the smallest cookie and chocolate, is essential for anyone wanting to work in this profession. Trained pastry chefs should know the little nuances that make their creations go from something decent to delectable.

Pastry arts schools cover basic baking principles as well as more advanced skills, including how to prepare or develop recipes for just about any dessert, from pies and cakes to custards. Pastry chefs also need to be able to prepare sauces, glazes, icing, marzipan figures, blown or pulled sugar, ice carvings, and dough sculptures.

Shorter pastry chef education programs, such as pastry diplomas and certificates, focus mainly on culinary skills and kitchen techniques, safe work practices, and sanitation compliance. These programs, which include courses in breads, cakes, tarts, chocolate, and sugarwork, typically take around one year to complete. Students in these pastry programs have the advantage of a lower time commitment for their training, although the programs are less extensive in the skills they offer.

Longer programs for pastry chef training, consisting of associate and bachelor’s degrees, typically include business fundamentals to enhance students’ culinary understanding. These programs include pastry courses commonly found in certificate and diploma programs, with additional classes in finance, food marketing, and management. An associate degree usually takes 2 years to complete, while most students finish up a bachelor’s degree in 4 years.

In addition, most pastry chef schools will include an externship as a necessary component of their programs, most lasting for about the length of a semester. These externships are helpful in providing professional experience—an important step for students transitioning into a pastry chef career.

Pastry School Cost, Scholarships, and Aid

Costs vary for training programs, depending on the school, the length of the program, and whether the program is taken at full or part-time. There are ways to help students afford pastry school, including scholarships, employer sponsored tuition reimbursement, financial aid and student loans. In fact, the ACF and other culinary organizations offer scholarship opportunities.

Students considering pastry school should think about the training appropriate for where they are, and where they want to be, in their culinary career.

Pastry Chef Salary and Career Information

Pastry chefs work in a variety of settings, including restaurants, hotel or resort kitchens, supermarket bakeries, specialty bakeries, catering businesses, or even research kitchens for food manufacturers. Here, pastry chefs are on their feet for most of the work day, creating their edible art in locations that can sometimes be hot and noisy. Most start in an entry-level position and gradually advance to higher levels of responsibility.

Pastry chef salaries vary depending on the employer and experience. Statistically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the majority of pastry chefs have between 0 and 9 years experience, with the middle 50 percent of salaries ranging from $29,050 to $51,540. On average, the annual salary of a pastry chef is identified at $38,770. The highest salaries, of course, are found in the more competitive and upscale food establishments.

Additional Resources for Pastry Chef Careers:
Bureau of Labor Statistics information on pastry chef careers
Occupational Information Network (O*NET) information on pastry chef career skills

Featured Pastry Chef Schools

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