Cake Decorating Schools
Popularized by television shows and pastry personalities such as Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss, cake decoration has emerged as an in-demand pastry specialty within the larger $36 billion baking industry. The industry largely falls into two arenas: retail and commercial baking. This presents future professional opportunities to individuals skilled in cake decoration. A growingly competitive industry, especially for those wanting to open their own business, cake decoration offers multiple educational and training avenues to professional careers.
How to become a cake decorator
No singular path to becoming a cake decorator exists. However, the most common education and training programs include apprenticeships and on-the-job training and formal, academic training from a culinary school, business, professional association, or community college.
Cake decorators can pursue a pastry chef apprenticeship, a program of study that blends classroom instruction and on-the-job training. As apprentices, cake decorators are supervised by experienced pastry chefs. The largest provider of apprenticeships is the American Culinary Federation. Partnering with local organizations, businesses and community colleges, the ACF sponsors three apprenticeship programs:
1.) Two-Year Program
2.) Three-Year Program
3.) Six-Month Program
Culinary schools offer specialized training in the culinary and pastry arts, including the specialty of cake decoration. Depending on the specific institution, students may enroll in different types of academic programs, ranging from specialized courses of instruction in cake decoration to broader studies in pastry arts that result in certificates, associate and even bachelor's degrees. Many institutions, such as The French Pastry School and Institute of Culinary Education, offer specialized courses in cake decoration. These programs generally range from 12- to 16-weeks in length and are designed to meet the specific needs of students preparing for a career in cake baking and decorating.
These programs blend the study of pastry theory together with real-world, hands-on instruction in the fundamentals of cake decoration:
- Learn about different types of dough (e.g. genoise, sponge)
- Learn how to make different fillings (e.g. butter cream, ganache, mousse)
- Learn how to build different cakes (e.g. wedding, birthday, anniversary)
- Learn how to apply decorating techniques (e.g. embossing, ribbons, embroidery)
- Learn about sugar decorating techniques (e.g. pastillage, pulled sugar)
- Learn about piping techniques (e.g. royal icing, fondant, buttercream)
Students with little-to-no culinary experience may enroll in single courses from professional associations and businesses, such as Wilton -- one of the country's oldest and well-established cake decorating businesses. For example, Wilton offers The Master Course, a program of study conducted over four weekends for cake decorating enthusiasts, culinary novices, bakers, and pastry chefs. The curriculum focuses on preparing students to pursue a career in cake decorating by teaching students about the fundamental techniques of cake decoration and advanced skills in individual courses in areas such as rolled fondant, sugar artistry and gum paste.
Community colleges do offer broader associate degree programs in the pastry arts, but prospective cake decorators may want to consider shorter training options provided through non-credit cake decoration programs. These classes are short-term, designed to prepare students for quick entry into the workplace and offer students the opportunity o develop practical, hands-on experience in cake decorating. Depending on the institution, some programs last up to 3 months, while others are held in a single session.
Cake decoration certifications
Completing a certification program is one way to develop advanced skills, gain exposure to advanced cake decoration techniques, and become more marketable in the industry. The number of certification options specific to cake decoration are limited and decorators may want to pursue broader pastry chef certifications to augment their professional experience. Certification programs are traditionally sponsored by culinary associations and foundations, most notably the Retail Bakers of America, the International Cake Exploration Societé, and the American Culinary Federation.
- International Cake Exploration Societé: Founded in 1976, ICES is a society of cake decorators that sponsors two types of certifications: Certified Master Sugar Artist (CMSA) and Certified Sugar Artist (CSA). The certification program is available to ICES members who are in good standing. An extremely competitive certification, ICES only accepts up to 25 candidates each year. The test for both programs consists of a single-day, 9-hour live skills examination.
- Retail Bakers of America: The Retail Bakers of America is a nonprofit trade association that was founded in 1918. It sponsors industry training programs and sponsors several baking certifications, including the Certified Decorator (CD). Other certifications include the Certified Journey Baker (CJB), Certified Baker (CB), and Certified Master Baker (CMB). The Certified Decorator program is designed for individuals who work in decoration in a commercial or retail bakery. In order to qualify, candidates must possess at least four years of professional decorating experience in a commercial or retail bakery. To qualify, candidates must pass a written and practical examination.
- American Culinary Federation: The country's largest professional organization for chefs, the American Culinary Foundation currently has more than 17,500 members globally. It sponsors four pastry-specific certifications for individuals with increasing amounts of professional and educational experience: Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC); Certified Executive Pastry Chef (CEPC); Certified Working Pastry Chef (CWPC); and Certified Master Pastry Chef (CMPC).
Career outlook for cake decorators
The baking industry is expansive, with more than 600,000 individuals working in the industry across the country, according to research from the American Bakers Association. However, as a specialty of the pastry and baking arts, cake decoration is not tracked as an occupational track within the larger industry. With that said, opportunity exists for cake decorators as there are nearly 9,000 retail and commercial bakeries in the United States. Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects only 6 percent growth for bakers between 2012 and 2022.
Projected Growth (2012-2022)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The median national salary for bakers, including pastry chefs, was $23,600 in 2014. The ten best-paying geographical areas in 2014 included the following:
Median Salary (2014)
District of Columbia
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
The baking and pastry arts industry presents a diverse array of career opportunities for graduates of cake decorating schools and programs. Prospective students should learn about the different educational options to discover which type of training is right for them.
- American Bakers Association, Industry Data, http://americanbakers.org/industry-data/
- American Culinary Federation, http://www.acfchefs.org/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh
- Culinary Institute of America, Academics, http://www.ciachef.edu/academics/
- IBIS World, Cake Decoration Stores in the US: Market Research Report, http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/cake-decoration-stores.html
- ICES, Certification Guidelines, http://ices.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/2015-Certification-Guidelines-Final.pdf
- Institute of Culinary Education, Techniques and Art of Professional Cake Decorating, http://www.ice.edu/professional-development/techniques-and-art-of-cake-decorating
- International Cake Exploration Societé, ICES Certification, http://ices.org/internationals/certification/
- Retail Bakers of America, Certification Program, http://www.retailbakersofamerica.org/certification.html
- SBDC, Bakery Business, 2014, http://www.sbdcnet.org/small-business-research-reports/bakery-business-2014
- The Art Career Project, Interview with Rick Reichart, Cake Designer, http://www.theartcareerproject.com/interview/rick-reichart/
- The French Pastry School, http://www.frenchpastryschool.com/
- The Institute of Culinary Education, Cake Decorating Curriculum, http://www.ice.edu/professional-development/techniques-and-art-of-cake-decorating/cake-decorating-curriculum
- Wilton, Master Course, http://www.wilton.com/classes/wiltonschool/class.cfm?id=0c90f998-475a-bac0-513199b4179b1b34