If you never outgrew the idea that Willy Wonka had the best job in the world, a career in the confectionery arts might be for you.
Confections, or sweets, date back thousands of years. Once humans found honey, the game was on. They used it to sweeten fruits and nuts, then later expanded their repertoire with sugar.
Today, we see a combination of sweeteners, fats, dairy, flavoring, and coloring in confections. Baking and pastry became a lot sweeter, more decadent, and sometimes more ornate as the confectionery arts evolved. Let’s explore more about this niche.
What Is a Confectionery?
“Confectionery” is a wide-ranging term that includes a variety of sweet foods whose primary ingredient is sugar or a sweetener. This includes hard and soft candies, cakes, pralines, and chocolates.
Examples range from lollipops and gummy bears to chocolate truffles, doughnuts, fudge, and ice cream. Everything from the pedestrian candy corn to petits fours are confections.
The word is spelled confectionary or confectionery and, depending on whom you ask, can be interchangeable. In the US, confectionary with an “a” usually refers to a sweet, sugary food—also called a confection—while a confectionery with an “e” is the place of business.
So, if confections are sugary and sweet, aren’t they the same as dessert? Technically, no—a confection is a sweet food, while dessert is a course. So you can have a confection as dessert.
Also, a bakery is more than a confectionery because it includes breads and savory items.
What’s Involved In the Confectionery Arts?
Confectionery arts are an important component in the broader baking and pastry field and one that requires both creativity and precision. Here are some factors you may need to be aware of if you choose to pursue a career in this field.
Tools and Techniques
In addition to mixers, pots and pans, and other standard culinary equipment, some basic confectionery tools can include:
- chocolate melter
- fondant funnel
- candy thermometer
- candy molds
- various types of spatulas
- cutters, including ganache cutter, praline cutter, and caramel cutter
- pastry board (good for tempering chocolate)
- squeeze bottles
- pastry brush
- wooden spoons (withstands high temperatures)
- double boiler
- dipping tools
- chef torch
If you want to make a career out of confectionery, it might be vital for you to understand how to use those tools to manipulate ingredients specific to your type of confection. From candy-making to cake decorating and more, here are some techniques you can expect to add to your repertoire.
Practicing Basic Baking and Pastry Skills
A good first step is to understand how to bake and make pastries before moving on to more advanced techniques and recipes.
These foundational skills include the proper technique for making dough, kneading and rolling, proofing, whisking, the creaming method, and folding.
Working With Different Sugars
You’ll likely work with a variety of sugars in the confectionery arts, each of which might call for different techniques depending upon what you’re making.
When making candy, for example, it’s important to cook sugar to the proper temperature. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “hard-ball stage,” a gauge for testing whether a sugar syrup—usually, sugar and boiling water—is at the proper temperature and consistency. When dropping the syrup into cold water, can you then form it into a ball? (There’s soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack, and more!)
Other common scenarios involve caramel, confectioner’s sugar, brown sugar, and decorative sugars like sanding sugar. You may even decide to venture into the world of pulling and blowing sugar for ribbons and bows or to create shapes.
Chocolate can be a fickle ingredient, but oh-so-worth it when handled well. Tempering goes beyond melting, although proper melting is important too–many a home chef has watched with despair as their chocolate seized (became grainy and clumped) and needed to be thrown out.
Tempering refers to the proper heating, cooling, then heating again of chocolate. It’s a technique that gives chocolate a shine and prevents it from melting to the touch—key when dipping fruit or making chocolate candies.
Candied fruit, those picture-perfect pieces of fruit preserved in a clear, glossy shell, can be eaten as-is, used in baked goods, and added as decoration. You can also dip candied fruit into the aforementioned tempered chocolate.
Candying fruit is the process by which you’ll infuse the fruit with a sugar syrup. This involves blanching the fruit first—anywhere from once to eight times, depending on how sweet or bitter the fruit—before putting it into a pot of simmering simple syrup, removing, and allowing to cool.
Tips for Exploring Confectionery Arts
If you want to explore the confectionery arts, you can get started right away. Here are a few ways to kickstart that journey:
Practice Your Baking and Pastry Skills
There’s always a good excuse to hone your baking and pastry skills, whether you volunteer to make a birthday cake, host a brunch, or bring cookies to the office. The better you get at the basics, the faster you can advance to some of the more creative aspects of confectionery arts.
Visit Confectioneries or Other Pastry Shops
A great way to complement your classroom instruction is to go on-site. Wherever you live, there are bound to be shops you can visit and browse the displays before sampling some items. You can also take tours to see chocolate- or candy-making in progress. These visits can help you decide upon a niche.
Talk to Experts in the Field
Most small-business owners love to talk about their craft with visitors. If you pop in during off-hours, you might catch an owner with a few minutes available to chat. Be respectful of their time, though; for longer chats, ask for an appointment or perhaps a tour. You can offer to buy them a coffee or even lunch if they’re able.
Start Becoming an Expert Yourself: Earn a Degree
You can become quite adept at making confections at home, but a pastry education can help you take it to another level. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts offers degree and diploma programs in the Baking & Pastry Arts. Through these programs, you can explore techniques from expert Chef Instructors and have the unique ability to network with other students as well as experts in the field.
Expand Your Skills, Sweeten Your Career Prospects
Confectionery arts is a creative field with an ever-expanding range of career possibilities. It’s a fun way to get paid to indulge your sweet tooth or to make beautiful sweets for others. And a formal education can help you stand out from the crowd of applicants for a confectionery role.
If you’re serious about taking the next step in your confectionery career, contact us today to find out more about Escoffier’s Baking & Pastry programs.
TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IMPROVING YOUR CULINARY SKILLS, EXPLORE THESE ARTICLES:
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- What Are the Career Opportunities in Baking and Pastry?