Do You Need Pastry School to Be a Pastry Chef?

Passionate about pastry arts? Have you considered pastry chef training? Find out if you really need to attend pastry school to become a pastry chef.

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September 4, 2023 10 min read

The life of a pastry chef is one of delicious creativity. It’s also one of technical precision and attention to minute detail. It’s this fine balance of ingenuity and refinement that so many pastry chefs love!

If you’re feeling that draw towards the offset spatula and the piping bag, you may be debating between attending pastry school and honing your skills “on the job.”

This is an important choice that can have long-term ramifications for your pastry career. So here’s what you should know about pastry school before you take the next step.

Table of Contents

What Does a Pastry Chef Do?

Before we dive headfirst into the universe of pastry school, it might be helpful to first grasp what pastry chefs do! Ultimately, pastry chefs oversee the production of all desserts and sweets that land on a consumer’s plate. Sometimes they branch into savory goods, but for the most part, pastry chefs dedicate most of their time to assembling mouthwatering goods like fruit tarts, cakes, scones, and more.

Pastry chef using a piping bag to make Baked Alaska on a baking sheet

Escoffier pastry chef using piping and decorating skills to assemble Baked Alaska.

Whether they choose to work at a pastry shop or restaurant, pastry chefs are the ones who ideate menus, perhaps in collaboration with the executive chef. That said, this role falls into the “managerial” bucket, so being able to manage all aspects of pastry operations and multitasking is a must.

Pastry Chef Daily Job Responsibilities

  • Oversee and manage inventory of kitchen products
  • Clean and sanitize kitchen equipment
  • Successfully prepare and execute menu items
  • Decorate menu items for presentations
  • Conduct training sessions and supervise kitchen employees
  • Work closely with clients on special events or catering opportunities
  • Implement quality standards for staff to follow

Pastry Chefs Can Benefit From an Education

Every great pastry chef usually knows the tools and skills of their craft like the back of their hand. The question is, will you secure that education on your own? Or will you get it from trained professional Chef Instructors in a more structured setting, like pastry school?

There have been successful pastry chefs who have done it both ways. Christina Tosi of Milk Bar attended a traditional pastry school. Legendary pastry chef François Payard learned from his father and grandfather—both pastry chefs themselves. He supplemented this education with classes in Paris. Both of these chefs are well-educated. The difference is how they got that education.

Without pastry school, you will have to rely on your own dedication and professional network to make sure you continue learning. Are you a self-starter? Will you spend your free time reading blogs and cookbooks, studying recipes, practicing techniques, and seeking out mentorship? It can take a long time to piece an education together in this way, but it can be done.

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On the other hand, a pastry school curriculum has been carefully planned and laid out by expert chef educators. At the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, each week’s lesson builds on the week before. When your program is complete, you’ll be amazed at how much you learned in such a short time. While there will still be more to learn (there always is!), you’ll be starting out with good habits and a clear “why” behind many of the techniques in baking and pastry.

The Skills You May Explore in Pastry School

Pastry programs vary, but most include coursework in the following skills:

  • Professional bakeshop work, such as mise en place and baking math
  • How to bake cookies, pies, and tarts
  • Cake baking, design, and decorating
  • Menu design and management
  • Foundations of bread, such as puff pastry, laminated, and yeasted doughs
  • Fundamentals of baking, such as custards and dessert sauces
  • Confiserie

Pastry School Can Build Good, Long-Lasting Habits

Here’s an interesting experiment. Find a pastry recipe that’s supposed to take an hour. Complete it in 40 minutes instead. Then assess your results.

Unless the laws of physics work differently in your kitchen than in the rest of the world, that recipe won’t likely turn out very well. Why? Because the rules of pastry are rules for a reason. Doughs must be kneaded to strengthen the gluten that gives it its finished shape and texture. Laminated dough must stay cold to prevent the butter from melting out. Baking times and temperatures let batters cook through without drying out and deflating. Cutting corners on recipes like these could lead to disaster.

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Pastry chef schooling can teach aspiring pastry aficionados what’s actually happening during the baking process through a more scientific lens. When you know exactly why your dough has to rest, you’re much less likely to skip or shorten that part of the process.
“Pastry school teaches how each ingredient works and why it’s necessary for the specific technique. If something goes wrong, you’ll be able to assess why and then make needed adjustments going forward.”*
NaDean Johnson
NaDean Johnson
Lead Chef Instructor, Escoffier Online Baking and Pastry Arts
Aspiring pastry chefs who attend pastry school can prove that they’re the type of cooks who do things right. And that’s the kind of attitude that future employers may love to see.

Pastry School Can Give You Access to Hands-On Industry Experience

On top of forming foundational habits that can boost your career, pastry school can open doors to hands-on training you may not find on your own time. For example, students enrolled in Escoffier’s Baking & Pastry program must complete one to two hands-on industry externships as a requirement before graduation.

Whether you choose to fulfill this at an acclaimed dessert shop or eatery, this is your chance to apply your learned skills in the most tangible way possible. This type of unparalleled immersion not only can set you up for success but can help facilitate lasting network connections, which could lead to your first paid job.

“It’s a wonderful program. I did my first externship at Dollywood and am now working there as a pastry chef. It’s amazing!”*
Amy Archer
Amy Archer
Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Graduate

Pastry Chef Training Certifications Can Help You on Your Way

Unlike in some careers, certifications and credentials are not required to be a pastry chef. At first glance, this may sound like becoming a pastry chef is an easier or more accessible path. But it also means that it can be a challenge for potential employers to assess your skills—especially in the beginning when your resume is short.

A degree or diploma from a baking and pastry program proves that you have put in the time to learn and practice the basic skills. Pastry chefs can trust that you know fundamental baking terminology and techniques and that you won’t be starting from scratch. This can make pastry cooks with degrees more attractive candidates.

Escoffier student decorating a cake to look like a piece of wood

Escoffier Baking & Pastry student showcasing decorating skills in pastry arts class.

Additional Pastry Certifications to Consider

After a degree or diploma from pastry school, there are additional certifications you can get to prove your bona fides. These credentials are recognized and respected among the baking and pastry community, and they may elevate your future career.

The American Culinary Federation offers six levels of pastry certification, starting with Certified Fundamentals Pastry Cook™ and moving all the way up to Certified Master Pastry Chef™ and Certified Culinary Administrator™. There are only 11 CMPCs™ in the nation, including Frank Vollkommer, Escoffier’s Culinary Education Specialist.

The Retail Bakers of America also has five certifications. The Certified Journey Baker is the introductory level, building up to Certified Master Baker. While none of these certifications explicitly mandate a pastry school education in order to be eligible, they do have extensive work and skill requirements. And in Certified Master Baker Colette Christian’s experience, the best way to get started is with an education.

“I pursued certifications because I always wanted to be taken seriously and to have a credible voice. I didn’t want to be deniable.”*
Colette Christian
Colette Christian
Escoffier Online Pastry Chef Instructor and Certified Master Baker

Start Your Career with a Built-in Network

One of the biggest benefits of attending a pastry program is the people you can connect with! Strong industry relationships can help you in so many ways.

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Your Pastry School Classmates

Whether you attend school in person or online, you’ll be building relationships with your fellow students. On campus, you could be working together in teams to complete a baking task. In the online programs, you might be chatting via your class forum, sharing tips and ideas with your peers.

Escoffier students posing for a photo at graduation

Escoffier students may form lasting friendships through class collaboration.

Your Pastry Chef Instructors

Chef Instructors at Escoffier’s Baking & Pastry programs are successful chefs with plenty of industry experience. They’ve worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, started their own bakeries, written cookbooks, been on television, and received major accolades. These instructors are devoted to their students and may be willing to provide long-term mentorship to some.

For example, Chef Dana Heider holds over a decade of professional experience in pastry arts and also runs her own boutique pop-up bakery, Snowbird Pastries in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s uber passionate about using fresh local ingredients to make delectable Greek pastries and sourdough baked goods. With so much knowledge at her fingertips teaching and working both front of house and back of house, Chef Dana finds the most joy in helping students achieve their baking and pastry career goals.

Career Services

Outside the classroom or kitchen, there is more help to be had. All Escoffier graduates have access to ongoing Career Services support even after graduation. This includes resume and interview prep assistance, job boards, career planning, and industry referrals.

With the combination of fellow graduates, Chef Instructors, and Career Services, pastry school students can get more than an education. They can also get a built-in network of like-minded pastry enthusiasts that they can grow with for years to come.

Alumni Association

After graduation, you’ll have access to the Auguste Escoffier Alumni Association where you can stay in touch and meet fellow grads. Some will be further along in their careers, and they can be valuable sources of advice and possibly even job opportunities.

So Do You Have to Go Pastry School?

Pastry chefs have found success both with and without formal education. But getting that degree or diploma can start your career on the right foot with good habits, reliable mentorship, and a crew of friends in the industry.

To glean more details about Escoffier’s Baking & Pastry programs, contact us for details about the curriculum and financial aid.


This article was originally published on September 22, 2021, and has since been updated.

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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