The terms “baking” and “pastry” often get lumped together, and for good reason. Both baked goods and pastries are usually oven-baked, which makes them both parts of the same corner of the culinary world.
While it may be tempting to use the terms interchangeably, there are actually significant differences between the jobs of baker and pastry chef.
A baker can bake a wide variety of items, including bread, rolls, pies, cakes, cookies, pastries, donuts, and more. But pastry chefs usually specialize in desserts. They may also make non-baked goods as part of their dessert recipes, like custards, sauces, and chocolates.
The other primary difference between bakers and pastry chefs is one of experience. “Baker” can be an entry-level position. But “pastry chef” is a title that comes with more experience and is often a managerial role.
Keep reading to learn more about the difference between a pastry chef and a baker, and find out which career path might be right for you!
What Does a Pastry Chef Do?
Any culinary role that contains the word “chef” is typically going to be an advanced one. Chefs are supervisors and leaders in the kitchen, and the pastry chef is no exception. Pastry chefs create dessert menus and recipes in restaurants, pastry shops, and patisseries. While they may work under the supervision of an executive chef, the pastry chef is generally in charge of their own department. They may work independently or they may supervise a small team of pastry cooks.
As for what they make, the focus is usually on desserts and sweets. A pastry chef in a patisserie might make French pastries like eclairs, macarons, and danish. They could also make tarts, scones, puff pastries, and any manner of sweet baked goods.
In a restaurant, pastry chefs often do very detailed work, plating and decorating their creations with intricate piping or dots of sweet sauces. They’re also responsible for the non-baked elements of a dessert. If the dessert menu includes homemade sorbet, it will probably be the pastry chef who makes it. Unlike a baker, a pastry chef usually won’t make bread or other savory baked goods.
“The Pastry Arts program at [Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts] gave me the foundation to build my career. The chef educators provide real life tips and formulas I could never get from books. My co-workers are surprised by how much help the school has given me throughout my career.”
Kim Boos, Pastry Chef/Owner, T & Cakes, Boulder Pastry Arts Graduate
What Does a Baker Do?
Unlike a pastry chef, a baker is usually not a manager. Bakers follow recipes rather than creating their own. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need education and training. Bakers must understand the science behind their baked goods, and they need to know how to work commercial baking equipment. They may also have to scale recipes up or down, so they’ll need to know their baking math.
“Baker” is a more general job title, which can include a huge variety of baked goods. Some bakers do a little bit of everything, while others choose to focus on a specific niche. But in general, bakers may make both sweet and savory baked goods, like muffins, cupcakes, bread, laminated doughs, tarts, cakes, and so much more! Unlike pastry chefs, they usually won’t have to be experts in chocolate, sugar sculptures, ice cream, and other sweets.
Bakers may also do less decorative work than pastry chefs. Pastry chefs can make complex plated desserts, while bakers spend their days making a high volume of simpler baked goods. They may do some cake decorating, like adding some basic piping. But any highly intricate decorating is usually reserved for cake decorating or design specialists.
The Difference Between Pastry Chef and Baker Salaries
Since pastry chefs have more responsibility, they often earn higher salaries than bakers. According to Salary.com, the average pastry chef salary is $56,684.1 And the average baker salary is $34,076 (as of October 2021).2
Actual salaries vary dramatically based on the baker or pastry chef’s education and experience, type of foodservice establishment, and city where they work.
Certifications in Baking and Pastry
To prove their skill level, bakers and pastry chefs may seek certifications that prove their commitment to their trade. Anyone hoping to follow either path should usually start with a degree or diploma in baking and pastry or take professional baking classes. It’s one of the best ways to build a solid foundation in baking science and start learning the different kinds of doughs and pastries. This is a very scientific discipline, so formal training is highly recommended!
Beyond a degree or diploma, there are several reputable culinary industry groups that offer additional education and certification. The American Culinary Federation recognizes Certified Master Pastry Chefs™, Certified Executive Pastry Chefs™, and Certified Pastry Culinarians™. Escoffier Director of Culinary Industry Development Frank Vollkommer is one of only 11 CMPCs™ in the country! To reach this level, you must have extensive experience and complete an incredibly challenging eight-day exam.
The Retail Bakers of America offers baking-focused certifications for Journey Bakers, Certified Bakers, and Certified Master Bakers. Colette Christian, Escoffier Pastry Chef Instructor, is a Certified Master Baker through the RBA. She had to bake dozens of perfect pastries over two days to earn the title.
“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, Escoffier Online Pastry Chef Instructor And Master Baker
If the Jobs Are Different, Why Are Baking and Pastry Taught Together?
While the day-to-day jobs are different, bakers and pastry chefs share many common skills. Both must know the principles of baking and the science behind why a recipe works. They must both know how to work at scale, making larger or smaller batches of product based on the needs of the business. They both must have at least some decorating skills, and they must be familiar with many different baking techniques.
This overlap between the two disciplines makes it logical to teach future bakers and pastry chefs together in pastry school. Equipped with these same building blocks, students on both paths can go on to learn more in the workplace and grow into their future careers.
“There’s sometimes a misconception with people thinking that baking is just following a recipe. It’s not—it is science. It’s chemistry. And it’s understanding ingredient function. And if you take something out, what are you going to do to replace it?… School teaches you that ingredient function and that science and chemistry so that you understand what’s happening.”
Anne Lanute, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Arts Executive Chef
Where Will Baking Take You?
What if you know you want to bake, but don’t know if you’d rather build a career in a busy bakery or a fine dining pastry department? That’s okay! The first step on both paths is to get that foundational education.
Contact our Admissions Department to learn more about how studying at Escoffier can help you not only learn the ropes, but also help you to discover where your passions lie within the world of baking and pastry arts.
To learn more about career opportunities in baking and pastry, try these articles next:
- What Are the Career Opportunities in Baking and Pastry?
- What Is It Like to Be a Pastry Chef?
- Building an Online Pastry Shop