July 16, 2021

Do you dream of baking the perfect loaf of sourdough? Of producing delicate puff pastry that flakes apart when you bite it? Of constructing tiered wedding cakes as tall as the flower girl?

Then you may be cut out for a delicious career as a baker or pastry chef.

Baking and pastry is a unique culinary science, which is why it’s taught separately from other cooking skills. Learn what we mean by “baking and pastry” and find out if you’re the type to thrive in this detail-oriented industry.

What’s the Difference Between Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry?

The culinary arts is a cooking discipline that generally includes appetizers, side dishes, and main courses. This area focuses on vegetables, grains, and proteins (often meat, seafood, and dairy, but they can be plant-based as well).

Baking and pastry arts, on the other hand, concentrate on bread and desserts. Cakes, pies, petit fours, donuts, cookies, croissants, artisan breads, chocolate, and more fall under the “baking and pastry” umbrella.

dessert cake with red sauce, cherries, and sliced almonds

There can be crossover between the two disciplines. For example, a savory pot pie could be an entree filled with meat and veggies within a perfectly baked pie crust. As such, many successful culinarians are skilled in both culinary and pastry arts.

Culinary school students can choose to study culinary arts, which does include some coursework in breads and desserts. Or, they can focus exclusively on baking and pastry to become specialists and aim for the top of their field.

Is Baking & Pastry a Good Career?

Not only is baking and pastry a great career—it’s a surprisingly versatile industry with opportunity in many niches.

Baking & Pastry Arts Executive Chef Anne Lanute for Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts online programs says, “A common misconception is that if you’re going to pastry school, you can really only work in a bakery. Bakeries are just one place. Restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, chocolateries…there are a lot of specialty-focused places to go.”

Some bakers concentrate exclusively on bread, while others prefer to bake cakes or pies. Some stick to pastry and other desserts, like chocolate, macarons, or laminated doughs for croissants and puff pastry. There are also specialty shops, like donut shops and patisseries (French pastry shops) where a pastry cook can focus on one niche.

And of course, restaurants and hotels need pastry cooks and chefs to design and make plated desserts, and bakers for breads and baked sweets.

Smiling woman in bakery using dough kneading machine

Who Should Consider Baking & Pastry For Their Career?

Chef Anne says, “There tend to be pastry people and culinary people.”

“Pastry people” enjoy fine detail. They follow a recipe to the letter, and they know that they have to strictly adhere to laws of baking science if their creation is going to turn out. They often consider their approach to cooking to be more scientific.

“Culinary people” can be more adaptive and fix things in the moment. They should taste as they go and season or adapt. That will not work in baking and pastry! Last minute changes can spell disaster. Culinary arts are sometimes considered more art than science, since there’s more leeway in how you complete a recipe.

Escoffier Senior Lead Chef Instructor Anne Lanute“Pastry students and pastry chefs tend to be finicky about precision and accuracy and having everything weighed and measured. It’s a very delicate balance, but we thrive in that kind of environment.”
Anne Lanute, Executive Chef, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Arts

The best bakers and pastry chefs know that precision and attention to detail is vital. You have to follow every step in a recipe—even if it’s a different method than what you were taught in culinary school! Your employer may be asking you to use a specific technique to achieve a special result. There’s always a reason! And you have to be consistent if you’re going to make several dozen perfect croissants or macarons.

Pink Macarons

Baking and pastry is also a great career for people who want to specialize. In culinary arts, you may be responsible for a wide variety of cooking styles and methods. In baking & pastry, specialization is common. You may only make gluten-free artisan breads. Or you may create complex chocolate creations. Others choose to only make wedding cakes. There are opportunities for all of these specialties in baking and pastry.

Frank Vollkommer, Certified Master Pastry Chef® & Escoffier Director of Culinary Industry Development“One of the reasons I love pastry is it’s the perfect combination of science, technical skill, and creativity. You need a little bit of each.”
Frank Vollkommer, Certified Master Pastry Chef®, Culinary Olympics Gold Medalist & Escoffier Director of Culinary Industry Development

Is Education Important For a Baking & Pastry Career?

Some think baking is just following a recipe. But a recipe is a formula. If you adjust or remove anything, you have to replace that ingredient’s role in the formula. And that means you have to understand the ingredient’s function.

Baking and pastry school can teach you these functions and roles.

Eggs, flour, the types of protein in each flour, chemical leaveners—each of these does its own job, and you omit it or change the amount at your peril. This kind of foundational education is usually not available in a bakery or restaurant.

Pastry students looking at baked chocolate dessert

Plus, education can be eye-opening about what you pursue after school. Chef Anne says, “You come to the industry saying you want to bake cakes, for example. But [in baking and pastry school], you may find an area that you love even more. There are many things we make that you may not have been exposed to.”

Escoffier Senior Lead Chef Instructor Anne Lanute“You may find that you have a talent in an area you didn’t know you had. Give it a shot.”
Anne Lanute, Executive Chef, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Arts

Escoffier offers both degree and diploma programs in baking & pastry arts. Students have the option of studying in Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colorado; or from home with our online programs. Graduates come away from these programs with an understanding of the fundamentals of baking and pastry, breads, a wide variety of desserts, and business skills like menu planning and foodservice management.

Culinary student following food styling technique on computer

Chef Anne also shared an unexpected benefit to going to online pastry school—better cost control, which is a huge benefit to employers. Baking students who make a mistake on a physical campus can just grab another pound of butter from the shelves and start over. Online students will receive a kit of starter pantry ingredients, but after that, they will be providing their own supplies. This can make online students more diligent about careful preparation before they begin baking, and thorough reviews with their Chef Instructors before they try a recipe again.

Chef Instructor and Master Baker Colette Christian“You can’t get certifications without a solid foundation. The first thing that must be done is to get an associate’s degree…You have to have a good foundation, set realistic goals, and then not get discouraged.”
Colette Christian, Escoffier Online Pastry Chef Instructor, Certified Executive Pastry Chef®, and Certified Master Baker

Professional Development for Bakers and Pastry Chefs

There are further opportunities for professional development even after baking and pastry school. Chef Anne encourages students to join professional associations like the American Culinary Federation, Bread Bakers Guild of America, or the Retail Bakers of America.

You can also study the trade magazines and stay in contact with your fellow pastry school graduates through the Escoffier Alumni Association.

Even the experts are still learning. Chef Anne says that two of her current Chef Instructors are doing intensive training in viennoiserie, which are sweet breakfast pastries like croissants and Danish. Often made from complicated laminated doughs, these are another area of baking specialization!

Escoffier Senior Lead Chef Instructor Anne Lanute“I’m a big proponent of taking charge of your destiny. Find people you admire. Seek them out and emulate them as much as possible as you find your own style and niche in the industry.”
Anne Lanute, Executive Chef, Escoffier Online Baking & Pastry Arts

Find Your Path With Pastry

Baking and pastry can be a fun and rewarding career. Whether you’re making whimsically decorated cookies or baking and decorating cakes for special occasions, this is a path that can only benefit from a formal education.

In just 30 to 60 weeks, students can be on their way to a career in the most delicious of industries. Request more information and get started with your pastry education!

To learn more about baking and pastry, explore these resources: