It’s one thing to binge-watch episodes of the Great British Bake-Off and be the recognized champion of every local bake sale.
It’s quite another thing to decide that you want to turn your love of baking into a career.
Are you thinking about making the leap?
Whether you’re an amateur baker who wants to go pro, or a total novice who’s just testing the waters, here’s what it takes to become a professional baker.
So you’re wondering how to become a baker? Here’s a step-by-step process that has worked for many.
1. Get Your High School Diploma or Equivalent
There are no formal education requirements to becoming a baker. But if you plan to go to baking school, you’ll need to be at least 16 years old and have your high school diploma or equivalent first.
Even if you don’t choose to attend baking school, many employers across all industries often like to see applicants who have at least finished high school or received an equivalent credential like their GED. It can show that you can follow through with assigned work and display a minimum level of responsibility.
2. Learn the Baking Basics at Baking & Pastry School
All bakers have to start at the beginning. In baking and pastry school, you can start by getting introduced to baking fundamentals, which you can then build on for the rest of your career. This education can prepare students for their first jobs in the industry.
Baking is a scientific art, combining chemistry with design to create something both delicious and beautiful. Baking school teaches students not only how to bake a loaf of bread, but why flour, salt, water, and yeast turn into bread when heat is applied.
The Difference Between a Baker and a Pastry Chef
Baking and pastry are often taught together, but the job of a pastry chef is not necessarily the same as that of a baker.
Pastry chefs are usually responsible for desserts of all types, like custards, ice cream, French pastries, chocolates, and more. They could work in a bakery or in the pastry department in a restaurant.
Bakers specializes in baked goods like bread, pies, rolls, cakes, pastries, donuts, and buns. They generally don’t venture out into plated desserts. Bakers may work in bakeries or restaurants, especially if they serve breakfast or homemade bread.
Exploring the science behind baking can give bakers the tools they’ll need to experiment and create their own baked goods, instead of simply following someone else’s recipes. While attending baking and pastry school is not a requirement to become a baker, it may help you start your career with a firm grasp on the baking basics – which can then lead to differentiating yourself with unique creations. And that degree or diploma may make it easier for you to find your first job.
“The knowledge from Escoffier has given me the skills and confidence not only in my baking, but to take my baking and creations to the next level.”*
Trista Besecker, Online Baking and Pastry Graduate
We’ll discuss what else you can learn in baking and pastry school a little later in this article.
3. Get Your First Baking Job or Apprenticeship
After completing your baking program, it’s time to head out into the workforce. At Escoffier, all graduates must complete one or two industry externships before they receive their degrees or diplomas. So for our students, that first job could be part of their education experience. In fact, for some students externships have turned into full-time employment.
Bakeries don’t always have consistent job titles, but many entry-level positions fall under the umbrella of baker’s assistant or associate. These jobs usually include anything necessary to make the baker’s job easier, like stocking ingredients, cleaning, kneading dough, preparing fillings, and possibly helping customers. They may also make fillings and icings for cookies and cakes, and do some of the more basic baking.
Your first job in a bakery is where you can start to discover what the life of a baker is really like.
4. Consider Bakery Certifications
While they’re not a requirement for becoming a successful baker, some of the best in the industry choose to pursue additional certifications as they progress through their careers.
Respected industry group Retail Bakers of America (RBA) offers prestigious certifications to bakers who have enough experience and can prove their baking skills through rigorous practical exams. These titles may increase your earning potential, as they prove that you continue to improve your craft and are committed to growth and learning.
“Bread has different areas of focus. You’ve got your fermentation of your sourdough, mixing, bulk fermentation, divide and shape the dough… then you have to proof it, you have to load it into an oven… and then bake it correctly. There are probably three distinct areas that it takes a long time to familiarize yourself with, let alone master.”*
Andy Clark, Expert Baker and Owner of Moxie Bread Co.
The RBA offers the following certifications:
Certified Journey Baker or Certified Journey Decorator
These introductory certifications are for those early in their careers who assist in the production of baked goods for commercial bakeries. They must have at least 2,000 hours of experience, or a combination of experience and education.
Certified Baker or Certified Decorator
These more advanced certifications are for those who are further into their careers and have a higher degree of responsibility in the bakery. They must have at least 4 years of experience or a Journey certification plus 3 years of experience.
Certified Master Baker
This is the highest level of bakery certification from the RBA, and it’s for expert bakers who also manage the output of others. This certification has extensive education requirements, plus 10 years of experience or a Certified Baker designation and 3 years of additional experience.
All of these certifications also have associated tests. Escoffier Chef Instructor and Certified Master Baker Colette Christian recalls her two-day exam. “It’s 16 hours of baking,” she said, “with the judge literally standing right over you. It’s not like you present them with four Danishes. You present 32 Danish pastries, and they weigh every single one of them. And you can’t be off, everything has to be perfect.”
“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 Chef Instructor and Certified Master Baker
5. Practice and Improve Over Time
The journey doesn’t end once you’ve become a baker! There’s a whole world of baking styles out there, and there’s always more to learn.
Bakers spend years honing their skills, reaching higher levels of consistency and excellence over time. It’s not enough to make one perfect batch of macarons. You must be able to make batch after batch after batch, all uniform in flavor, shape, and size.
Baking is an exercise in consistency, and it takes time to get it right.
Different programs include different courses, but here are some of the skills you may learn in baking school at Escoffier.
Cooking programs typically start with safety and sanitation so students can avoid any cross-contamination or food-borne illness. The curriculum may cover the concept of mise en place, keeping workstations clean and organized, and prepping all ingredients and tools before they’re needed.
Baking math is another important skill, so bakers can accurately convert recipes to smaller or larger yields as needed. They may explore multiple methods for making and mixing doughs, and prepare custards, dessert sauces, and pâte à choux.
Plus, they can dive into the foundations of bread, exploring the right temperature for starters, pre-ferments, and various doughs for a variety of breads and rolls.
“Since much of baking is really chemistry, our Chef Instructors look at the finished product’s texture, structure, and especially the crumb, to make sure the ingredients were measured correctly and the products baked at the ideal temperatures and time. While flavor is important, it’s the most subjective part of baking. And ultimately, if the ‘chemistry’ of the baked product is off, so will be the flavor.”*
Anne Lanute, Escoffier Baking and Pastry Arts Executive Chef
Building on the basics, students may then move on to more advanced pastry skills. They can practice cake design and decorating, working on fine piping and icing decorations. They can be introduced to new trends in desserts and plating to keep their dishes looking modern and fresh.
They could branch out into confiserie as well. These additional dessert staples like chocolate, sugar confections, fruit desserts, and frozen desserts may come up in future careers.
Foodservice & Business
Beyond the baking, there’s more to cover to help you become a well-rounded baker. Proper menu planning can help to create a profitable, attractive menu, while cost control helps future bakers to properly price their baked goods accounting for food costs, labor costs, and inventory management.
Coursework in business planning, management, and business ethics can help students to become leaders in their future bakeries.
“My excellent baking education and the empowering and supportive chef educators in my program are ultimately what have given me the confidence to reach for the next level. My teachers encouraged me to create the opportunities I could not otherwise find. I am so grateful for my education at Escoffier and all the doors it has opened for this next chapter of my life.”*
Monica Paredes, Austin Baking and Pastry Arts Graduate
Like all of the culinary arts, there are no industry-wide requirements to become a baker. Some individual bakeries may require a baking and pastry education. Others will only hire those with a certain amount of experience.
In any new position, there is an element of training, so you can learn the recipes and procedures unique to that employer. But bringing universal skills – like food safety and sanitation, baking math, the foundations of bread, and frosting/piping – with you to the job can make you a more attractive candidate.
A degree or diploma from baking & pastry school doesn’t exclude you from an applicant pool, but it has the potential to really benefit you.
Everyone’s path to the role of baker will look a little different. Some find that it can take several years to get out of the “apprentice” or assistant stage and into the position of a baker.
By attending a baking and pastry program, it’s possible to reduce the amount of time necessary to take that next step. After all, baking school graduates may already be equipped with sanitation knowledge, baking math, and many other entry-level skills that those without an education have to learn on the job.
The market for bakers is expected to grow 10% between 2020 and 2030 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is about on par with the national average for growth.
But there will be the need for many more bakers than that. Some existing bakers will leave the industry during those years, either due to retirement or changing careers. The U.S BLS estimates that there will be over 28,000 baker positions to be filled each year between now and 2030, between new roles and replacing those who separate from the industry.
The baker’s life is one of precision and attention to detail. It’s a daily dance of perfectly baked bread, evenly-sized macarons, and show-stopping cakes.
If you love to focus on tiny details—weighing the dough for each individual cookie, making temperature adjustments based on your altitude, and knowing by feel whether a dough is too dry or too sticky—then you may have the makings of a baker.
Want to find out? Contact our Admissions Department to discuss what you can learn in baking and pastry school, and get closer to checking your baking education off your list!
To learn more about the baking and pastry arts, try these articles next:
- How to Start Your Own Bakery
- What Are the Baking and Pastry Arts…and Is It a Career for You?
- How to Become a Chocolatier
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.