Being a pastry chef allows you to experiment with recipes, indulge your creativity and master the fine art of baking. However, even if you're a natural in the kitchen, you still must earn a pastry arts associate degree to be competitive in the industry. Some two- and four-year colleges offer pastry arts programs, as do specialty culinary arts training schools.
General Culinary Arts
An introductory culinary arts course may be required, depending on your program. In this course, you'll learn essential information such as the history of the profession -- for example, the rationale behind the pecking order in a commercial kitchen -- ingredient identification, flavor combinations and food presentation. While you'll learn very little about pastry arts in an entry level culinary arts course, you'll gain a knowledge vital to perform on-the-job tasks such as menu planning, ingredient sourcing and employee training.
In the pastry arts courses required by your program, you'll learn baking chemistry and how to make a range of desserts including cakes, pies, tortes and confections, in large quantities for commercial consumption. Pastry arts courses, like most culinary arts courses, include a combination of lecture and hands-on training in the kitchen. To earn your pastry arts degree, you'll be required to demonstrate mastery in your area of choice.
Math and English
In a pastry arts kitchen, the art of baking demands the precise use of ingredients. At least one college-level math or algebra course will help you learn efficient ways to perform calculations involving fractions, decimals and measurements. You'll also be required to take one or two semesters of English composition to earn your pastry arts associate degree.
Knowing how to crunch numbers and make sound operational decisions remains key to success in the food service industry. Business courses may be required by your pastry arts program. Most often, these courses focus on hospitality management and cost control. However, for your electives, courses in entrepreneurship, small business management and marketing can be helpful. Take a course in e-commerce if you plan to sell products online.
Depending on your program, you may be required to complete a food handling course before you're allowed to work in the student kitchen. Food safety courses teach you how to prepare food so as to avoid the spread of foodborne illnesses. If your culinary arts department provides food handling certificates upon food safety course completion, this will give you a leg up among the competition when applying for jobs, even as a student. Taking a nutrition course will increase your knowledge base if you're planning to enter pastry product manufacturing.
Accredited pastry arts programs require you to complete a semester-long internship. You can complete the internship requirement on-campus, if your college's culinary arts department runs a restaurant. However, if the department does not, you'll have to compete for internship opportunities at bakeries, restaurants and hotels in your area.
- Suffolk County Community College: Culinary Arts -- Baking and Pastry Arts Option
- Johnson and Wales University: Baking and Pastry Arts
- College of DuPage: Culinary Arts
- The Illinois Institute of Art -- Chicago: Chicago BackStage Bistro Restaurant
- Pennsylvania College of Technology: Baking and Pastry Arts Majors
Maya Black has been covering business, food, travel, cultural topics and decorating since 1992. She has bachelor's degree in art and a master's degree in cultural studies from University of Texas, a culinary arts certificate and a real estate license. Her articles appear in magazines such as Virginia Living and Albemarle.