Professional bakers produce a wide range of foods, including bread, cakes, pastries, cookies and pies. They work in bakeries and pastry shops, grocery stores and factories that produce baked goods on a mass scale. The formal education requirements are minimal for bakeries, as most training takes place on the job. Still, bakers must be creative and talented in what they do to keep up with the demands of consumers.
Most entry-level baker positions don't require formal education beyond high school, because most bakers learn the trade working closely with more experienced bakers. However, bakers who seek employment at high-end restaurants and gourmet pastry shops can pursue a culinary school degree. Many culinary schools, such as the Culinary Institute of America and the French Culinary Institute, offer programs specifically designed for aspiring bakers and pastry chefs. These programs usually last from one to three years and teach students the techniques for producing bread, confections, pastries, desserts and patisserie. Students also learn basic cooking skills, food sanitation laws, and menu and cost controls.
Most bakers learn the majority of their skills through on-the-job training. They often start working at commercial bakeries and supermarkets as apprentices under the wing of an experienced baker. Aspiring bakers work closely with their trainer, observing what he does and picking up new skills and techniques along the way. Apprenticeships are usually paid positions, but apprentices make considerably less money than more experienced bakers. In addition to baking skills and techniques, apprentices learn about costumier relations, small business ownership, kitchen safety and sanitation, and nutrition.
The job of a professional baker can be challenging and requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Many bakers spend most of the day on their feet, preparing goods and selling them to customers. Professional bakers must have great physical and mental stamina to tolerate the long hours spent in an often hot and stuffy kitchen. They must be creative individuals with a knack for coming up with new recipes. They also need to measure ingredients accurately, so basic mathematical skills are necessary.
Professional bakers need to develop an extensive knowledge of gastronomy and baking to succeed. Those working at gourmet restaurants and bakeries must stay up-to-date on trends in baking and pastries, which they can do by reading gourmet food magazines and blogs. Professional bakers need to understand nutrition principles and how different ingredients interact in a recipe. An encyclopedic knowledge of recipes for different types of baked goods is also a plus.