Baker Job Description
The work of a baker involves mixing and baking ingredients to create breads, pastries and many other baked goods. It’s slightly different than the role of a pastry chef, which tends to be more delicate and detail oriented. Bakers can find work in a wide variety of settings in almost all areas of the world.
Bakers can be found in restaurants, cafes, grocery stores and specialty shops. Many institutional venues employ bakers as well, such as hospitals, schools, retirement and rehabilitation facilities, even jails and prisons. Alternatively, many bakers opt to open their own bakeries or cafes, or work independently as specialty vendors, providing catering selections or wedding menus. This type of chef is frequently asked to provide small quantities of baked goods, but may (depending on employer or venue) be asked to make large quantities of a particular offering. Selections often range from daily bread loaves to artisan breads and specialty desserts. There is a growing need for dietary restricted options, such as gluten-free, egg-free and sugar-free choices.
Working conditions can range from solitary and quiet to crowded, noisy and chaotic depending on the environment you choose to work. However, most bakers can expect to work very early morning hours, in hot kitchens and under strict deadlines. Bakers and pastry chefs work as a part of larger teams in most environments, and the other chefs and cooks on the team often rely on the production from the baker in order to do their jobs as well. Bakers usually work alone or in very small teams, but sometimes may mentor or supervise trainees. As with any chef, weekend and holiday work is a requirement.
Bakery chefs are responsible for making the breads and desserts for the restaurant, bakery or institution. This may include a wide variety of products that include everything from biscuits, rolls and bread to candy, ice cream and sometimes elaborate desserts.
In addition, bakers must maintain their ingredients and inventory, communicate regularly with vendors and wholesalers as well as the sous chef and executive chef (or owner), if part of a restaurant brigade. They work closely with the sous and executive chefs to develop new recipes, menu planning, testing and sampling as well. Bakers who work in bakeries or cafes, or who own their own shop, would be responsible for far more business roles – including budgetary constraints, accounts payable and payroll, among others.
The pastry chef is usually responsible for supervising or mentoring junior pastry chefs and assistants. The work areas must be kept very clean and organized at all times, adhering to state specified sanitation and cleanliness guidelines. Equipment must be kept clean and maintained for everyone’s safety. Bakers can also work with local farms and wholesalers to purchase the freshest grains and produce, as well as ordering all other supplies for the bakery.
To become a baker, there are multiple options. You definitely need training and experience to become adept at the craft. Education can be achieved either by attending a culinary program and receiving a degree or certificate specific to baking/pastry arts, or you can start out as an apprentice or trainee and work with an experienced baker. Very often, a combination of these selections is most desired, with students receiving a core education and then following up with a period of training during a baking externship.
Baking students need to learn the fundamentals of culinary arts including knife skills, sanitation and kitchen safety. In addition, students need to understand nutrition and guidelines, state and federal regulations, business concepts and customer service. Baking is based on chemistry and math more than any other role in the kitchen, so it’s imperative that a baker has a basic understanding of these principles to become successful. Baking is very much an exact science, requiring precision and technical skill.
There are many culinary arts schools that offer top-notch baking and pastry arts programs, and lots offer an externship or placement program offerings as well. It’s important to make sure whichever school you choose supplies an accredited program and the post-graduation options are in line with your career goals. The cost of these programs varies greatly, depending upon the type of degree and the location of the school. Certificate programs at a community college can run $500-$1000, while a full-blown culinary bachelor’s degree can run upwards of $50,000 or more annually. Your goals and finances are the biggest determinants in selecting a program. Smaller schools in rural areas might offer lower costs and lower student-teacher ratio, but often have older equipment, smaller kitchens and fewer post-graduation options. Larger cities and well-known schools will have greater post-education placement opportunities and a wider variety of options of different types of restaurants, but may have much higher tuition and living costs, and may require you to move to a new city and state (or even country).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, skilled bakers can expect to earn approximately $22,000 over year on average, with some salaries into the mid-thirties. The demand will increase slightly (10%) over the next ten years, especially in specialty fields such as gluten-free bakeries.