Bread baking hasn’t changed much in thousands of years because if something isn’t broken, you don’t fix it. Pasteur made it possible to market standardized yeast, and new ovens and electric mixers make bread baking more convenient, but the basic methods of measuring, mixing, kneading, shaping and baking dough remain much the same as when civilization began with wheat cultivation. The bread baker, or boulanger in the French brigade system, prepares a variety of basic breads, muffins, breakfast pastries and specialty artisan breads.
The working hours for bread bakers begin early before anyone else arrives in the kitchens because bread baking requires lots of room and time for dough to rise. Bread baker duties include the following responsibilities:
- Firing up the ovens for the day
- Creating regular breads and specials according to restaurant or wholesaler schedules
- Ordering specialty flours, yeasts and other ingredients
- Making holiday breads and special orders
- Packaging and labeling wholesale breads for clients
- Creating recipe innovations
- Cleaning and maintaining mixers and dough-shaping machines
Education and Training for a Baker’s Career
Most modern bakers pursue dedicated baking courses through accredited culinary institutes, but bakers have a long history of learning through apprenticeship. Baking science requires an extensive knowledge of how ingredients combine and ways to counteract the effects of ambient moisture, heat and other environmental conditions on the baking process. In large kitchens and resorts, you might be responsible for making the bread for multiple outlets, so developing good math, management and people skills could prove critical for landing these jobs or advancing in baking careers.
In large resorts, there might be a master baker, pastry chef, and team of regular bakers. A culinary education could help you advance your career and land a coveted position such as a bakery manager or baker in an upscale resort, hotel property, convention center, spa, cruise ship or independent bakery.
Bread Baker Career Path
A general culinary education will teach you about food safety, equipment care, ordering and inventory and other critical baker skills.
- Regardless of education, bread baking requires practical experience, so you should apply as a trainee or apprentice to gain practical baking skills.
- Supermarkets, artisan bakeries, cafeterias, schools and educational institutions often have entry-level baking-apprentice jobs available.
- Some culinary institutions offer job placement services, apprenticeship programs with local restaurants or jobs in student-run bakeries that will help you gain needed skills.
- You could approach a craft bakery directly and ask for an apprentice job so that you can learn how to operate industrial equipment, mixers and huge ovens.
- Bakers need to take related culinary classes to learn about food nutrition, allergies, special diets, gluten-free breads and other nutritional topics.
Certifications for Bakers
Regardless of education or experience, bakers can advance their careers by getting certified. Major certifying authorities include the American Bakers Association, American Institute of Baking and Retail Bakers of America.
Disadvantages of Baking Bread for a Living
Bread bakers stay coated in flour and work in stifling kitchens during the summer. Other drawbacks to a baking career include the following disadvantages:
- Long hours of standing
- Dreadful hours that start when other people are sleeping
- Cold kitchens in winter until the ovens moderate temperatures
- Paying attention to detail for many ongoing processes that take hours to finish
Even experienced chefs have trouble producing consistent results because doughs can be temperamental and respond to humidity and temperature changes. Julia Child almost didn’t include a recipe for baguettes in her “Art of French Cooking” cook book because she had trouble producing a quality loaf like those that she found in France.
Salary Expectations for Boulangers
The average salary for a bread baker is $26,305, an average compiled from multiple sources and surveys of HR departments at major employers. The Bureau of Labor statistics lists average salaries at $21,330, but experienced bakers earn about $34,410 annually. Top bakers in artisan bakeries and upscale restaurants can earn considerably higher salaries, and people who start their own bakeries have better earning prospects.
Fame for Bakers is on the Rise
Artisan breads have become more popular in upscale restaurants, and while many bakers work behind the scenes, some bakers enjoy considerable media fame. Famous bakers include master baker Michel Suas, Carlos Pereira of Bon Breads and Nancy Silverton, a noted author and owner of the famous La Brea Bakery, which serves bread to Los Angeles film and television stars and Hollywood industry executives.
Currently, trends favor entrepreneurs who open their own independent bakeries, and a career as a baker requires a candidate who is part culinary artist, part bean counter and part scientist. The sky is the only practical limit for talented bakers who can bake artisan breads and fuel the demand for breads with texture among restaurant diners and wholesale bread clients.