Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To Go or Not to Go...to Pastry School

I've been thinking about going back to school to study baking and pastry. I've devoted more than a few weekends to trying out new recipes and tweaking old ones. There were some awesome successes and a few complete failures, and while it was frustrating, it didn't make me want to give up baking (well it did, but only for about half an hour). A lot of my free time is spent cooking, baking, jotting down ideas for recipes and flavor combinations, and reading through cookbooks. I don't lack for ideas, what I'm missing is the knowledge to make those ideas into something tangible (and edible). A lot of people are happy to just follow recipes, and that's great, but I want to understand why breads rise and pastry crust doesn't (it's partly because bread flour has more protein than pastry flour) so I can really do whatever I want to instead of always being tethered to recipes. Don't get me wrong, I love recipes, but for me cooking is a form of expression; I'll never be an artist with a paintbrush (believe me, I've tried), but perhaps I can be with a pastry brush.

It seems like a big decision, although I suppose it wouldn't be for everyone. At least for me, there are several things that factor into this--more than just do I want to learn to make killer desserts.
What kind of program do I want? How much structure do I need? Do I even want a credit-type program? If I do, should I go full-time or part-time? Which programs will allow me to go part-time? How much is each program? I'm lucky that in Dallas I have a few options, though still not as many as I would like.
The first step is to figure out what I want to get out of all this. Do I want to go work in a bakery one day? Hmmm, maybe. Ideally I'd like to get a variety of experience that I could use in the future if I want to, so perhaps a structured program (as opposed to just individual one-time classes at an independent location) might be the best way to go. I'm not sure that a 3-hour class once or twice a month would give me enough dedicated time with an instructor who could tell me what I'm doing wrong, but I've never taken one, so I could be wrong. When I looked at the tuition of the programs around Dallas I nearly choked.

Both Le Cordon Bleu and the culinary programs at the Art Institute of Dallas are upwards of $17,500 (before you tack on books, tools, etc.) and as someone who is still paying off a BA from an expensive private school, I couldn't add on another $20K of debt to our student loans. I just won't do that to us. So that leaves El Centro Community College.

El Centro's registration deadline for the current term has passed, so I plan to spend the next 4 months deciding if this is really what I want to do before I sign up for CHEF 1305 Sanitation and Safety (because that class sounds like a blast!). From January to May, I'll take classes at Sur la Table and Central Market, read through the new edition of On Baking when I get it in March, practice the things I'm having a hard time with (*ahem* tart shells) and take every excuse imaginable to bake.

Then I can decide what to do. Get an associate degree or certificate in Baking and Pastry? Take classes a few times a month just for fun? Who knows? I don't. Maybe I'll never do more with my love of baking than making awesome desserts for my friends and family, but so far I'm enjoying the journey, and enjoyment is what baking and pastries are all about, right?


  1. I completely understand you... I have the same problem right now, I'm finishing my Business degree and all I want to do is go to a pastry school, but they're way too expensive (and I don't have the money) or way too long (and I don't have two years to be fully dedicated).... I hope you do get into the school you're talking about, maybe you could just post about what you're learning and I'll just try to imitate it!!

    1. Sometimes I think people go to college/university too soon. Most of us don't know what we really want to do, which is why I can count on one hand the number of people I know who actually work in the field their degree is in. And I think they're all accountants.

      If I make it back to pastry school I'll definitely be posting on it as much as possible, and I'll do recap posts of the non-program classes I attend. Except for last weekend's class at Sur la Table, since I forgot all about it and missed it. Total bummer.

    2. I look forward to hearing all your adventures :)

  2. Hi Tierney, if you'd like to go to "virtual baking school" visit my blog, tags: lesson, baking, etc. I used to teach at the professional culinary school in Boulder, but had to stop for cancer treatment. My specialty is baking, pastry, bread, desserts, etc. I love teaching and miss it, so the blog is my outlet for now. And if you want to chat more about the pros/cons of pastry school let me know. It's a big decision, take your time. I changed careers after I raised my kids! Best~ Piebird

    1. Your site has such great information Piebird! And I can definitely tell from reading it that you have experience, not only in professional pastry, but in teaching it. Your explanations are so thorough! Thanks so much for giving us another great tool to learn the fabulousness that is baking and pastry!