How to become a pastry chef? – The checklist

Being a pastry chef is most possibly the best decision I’ve ever taken. Everyday, I have no words to describe the bliss I feel when I’m busy making things. Yes, making. With my hands dirty, and more often than never, with my apron too.

So yes, many say you can judge how good a pastry chef is by the look of his/her apron. In the books, it should be clean at all times.

Well, let me tell you one thing. I strongly think that if you can tell every bits and pieces of mise-en-place that’s been made with just a look at a chef’s apron, then it’s a good thing. Perhaps, it’ll become a joke. But I will know deep-inside that this chef gets things done.
And to me, that’s a very good start. The clean apron will come later, as every move will become smoother, faster and more precise. And if it never comes, you can always change it ten times a day (and I speak from experience on this point).

So today, I’d like to focus on skills and techniques that are the very essence of what makes a good pastry chef, in a kitchen or at home.
Because at the end of the day, I strongly believe it’s not about your position, or whether you trained in the most expensive schools, or simply love to spend your days off making pastries.

It really gets down to passion. A passion with no boundaries.
In fact, I know many passionate people who know more than the head pastry chef next door.

And that’s really the matter. To know, to be curious, to strive to learn always and forever more. To experiment, to fail, to success.

This is the very first step to becoming a pastry chef.

The list is not exhaustive, but should be considered as a checklist. You want to become a pastry chef? Then do some research and learn about:


– pâte brisée
– pâte sucrée
– pâte à foncer
– pâte feuilletée (perhaps, even inversée)
– pâte feuilletée levée
– pâte à choux
– brioche
– savarin

Is you pâte brisée crisp and flaky? Is your pâte sucrée melt-in-your mouth?
Do you know the difference between pâte brisée and pâte à foncer?

And what about your puff pastry? Is it light and break into million pieces in your hands? Do you know how to caramelise its top?

Are your croissants and pains au chocolat light with even layers and thin membranes? Do you see a honeycomb pattern when you slice into them? As for the technique, do you know a great tip that ensures even laminating?

Are you choux puffs consistent and hollow? Not wet and yet not dry? Can you glaze an éclair, shiny even after a few hours in the fridge, neat around the edges? Do you know that technique for fondant, the one that involves freezing it into small disks then letting it defrost over a choux?

Do you know brioche dough is an emulsion? Do you treat it as such? Can you knead it by hand or in a mixer without over-heating it? And which temperature should the butter be?

Are your savarins and babas light as a feather, with holes just so?


– génoise
– pain de Gènes
– dacquois
– joconde
– biscuit cuillère
– macarons
– crème d’amandes

Do you know the difference between a génoise and a pain de Gènes? Is your génoise light and fluffy? Can you tell when it’s just baked, not overly so?

Can your dacquois holds its shape? What’s the purpose of the many different ratios of caster sugar versus icing sugar?

And the biscuit joconde. Why do you have to beat the mixture for so long? Can you spread it thinly enough in an even layer?

Are your biscuits cuillère soft and spongy rather than dry? Is your batter firm enough to keep its shape when piped? Do you always dust it with icing sugar at a 10-minute interval?

Can you tell when a macaron appareil has been macaronné enough? French or Italian meringue? Or even, as I now see it more and more, Swiss meringue? Which syrup temperature is best for the Italian meringue? Can you pipe macarons consistently? Are they shiny with a crisp crust and melt-in-your-mouth inners? Do they have beautiful feet? Do they crack in the oven, and why?

Is your crème d’amandes light and fluffy? Does it split and feel too buttery once baked? Is it too spongey?


– temper chocolate
– ganache

Can you temper chocolate so that it snaps into shiny shards? Can you do it without a probe? Without a marble? Can you spread it to make décors with just a palette knife?

Do you know how to make a simple ganache? And how each ingredient works towards a smooth supple ganache?


– crème pâtissière
– crème mousseline
– crème diplomate
– crème Chiboust
– crème anglaise
– bavarois
– sabayon
– crémeux
– crème au beurre

Is your crème pâtissière super-smooth, not grainy? How do you do, just bring it to the boil or let it bubble for a few minutes to relax? Do you just pour the hot liquid over the egg mixture and let the magic happen?

Does your crème mousseline feel light? Does it split? And do you know what to do in case it does? Do you add the butter to the crème pâtissière, or the crème pâtissière to the butter? What about that story that says half of the butter should be incorporated into the hot pastry cream?

Do you know the right temperature to fold your whipped cream into the crème pâtissière to make a crème diplomate? How much gelatine is just enough to set it?

When making a Chiboust, hould you use a whisk or a maryse when folding the Italian meringue into the hot crème pâtissière? In fact, how hot should the pastry cream be when you do so?

Is you crème anglaise eggy? Is it smooth and just thick enough?

As for the bavarois, two things: how whipped your cream should be? How hot your anglaise or fruit purée?

Is your sabayon thick and glossy?

What is a crémeux: lemon, chocolate or other fruits? Does it hold its shape and yet melts in your mouth? Is it set just enough or could you kill someone with it?

Is your crème au beurre made with Swiss or Italian meringue? Which temperature do you need the meringue to be at before incorporating the butter? And how cold the butter should be? Why does it split? What to do if it splits?


Can you make the perfect quenelle with one spoon? Always the same size, with a pointy tip and a round back?

other techniques

How to whisk, mix, combine, fold? Spread with a palette knife or an off-set palette knife? How to tell when a sponge is baked? How to whisk egg whites, fast or slow? And cream? Until which point for a mousse, a Chantilly?

How to glaze an entremet, with no air bubbles and a shiny glaze?

How, how, how… This is what should go through your mind every single second of every single day.

I’ll try and make step-by-steps for each and every of the above items, but in the meantime, get your aprons out, find recipes and compare them to each other, and get dirty.
Yes, definitely get dirty!


  1. Wow, two posts in one day. Is Christmas coming early this year?

    Joke aside, thank you for this great list. Might not be exhaustive to you but it seems like a whole lot for me to learn. I’m gonna tie my apron and get started. Now. x

  2. Wow!! I’m looking forward to see what it will come. I’m sure we can learn lots of things with you!!
    Thanks a lot, step by step is not easy or fast, so it’s like a present to us ;)

  3. How wonderful, step by step : ) Thanks for taking the time! Ive always wanted to be a pastry chef but somehow Im a dermatologist, but with your help I might be able to at least grasp the basics! Yey : )

  4. Thank you for this! I’m currently going back to school to be a pastry chef! I’m kind of scared and excited as well. so before school, i’m practicing at home! :3

  5. Very inspiring post! Worth using as a checklist for all the basic know-hows involved in baking! Thank you! I am a big mess with all the “pâtes” involved in baking: brisée, à foncer, sucrée and sablée, in terms of proportions of ingredients and methods best for each (ie. cremage, sablage…some patissiers recommend one over the other and viceversa). I’ve read so many books but none seems to be consistent!!It has driven me crazy. I know you will come to this, but do you have any basic guidelines or any reference book worth having as a sort of baking Bible (I wish:) )? I’ve got McGee’s On food and Cooking, Le Larousse gastronomique, On Baking, last edition and some Pierre Hermé books, amongs others…and each one is different!

    Thank you anyway for all your wonderful stories and recipes! I love your you, full of passion for life & baking!

    1. Hi Eva, thank you so much for your input.

      When it comes to books, you’re right, every pastry chef has his/her own recipes, which might – most likely, in fact – be different from one another. It’s a bit tough to find a way through all those different methods/proportions.

      I swear by Pierre Hermé’s PH10, Christophe Felder books, Valrhona’s recipes (and especially from Andrew Gravett, he’s the most amazing pastry chef), and more often than not, recipes that cross my path in the different places I’ve worked at.
      I suggest you find the techniques you prefer in terms of both process and final taste and develop them into your own. It’s a long shot, but well worth it. xx

  6. I have no answers for most of your questons, but indeed I’m not a pastry chef… Just a chef and a pastry passionate! I look forward to achieve your killer applications, I just can’t wait!

  7. Wow!! Fanny, I can’t wait to read all your tips and advice!
    Cela fait longtemps que je suis ton blog, et le précédent, parce que ce sont de purs bijoux, et pour quelques points communs entre nous: le cursus BCPST, la passion de la patisserie, l’expatriation (aux US pour moi)… Amicalement, Geraldine.

  8. Hi Fanny,

    I’d like to try and make religieuses with the technique you mention, the one that involves freezing fondant into small disks then letting it defrost. I’ve found the perfect mould for this, but I cannot find a recipe or some hints anywhere at all on the internet! Please help!

  9. This is great post. I am not a chef I just love food. I will use this a to eat list.
    I found this page as I was looking up information on becoming a pastry chef. My daughter ‘K’ has had a hidden obsession to become a pastry chef. This only came to light when she had to choose a uni place. She was set on studying something that she thought would make everyone else happy.
    Sadly her mother and I broke up 13 years ago and I haven’t supported ‘K’ enough so that she has the right amount of self confidence to fight her corner. She is now 19 and I want to do everything possible to help her to reach her goal.
    She is incredible, she is hard working and is trying very hard to do everything herself. She has just told me that she has been working two jobs trying to save up money to get herself onto a pastry course. She just failed to meet the deadline. I am sad that she didn’t let me know sooner but that is my fault not hers.
    She is my daughter and I love her very much but that aside she is a brilliant young woman who has the drive and passion to do well. She just needs opportunities that will help her prove to herself and doubters that her dream is important and valid.
    ‘K’ has quite good A level results and she now has the chance to move things forward along her own path.
    I have emailed her this link but also wanted to ask you or any of the readers about apprenticeships in restaurants. I was thinking she could begin an apprentice now and then additional formal (college, uni) learning in 2013. Plus a bit of travel and learning French. I may be wrong so I am happy to hear from anyone really who is a pastry chef, knows a pastry chef, needs an apprentice, is an apprentice. Basically anyone with insight would be helpful.
    Also info of great patisseries in the UK and France to visit, books to read, or other pastry chef icons please let me know too. ( I am looking too just thought I would ask)
    She is based in Balham South London and currently works at a food franchise in Hammersmith, has a good work ethic, understands restaurants and is lovely.
    When speaking to her I can see that she aches to do this so much.
    Thank you all in advance for your help.
    I have signed up and look forward to reading some other great posts.

  10. hello its wonderful know the information but i wanted to know that i am a student studying food and nutrition and have great interest in pastry arts so i want you to help me out……… should i start up?what should be my first step?

  11. I’ trying to become a pastry chef too! Studying, baking and loving every single recipe and every single moment!
    I’m learning by myself, thanks some courses and books, but I’m so happy of my decision!
    I think your list is great and I love your blog :)
    Have a nice day!
    Erika (from Italy)

  12. Ca donne envie de se lancer dans la pâtisserie… Et je pense que tu as raison, la cuisine est faite pour les passionnés, c’est le point principal lorsque l’on veut en faire son métier. Les gens passionnés s’améliorent sans cesse, c’est ce qui fait leur force.
    Bonne continuation :)

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