INTERVIEW: Founder and head designer of Etoile Bakery, Holly Barea
A former winner of Netmum’s Best Party Supplier for London, Holly Barea makes glamorous centrepieces for weddings and events across the south east of England from her Battersea base. She founded Etoile Bakery in 2012 and has been in demand ever since. We spoke to her about her love of baking, her inspirations and what she has planned for the business in the future.
You trained at the Cordon Bleu School – did you have Etoile in mind at the time? How did the business come about?
Yes very much so. I know it sounds cliche, but I was inspired to bake by my mother. She makes the most incredible desserts and always made us awesome birthday cakes.
I discovered I had a knack for recreating things in icing, so I decided that it could be a good business for me and I should get some formal training and where better than Cordon Bleu.
Luckily my clients liked my work too and the business took off. We haven’t looked back since!
What would you say is the hardest part of running your own business?
When you run your own business, you have to become an expert in so many different fields. I am a creative soul, and am lucky that my work allows me to let that side of me run wild, but I also have to be on top of finance, marketing, customer services and HR.
It is challenging at times, but it is hugely rewarding to look back and see how much has been achieved and how far the business has come.
As a food business, do you find there is enough information about how to adhere to safety guidelines, such as allergens, available to you?
Allergies sadly seem to be on the rise and we are very aware of our ingredients and any potential contaminants such as nuts or gluten.
Although we are not a certified free-from kitchen, we do create cakes that are without gluten or dairy as the client requires.
Often our couples request some cupcakes to complement their wedding cake, and we make these cupcakes gluten or dairy- or nut-free so that their guests with allergies are also catered for. By tying the decoration in with the main cake they can really add to the whole display.
You’ve mentioned that you were inspired by your mother’s baking when you were young – what made them so special?
She always went to town on our birthday cakes we had 3D cats and forts, pirate ships and castles, she loved creating them and we of course thought they were wonderful especially as making themed birthday cakes wasn’t as common then as it is now.
Have you noticed any new ingredients becoming more popular?
Our salted caramel cake is very popular in our wedding cakes, and red velvet also seems to be a perennial favourite.
We have just been asked to create a cake with a yuzu syrup which is interesting. Yuzu is a citrus fruit with a lovely tangy flavour, so I am looking forward to making that one!
Are there any ingredients in particular that you love to work with?
Chocolate ganache is a fantastic medium. We use it to cover our cakes to achieve the perfect straight lines and sharp edges needed in our wedding cakes. It is a joy to work with and really is critical to the end result.
Otherwise sugar flowerpaste is our number 1 ingredient we use it to make all of our flowers and figures, so we really couldn’t do without it!
And what about some interesting trends – any unusual requests?
Metallics are big right now as is edible lace. There are some fantastic products available that help achieve incredible results.
In terms of unusual requests the oddest has to be when we were asked to create a cake for a baby shower with a lady giving birth on top of it made from icing!
We made it quite cartoon-like to make it humorous rather than realistic. We didn’t want to frighten the poor mum to be!
You are very proactive on social networks such as Twitter – how does it help increasing brand awareness with potential customers?
I think it does. Social media plays such a large part in most people’s lives these days that it is really important for businesses to embrace all the channels out there. It is a lot to keep on top of, but it does help to create a brand image and means potential clients can find you across multiple mediums.
Instagram is my latest passion I love that it is so visual. I can lose hours of my day pouring over some of the amazing images out there.
You cover a number of markets, such as corporate branded cakes, are there any new markets that you have found a good seam for business?
We have catered for a number of batcherlorette parties recently which is great fun. We tend to make lingerie and stiletto biscuits for the girls to munch on their night out. Babyshowers are also very commonplace now. But our main business is still from the traditional sources weddings, birthdays and christenings.
What should we be looking out for from you? Any plans you can let us into?
At the moment we are focusing on making beautiful cakes to the highest standard.
We are a bespoke boutique service and we aim to be among the best in our industry. That means attention to detail, maintaining a creative edge and lots of hard work! We are lucky that in London we attract clients with a love of design who are happy to push the boat out and commission fabulous cakes.
And finally – with all your experience, what would be your dream cake now?
That’s a really hard one depending on my mood I fancy making different things. As we are in the middle of wedding season right now, I am all about sugar flowers.
Big blousey peonies are among my favourites and look so stunning on a wedding cake.
For more information, visit etoilebakery.co.uk