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Sweet success

From chocolate baubles to edible centrepieces, rustic trees covered in sweet treats, macaroon towers and candelabras filled with fondant flowers, Helen Birkinshaw is breaking boundaries, parting with tradition and changing the face of the wedding market…

Perhaps you’ve been to several weddings in the past couple of years. Perhaps there are certain details you can remember from each – the bride’s dress, the venue, the drunk uncle at the end of the night? Quite often, the small details that a bride will spend hours deliberating over will go unnoticed by many guests, but not if you’ve been to a wedding catered by Helen at Sweet Chic.

Helen, 32, from South Duffield near Selby, creates all kinds of unusual, edible items, predominately for the ever-changing wedding market. “Edible centrepieces have been very popular and I think their popularity is going to grow this year,” she said, “these can be anything from rustic style trees with treats hanging from it to candelabras filled with delicate fondant flowers. There’s a lot of work involved but, generally, if you can make it with flowers, you can make it with edibles. I believe it’s important to get people excited about food, people respond really positively to something different. This year it is my aim to make a completely edible bouquet!”

Helen began her business, Sweet Chic, five years ago whilst living in Manchester.

She told us: “Sweet Chic was born out of a massive hobby of mine that I had neglected over the years due to other commitments. I’ve always liked experimenting and doing different things and it has just kind of evolved over time. My mum has always been a baker – every day I would come home from school and there would be something in the oven and the smell would fill the house. I grew up in a baking environment, it’s in the blood and so it is something I always wanted to do for my children.

“When I was at school I made celebration cakes in home economics and loved it. I’d always been artistic but I wasn’t very good at drawing, so icing just seemed to work for me. It would always be something different or unusual. I made cakes for friends and family and then I discovered youth work and that just took over.”

Helen’s career saw her taking up various youth work jobs, but with government cuts and redundancy threats she began to wonder if she could turn her hobby into a career.

She said: “I was working for a charity at the time, facing an uncertain future. I started running some chocolate workshops in Leeds and Manchester and I honed my skills with chocolate work. I’d be teaching people how to make chocolate truffles and chocolate roses and then they’d come in the following week and tell me they were setting up on their own. I just thought ‘I could do that’.

With her own wedding on the horizon, Helen decided to make her own cake so that she could have it exactly as she wanted it. “My wedding stirred up my passion again and I knew I could just make my own cake. In the end I did a cake, cupcakes and chocolate favours, we even had a fruit cake competition as there is a fruit cake rivalry in our family. Of course I won! The wedding blues hit me afterwards and I started seriously considering leaving youth work and turning my passion into my livelihood. I booked myself stalls at some wedding fairs and the different things I did were really well received. After running the business alongside my youth work career for a couple of years, my son, Ethan, arrived six and a half weeks premature, which was a shock, and I then spent my maternity leave contemplating going back to work. I wanted to be able to spend time with him. I was living in Manchester at the time and my family are over in East Yorkshire and I wanted to be near them too, so we moved back to Yorkshire. Thankfully I’ve been able to grow my business with new clients here and keep my Manchester client base, too.”

Helen works with several hotels in Yorkshire and Manchester directly and her attention to detail has seen her gain work right across the UK. Although she has made cakes standing 12 tiers high and trees to feed hundreds of people, she says working with chocolate is her favourite thing to do, although it is a challenge: “Chocolate is very temperamental,” she said. “You aim to make one thing and end up with a totally different creation, it can be quite surprising! I made chocolate baubles at Christmas and they were so popular at local independent shops that I plan to make them again this year.”

“I have been focusing on edible centrepieces not only for tables, but for backdrops to a more traditional wedding cake and to create visual, edible displays. The work is intricate and can be challenging but to see the reaction of the bridal parties makes me love my job even more. I have had numerous brides that have had to announce their centrepieces as edible during the speeches as guests have tucked into a three course meal oblivious the whole time! I want my cakes and pieces to be as unique as the couple, to reflect their personality and style and give their wedding the real wow factor.”

For further information on Helen and her work, visit www.sweetchic.co.uk or find Sweet Chic on Facebook.

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