Last year’s Bake Off winner talks confidence, carbs and how she’s not actually a huge fan of cake…
I don’t do fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, because that means flavour-free, and I like flavour,” states Nadiya Hussain happily.
Of course, we already know this; you don’t go and win the Great British Bake Off by presenting judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood with cakes made using chia seed egg substitutes – and arguably, no one has won in as much style as Nadiya.
“I love chips and carbs and I like to fry things every now and again – and I like green things, but it has to be with something that’s going to fill a hole,” she says, warming to her theme. “I’m all for being healthy, but ‘clean eating’ is not something I can ever see myself getting into, because I’m a cook and I love eating. I’m never going to start making green shakes and doing bone broth – unless it’s got pasta and been turned into a minestrone, no, I won’t be eating it.”
Characteristically frank and open, Nadiya beat fellow bakers Tamal Ray and Ian Cumming in the BBC’s 2015 Bake Off final, thanks to a combination of pure charm, fantastic facial expressions (“I didn’t know my face did that by the way,” she admits with a laugh), and a knack for inventive bakes that sent saliva ducts up and down the country into overdrive.
A year on, she’s celebrating the launch of her first cook book, Nadiya’s Kitchen (“My fourth baby”), has made the Queen’s 90th birthday cake, and has her own TV show – the brilliantly titled The Chronicles Of Nadiya – exploring her Bangladeshi food heritage.
“I don’t know,” says the 31-year-old, when asked why people so instinctively warmed to her, during Bake Off and since. “I don’t even get it! Maybe because I just rattle on, talking to anyone like I’ve known them forever.
“The one thing my husband said when I went on was, ‘You don’t want to go on there and not be yourself. You’re not an actress, you’re not a showman, just go on and just be yourself’, and that’s what I do – I’m only ever myself.”
The Luton-born mum-of-three, who wed husband Abdal in an arranged marriage when she was 19, struggles to get her shopping done these days without being accosted by affectionate fans.
“That’s what it comes with,” she says of the attention. “Everybody I meet is always really positive and somewhere in the sentence there’s always, ‘we’re really proud of you’, and for people I don’t know to say they’re proud of me, that’s a big deal.”
Most impressively perhaps, this is the woman who made Mary Berry cry on national television. “No one’s ever done that, but I have!” she beams, laughing. “I can’t believe she cried.”
Nadiya, who now lives in Milton Keynes, still talks to her Bake Off alumni almost every day (“we’ve got a group chat… usually for gossip”), and regularly sees Mary, while she often turns to Paul in times of bread-related need: “I’ll ask him advice on a sourdough that’s gone horribly wrong and he’ll help me. It’s not bad being friends with the best baker ever.”
Weirdly though, she might be the queen of Bake Off, but she’s not overly fussed by cake itself.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I love confectionery,” says Nadiya, who goes giddy over marshmallows and boiled sweets, “but when it comes to cake, I love making it because my kids and my husband love it, but I very rarely go for a full slice.”
She prefers savoury to sweet, but explains: “My family, they’re all into savoury cooking, but I’m the only one that bakes – I’m the only one that can give them that pleasure, so I’m not willing to give that up!”
Some things have changed, though.
“The biggest thing that’s changed is me,” muses Nadiya. “Before winning Bake Off, I’d lost my confidence. When you’ve got children, I felt like I was always just their mum – although I loved being a housewife, it was consuming me slightly, in a sense that it was all I was doing.
“My love of writing and books – I was losing a little bit of everything. I stopped wearing high heels because I was a mum and I’d stopped using public transport because I was too afraid of going on with a buggy and it not fitting, or – God forbid – if I couldn’t dismantle the thing and everybody would watch me.
“The stupidest things would consume me; I’d become afraid of everything,” she remembers. “But the old Nadiya isn’t about to reappear any time soon, no, no, no, I like this me.”
So do we, Nadiya, so do we.
If you’d like to cook like a Bake Off winner yourself, try this recipe from Nadiya’s Kitchen…
FETA AND DILL SAVOURY MUFFINS
• 175g plain flour
• 50g wholewheat flour
• 2 1/2tsp baking powder
• 1tsp fine salt
• 275ml whole milk
• 1 medium egg
• 100g cottage cheese
• 75g unsalted butter,
melted and cooled
• 50g feta cheese, crumbled
• 1/2tsp wholegrain mustard
• 2tbsp fresh dill, chopped
• 1tsp ground black pepper
• 8 sundried tomatoes, chopped
• 25g pumpkin seeds
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases.
Put the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and stir everything together.
Now add the milk, egg, cottage cheese, melted butter, feta cheese, mustard, dill and black pepper. Mix it all together and spoon into muffin cases.
Top each muffin with a little chopped sundried tomato and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Nadiya’s Kitchen by Nadiya Hussain, photography by Holly Pickering, is published in hardback by Michael Joseph, priced £20. Available now