Food: There’s no stopping Nadiya

Nadiya Hussain
Nadiya Hussain

“I don’t do fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, because that means flavour-free, and I like flavour,” states Nadiya Hussain happily.

“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 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 I like 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 in the pipeline - 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 one of this recipe from Nadiya’s Kitchen...

Parsnip and orange spiced cake

(Serves 10)

For the sponge:

230g self-raising flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp ground cinnamon

1/2tsp ground nutmeg

2tsp ground mixed spice

200g caster sugar

100g walnuts, chopped, plus extra for topping

3 medium eggs

150ml sunflower oil

500g parsnips, peeled, ends trimmed and coarsely grated

Zest of 2 oranges, plus extra for decoration

For the frosting:

50g unsalted butter, softened

200g full-fat cream cheese

150g icing sugar

Zest of 1 orange

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C. Grease and line the base of two 20.5cm sandwich tins with baking paper.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice. Add the caster sugar and chopped walnuts, mix through with a wooden spoon, and set aside.

Put the eggs and sunflower oil in a different bowl, and beat for a few minutes. Now mix all the dry ingredients into the egg and oil mixture, along with the grated parsnips and orange zest. Mix everything together until you have a thick batter (about two minutes).

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins, and level it off using a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The cakes should be golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.

Leave the cakes in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack and peel off the baking paper. Leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting: In a bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon then add the cream cheese and icing sugar. Beat until it all comes together, but be careful not to overdo it, or the frosting will become runny.

Leave the frosting in the fridge until you need it, if your kitchen is really warm.

Take your cooled cakes and sandwich them together using the frosting. Top the cake with lashings of frosting and sprinkle with walnuts, and some extra orange zest.