The Great British Bake Off: Meet the new bakers
But there is one stand-out star whose rise to the top has been positively soufflé-like. These days, Nadiya Hussain, wife and mother of three from Luton – along with culinary “cousins” Nigella, Delia and Jamie – is famous enough to just lose the surname. “There are so many wonderful things about being well known and doing a job I absolutely love,” she beams over Zoom. “I have so much fun, it doesn’t really feel like a job, actually. But it has its downsides, too.”
QUEEN OF PUDDINGS: Nadiya Hussain
I imagine she’s referring to the negative comments on social media, the constant judgment about what she wears, says or doesn’t say… maybe even criticism of her recipes. Nadiya nods in agreement.
“Absolutely, but there’s other stuff, too,” she says indignantly. “Whenever I’m eating out in a restaurant, for instance, I’m never shown the dessert menu. In fact, it’s almost like the staff are hiding it from me! I always demand to see it. I just want some pudding, I’m not there to judge.”
The same can’t be said of her relatives, though, who seem to imagine that having a star cook at home entitles them to come over all Paul Hollywood, even for a simple family dinner.
“My parents and siblings are all great cooks and they’re quite picky about the stuff I make,” she says. “I have to remind them that I’m just making a regular meal and that it’s not Bake Off. My kids – sons Musa, 16, Dawud, 15, and daughter Maryam, 12, – do it, too. I just tell them to shush and eat up.”
Could it be that Nadiya has spoiled her offspring with home-cooked food that’s just too lip-smackingly good? Maybe their standards are too high. Do they, say, turn up their noses – and palates – at a takeaway?
“No!” she laughs. “Like any other kids, they love takeaway burgers and fries. I love a takeaway, too. For me, though, it tends to be fish and chips that I fancy.”
Hussain made the 90th birthday cake for Her Majesty
Her new, and seventh, book Nadiya’s Everyday Bake, is all about fuss-free recipes that can be popped into the oven and left to bake to perfection. And that’s not just cakes and puds but dishes as diverse as Coconut Fish Noodles, Aubergine Brioche Burgers and Dump-it-all-in Mexican Dinner.
“I wanted to show that you can bake pretty much every meal in the oven and let the oven do all the work,” she says.
“Ironically, I didn’t grow up in a house that used an oven at all. Everything was cooked on the hob and, in fact, the oven at my parents’ was always used for storing pots and pans.
“It was only when I married in 2005 and had my own place that I started to use the oven. It was totally starting from scratch. I discovered baking, realised I really loved it and was good at it.And, well, here I am now.”
Now 37, she was 31 when she took the Bake Off crown in 2015. Since then, she’s written seven best-selling cookery books, baked the Queen’s 90th birthday cake, and developed a TV career to rival the original show’s judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Is she pleased that her stellar success, and all the pressures that came with it, didn’t start sooner?
“Very,” she chuckles. “My family keep my feet firmly on the ground. I maybe doing a glamorous photoshoot or in the TV studio during the day but when I get home, the fls floors still need mopping and the laundry still needs doing.
“I don’t know how stable I would feel if I didn’t have the really strong foundation of family life.”
Those twin pillars of food and family recently helped Nadiya and her relatives deal with the death of her sister-in-law Ramana, a 34-year-old mother of two who died of cancer earlier this year.
FAMILY FIRST: Nadiya with husband Abdal and children Musa, Dawud and Maryam
Nadiya has admitted in an earlier interview with the Radio Times that she was struggling to “function normally” until she turned to cooking.
“It’s the thing that brings everyone together,” she said. “We were having to accommodate her family, making sure they were fed and looked after. And that was all (through) food. It was, ‘Let’s cook. Let’s make them things that they enjoy.'” In fact, family is everything to Nadiya. On her website, she describes herself as “a mamma and a maker, a wife and a weigher of flour”.
Her marriage to husband Abdal was arranged by their families, but the union was not forced upon her.Anything but.
“I chose to have an arranged marriage,” she says. “To be honest, I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of going out there and finding someone so I trusted my dad and then also my father-in-law to make the right choice for me.
“Will I do the same for my kids? It’s not a job that I’d want.
“It’s such a responsibility and I’d like to think that we will have raised three wellrounded human beings who are able to pick the right person for themselves. I mean, what if I picked the wrong person? I wouldn’t be able to deal with that.”
That trust extends to other aspects of their lives now that she has two teenagers in the house, and a third waiting in the wings.
Take smartphones, for example. Nadiya does not tolerate screens at supper time.
“When we’re eating or have guests round, phones are not allowed,” she says. “They know that and they respect it. My sons are 15 and 16, so I can’t just ban them from having phones.
“When I need to distract them or feel they’ve been on their devices for too long, I find that food is a good way of doing it! Or I alert them to something interesting that’s happening outside.
“This usually means they still have their phones with them to take pictures, do Snapchat or whatever but that’s their currency with each other and their friends.
“It’s what they do and how they live now.
It’s not mine but this isn’t to say the way they’re growing up is a bad thing. I trust them to be responsible.”
As far as 12-year-old Maryam is concerned, Nadiya feels that, as a working mum, she’s setting a good example.
“Maryam sees me growing in confidence and really enjoying getting dressed up in amazing clothes for photoshoots, and she’s like ‘Wow!’,” Nadiya explains. “So, she sees me going from mum at home in her apron and slippers to someone on the front of a magazine.
“I’ve always been interested in fashion and colour but didn’t have the confidence to believe I could pull certain looks off before. It’s great to show Maryam that I can, and that I can do whatever I like.
“I’m hoping she grows up with a really strong image and sense of being female because of it.”
So given that the new book and TV series is all about a return to baking, what is the oven-friendly dish she enjoys most?
“My favourite thing to bake is probably something very simple and delicious like banana bread,” she replies.
“It just sits there on top of the kitchen island and the family cut into it to have with a cup of tea or even for breakfast.”
And what recipes would go to make her last meal?
“Oh, it would have to be my mum’s chicken korma with egg which gently bubbles away on the hob for three days,” she says.
“Oh yeah – and my favourite dessert, an Eton mess.”
Let’s just hope she doesn’t plan on eating that last meal in a restaurant. She might not be allowed to see the menu.
- Nadiya’s Everyday Baking (Penguin, £25) is out now. To order for £22.50 with free UK P&P, visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832. Nadiya’s Everyday Baking starts on BBC 2 on Wednesday, 8.30pm.