Nadiya Hussain stole our hearts with her technical challenges (and even more technical facial expressions) in The Great British Bake Off. But what started her love of baking, and where does she get her eyebrows done?! We caught up with Nadiya at Foodies Festival, London, on everything from custard to cordial.
Did you always want to be a baker?
I wanted to be a lot of things; an archaeologist, a nurse, a teacher… it was only after I got married and realised how much my husband likes desserts (he will skip a meal just to have dessert), that I used that as a pawn. I can get whatever I want, I just bake him a cake! It’s so nice to feed him and make him happy. He’s always encouraged me, he’s my biggest fan.
Good plan. What’s his favourite cake?
He loves French apple cake, baked three times with lots of cooked apples and nutmeg on top, with a buttery, sugary crust. That’s delicious with clotted cream. The kids love chocolate swamp cake, which is a brownie ring with salted caramel and peanuts and chocolate in the middle.
Our mouths are watering! What did you make of the reaction to you (and your husband)?!
The reaction to me was a surprise. I didn’t know it would be that overwhelming, but then they saw my husband, this “Cappuccino skinned hottie”… Somebody asked him, “do you wash your face in unicorn tears”, have you ever heard that one before?! I’ll ask “what are you doing in the bathroom”, and he’ll say “just washing my face with unicorn tears, dear”. He’s alright I suppose, average looking.
Did you bribe him with cake to get a wedding ring on him?
It took me ten years to get him to wear a wedding ring! I said “I’m going to buy you a wedding ring and you are going to wear it”, and he asked if I was nervous that he’s going to be snapped up by somebody else. I said “yes! you’re my territory”.
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We have to ask – did you know your face was that expressive?!
No! I said to my Dad “you knew my face did that and you still let me go on national television”. He said “you’ve got lovely face, it just moves around a lot”. It’s not a bad thing, it captured people in a way I didn’t imagine it to! I think it made people feel like I was real, just like the rest of us.
You’ve got great eyebrows.
I do my own eyebrows. Ten years ago, you should have seen them, they were awful! Do not overpluck; that’s the advice I’ll be giving my daughter.
What’s your favourite bake for a celebration?
That’s a tough one because I’ve been baking for so long, I don’t think we bake the same thing twice. I’m always experimenting with something new. Whenever we’re getting together, one thing we always have is chocolate cake, and some sort of custard too.
Any tips for cooking with chocolate?
If you’re using real chocolate, then expect to have a really crumbly chocolate cake. If you like that kind of texture then great, but if you don’t and you want a cake that keeps longer, use cocoa powder.
And for the custard?
Don’t use powdered custard, because that’s disgusting. Make real custard, because real custard is delicious.
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You lost a lot of weight three years ago – do you worry about calories counts when you bake?
No. I think the key is your own self-control. I use full fat butter, cream cheese, you name it, I will make it so it’s delicious (you know, the way a cake is supposed to be made), but the difference now is I don’t eat a full slice. I don’t like compromising on flavour, so I just eat a little bit less than I would normally.
Is it difficult to bake without alcohol and gelatine in the tent, on religious grounds?
When I was in the tent, there were so many situations where we had to use gelatine and alcohol, but I still managed to make a black forest gateau without alcohol, and it still tasted good. There are so many flavoured cordials you can use as an alternative, so if I’m making a Christmas cake, I soak my fruit in Ribena. It sounds silly, but it works, it still has the exact same moisture and flavour.
For gelatine, you can get Vege-Gel and so many vegetarian alternatives, granted you have to use a little bit more than a normal gelatine but it’s never stopped me. I will never let anything stop me anyway.
Good for you! What else do you bake for Christmas?
My birthday is on Christmas day! My Dad always said “Christmas day is for special people, so there’s Jesus and you”. I don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious festival, but we always get a turkey, we love brussel sprouts and I always make dessert. It’s an excuse to all get together – everybody has the day off! The best thing is I get all the presents.
Do you have any tips for people who want to get into baking but are a bit scared?
I think people are scared of baking because it could go wrong, so it’s about getting over that. When you first start baking, stick to all-in-one recipes where everything is in a bowl, then the tin, then the oven; like a brownie, sponge, flapjacks or biscuits.
Read More: fellow GBBO finalist Flora Sheddon reveals her ultimate baking hacks
Do you ever get bored of baking?
No, you’d think that after doing ten weeks in the tent! It sounds cliché, but it’s a bit like breathing for me. When I’m stressed, I have to bake, and even when I’m not stressed, I have to bake. If I want to go somewhere and give someone something, I bake. I can’t really get away from it, no matter how hard I try.
Please say you’ll be releasing a cookbook soon!
I’d love to do a book, one that’s comprehensible for children as well as adults. It’s got to be easy enough to pick up and say “this is achievable”. Cooking and baking is achievable, not everything has to be tent standard, not everything has to have six thousand layers and levitate. It can be simple and delicious!
What about more TV?
I never imagined that I’d like doing things like that, but I actually really like being up there. I thought I’d do bake Off , go home and look after the kids and it’ll be all exactly as it was a year ago, but it’s not, and it’s fun. I am loving it.