She might have found fame on a baking show, but Nadiya Hussain has never actually written a book specifically about breads, cakes, pastries and cookies.
“It’s really funny, because people just made the assumption that I had already done it,” Hussain says with a laugh. “But five years later, finally writing a book that’s just about baking is really exciting… It’s a book dedicated to some of the bakes I really, really love.”
Since winning the sixth series of The Great British Bake Off back in 2015, the 35-year-old has cemented herself as a true national treasure, through writing cookbooks and presenting her own BBC shows. As this is her fifth cookbook, Hussain well and truly knows how things work by now – but she says choosing which recipes to include for this one was trickier than normal.
“It’s tough, honestly, when baking is the thing you do and the thing you love to do the most,” Hussain says, words tumbling out of her mouth at a million miles an hour. “I could’ve written and written and written… There could be volumes, which isn’t a bad thing entirely, I suppose.”
Each bake had to be “something that I believe in”, she adds, “and every single recipe I test at home – I do each one and it takes me weeks, months of testing”. It might sound arduous, but Hussain calls it “my most favourite bit, because that’s when I develop them and make them the best they can be”.
As we’ve come to expect from Hussain’s cooking, the bakes are accessible, delicious, and draw their inspirations from all over the world. Before the pandemic, she says she got a lot of her inspirations from travelling – but it wasn’t always like that. It’s only really the past five years she’s seen more of the world, but this never hindered her creativity.
“Because I didn’t travel before, I only had my imagination and and the Internet,” she explains. “I think I still very much do that, even though I do travel a lot more. I still take inspiration from just being curious about different cuisines. I like to take their version and turn it into something a bit different.”
Hussain is particularly proud of her latest book though, because “there are lots of different things in there that make you feel like you’re travelling all over the world” – no bad thing when international travel isn’t quite as easy as it used to be for the vast majority of us right now.
Baking has had quite the year too though, and Hussain understands why it’s used as a form of therapy. “Life is so busy, and what we do is spend so much time on the important, busy aspects of our life that we neglect the other bits of our life: our mental health,” she says.
She has been outspoken about her own personal struggles on that front, and says: “Baking allows me to look after the part of me that I neglect, which is my mental health.” Hussain appreciates how baking requires you to concentrate on one thing, particularly as she admits to having “a really overactive mind” – something keenly felt in how quickly she talks, racing through a range of different subjects.
It’s fair to say she’s done a lot to help open up conversations around mental health, particularly in British Asian communities, and for that she’s often been called a role model. This is a label Hussain’s shied away from since becoming a public figure though (“I felt like a wanted to do was cook and bake and always be known for that”).
Her approach has changed over the years, however: “I know I’m a first-generation British Bangladeshi woman of colour. When you are lucky enough to be all of those things, you do have a responsibility to all of those groups, I suppose.”
She’s aware “there aren’t that many people like me” in the the worlds of publishing and television – and growing up, she says: “I would never have looked at the telly and thought I really want to do that job, because I never saw anyone like me doing it, it didn’t feel like the right place for me.”
This isn’t to say the responsibility of being a role model doesn’t “weigh heavy on me”, she says, but Hussain is more hopeful and positive about it than she once might have been. “I don’t take it lightly, because I know it’s one [responsibility] that I have to embrace, at the same time as being slightly afraid of.”
Luckily, any time she feels overwhelmed, there are more recipes to try and cakes to bake. “I certainly don’t have room to complain,” she says with a giggle. “I might have the best job in the world.”
Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain, photography by Chris Terry, is published by Michael Joseph
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