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Nadiya Hussain: "I baked for Mary Berry – the Queen is the next best thing"

Former Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain talks books, buns and baking for royalty

Just when we thought we could never be moved by a reality contestant’s ‘journey’ again, Nadiya Hussain walked into a tent and warmed the nation’s hearts to the temperature of a cake fresh out of the oven, when she won last year’s Great British Bake Off. Audiences watched week after week as her ability and confidence rose.

Her speech afterwards had 15 million viewers – and Mary Berry – in tears:  “I am never ever going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”

Now, even though there’s a new Bake Off whizz on the block, Nadiya is still creating. Her latest offering, Bake Me a Story, is part story treasury, part cookbook, inspired by her children’s love of reading.

The Big Issue: You’ve written a book to give people something to do when waiting for things to bake – what a great idea!
Nadiya Hussain: It was an epiphany moment! My kids are massive readers, they’ve always got a book in their hands, and they pester me in the kitchen while I’m cooking. That’s when the idea came to me – what if I wrote a book that stays in the kitchen with stories that are matched with recipes?

What happens in the Bake Off tent when people are waiting for bread to rise? There isn’t much downtime but everyone is very friendly and we chatted a lot. You get to know your own little filming team really well. The crew are gannets. They eat all the bakes!

I suppose everything that anybody bakes has a story behind it

Is there a story to everything you bake? I suppose everything that anybody bakes has a story behind it – even if it’s just, ‘I baked this because I was hungry’. Everything I bake or cook reminds me of stories – of people, of places, memories of the first time I made something or my mum showing me how to cook a curry or my home economics teacher showing me the magic that an oven could do for the first time.

Is reading and baking a good mix? I was never read to as a child. Lots of my friends were raised on books and being read to, and I never fully understood the point of it until I had my own children and I’ve been reading to them literally since they were born. It’s great when they can read by themselves but even now my oldest two, they love it when I sit and read a chapter with them. For me cooking is one of the most important life skills, and when you do it with something as fun as sharing a story together, it doesn’t feel like a task or a chore and children don’t even realise that they’re learning something.

How do you stop flour getting all over the books? Don’t be worried about the mess, it can be cleared up! When I first started baking with the kids I used to think, oh no, it’s everywhere – in their hair, on the floor, it’s on the ceiling, it’s everywhere! Life is too short to worry about the dough on the ceiling.

What skills does baking teach kids? Cooking not only hones a skill that is needed in life in general beyond childhood but it also teaches self-confidence, how to be frugal, understanding ingredients and where they come from, measuring, being organised… the list could go on!

Christmas is the busiest time in the kitchen – how can you get kids to help out when all they want to do is play with their new toys? If you make cooking fun it can be as exciting as new toys! Imagine melting marshmallows to stick together two giant cookies to make ‘Cookie Mallows’. What could be more fun than that?!

Bake Off has brought joy to so many people

What was your most memorable bake of 2016? I was asked to make a cake for the Queen [pictured above]. It was orange drizzle, not a fruit cake, which I was so pleased about. I did a lemon drizzle for the Bake Off final and I figured if I did a lemon drizzle for Mary Berry, then the Queen is the next best thing and I’ll do her an orange drizzle.

Is food a way to unite people? Of course! I mean look at the success of Bake Off! That’s brought joy to so many people and got so many people talking about and enjoying baking. I had a mum ask me how she could get her son into cooking, what should she start with. I gave her some advice of simple recipes to try and tell her how much fun the two of them would have in the kitchen. When I asked how old her son was, she said 25!

Family, food and stories of one kind or another – are those the three things that are most important to you, and probably to most people? Yes, I grew up with a passion for cooking – my mother would always prepare home-cooked meals to feed us, and my father owned a restaurant so food has always brought us together. When I go back to Bangladesh to see my family there, cooking together is what we do.

Nadiya Hussain’s book Bake Me a Story is out now (Hodder Children’s Books, £14.99)

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