It’s two years since Nadiya Hussain won the hearts of the nation – and brought a tear to Mary Berry’s eye – as the champion of the Great British Bake Off. Since then, she’s made the Queen a birthday cake, appeared on Loose Women and The One Show, judged Junior Bake Off and fronted her own series.
With her winning smile, friendly demeanour and approachable recipes, she’s cemented her place as one of Britain’s best loved cooks – and one of the country’s most influential people, according to Debrett’s.
For her latest book, the family-friendly Bake Me a Festive Story, Nadiya reveals her essential Christmas bakes… including some that bring a touch of luxury on a budget. Coming from a British Bangladeshi, Muslim background, her family don’t have a traditional Christmas celebration but Nadiya says they take the opportunity to think about their neighbours – and the people in their community that may need a little extra help. And, since it’s her birthday on 25 December, they also eat a lot of cake.
How important is food to you, around the festive season?
Food is important to me all year round! In our family, we don’t celebrate Christmas traditionally, with the tree and presents. For us, leading up to the Christmas period, it’s about the spirit.
In the book, there’s a biscotti recipe. We make hundreds of them, and then we put them into little bags and tie them with ribbon. Every front door that we can see from our house will get a packet of biscotti. It’s just to say, ‘we’re here if you need us, we’re around for Christmas’. It’s nice because it gives us an opportunity to talk to our neighbours. Even if someone is so close you can see their front door, you don’t know what’s happening in their house.
We also make bird feeders and put them outside so our animal friends get to eat as well.
And on Christmas Day?
Funnily enough, my birthday is on Christmas Day. And my sister’s birthday is on Christmas Eve. We always have a joint celebration at my house.
I’m presuming that there’s cake…
Always! Always, always cake – and way too much food, like most people. There’s 27 of us when we all get together, so there are quite a lot of people to feed.
Wow. And do you do all the cooking? I mean, we know you’re good, but…
Well, I don’t really like anyone else in my kitchen. I like to do my own thing. But I have a pushy mother and three sisters so there’s no escape. Everybody wants to get involved. My sisters all bring dishes with them, so we always have a massive feast. I pre-cook things for the whole week before, then all I’m doing is reheating. That means I spend less time in the kitchen and more time playing with the kids.
What’s the essential taste of Christmas?
For me, it’s about eating roast potatoes. I love them any time of year, but especially Christmas. I roast them in butter, so they are yummy: crisp around the edges, fluffy in the middle, really well-seasoned. I make enough so that I can eat them for my dinner, but also that they’re cold and sat on the side so I can eat them as a walk past.
As well as celebrating, Christmas is a time to think of those who don’t have enough. For some, it is a struggle. How can people have a feast on a budget?
People are so obsessed with seasonal and organic food – and that’s unfair if you’re on a budget. I’m always really aware that not everybody has the ability to go and buy the best side of beef. I think the way we cook is sometimes more about pressure from society than how we want to eat. It’s easy to get caught into keeping up appearances. Simple things like canned foods are great. I don’t always buy organically. When I’m looking at budgets and how much am I going to spend on that recipe, it’s cheaper to buy the alternatives. Your ingredients don’t have to be super expensive.
Do you have a particular recipe that feels luxurious but doesn’t cost a lot?
I know that, during Christmas, people worry about electricity bills – since you’re spending hours and hours of electricity and gas on cooking. So, I like to think of what I can do that doesn’t use the oven at all. There’s a lovely recipe in here for speculoos [Lotus biscuit] truffles. All you need are those cinnamon biscuits – which you can buy from the supermarket – crushed up, with some condensed milk and rolled around in some desiccated coconut. When they’re all individually placed in their little cases, it looks like you’ve spent all this time and effort and money making these beautiful little truffles. They make great presents too. They travel really well and they keep forever.
Another one of your recipes that caught my eye was for donut bread and butter pudding…
I never used to like bread and butter pudding. I don’t like it when it’s warm, straight out of the oven with custard and all that. But when it’s chilled and out of the fridge, I love taking a chunk out of it. I had some donuts I was testing for something else, and I thought why don’t I just use these for the pudding? It’s already got the jam in there and that bit of tart fruit… so I did, and it was perfect first time. Nailed it! Donuts are delicious as they are, so why not turn them into a bread and butter pudding? I am actually making those today.
You’ve become pretty busy since Bake Off, do you still have time to bake every day?
100%, absolutely yes. There will always be space for baking. I still bake every single day. Today I’m making cheese biscuits; I’m making some cake pops for my little girl; and I’m making the donut pudding; and I have to cook dinner for today and tomorrow. It’s constant. It does not stop. And I love it. If I didn’t love it and I didn’t have people to enjoy it, there would be no point in any of this. I’m really lucky because I have my lovely children, who are so appreciative of everything I cook for them. They don’t take it for granted because they know when I’m not at home, they will get beans on toast!
It’s hard to imagine anyone having beans on toast in your house!
I make sure they eat really well. I’ll cook all day, but then all I’ll want is a jacket potato with a bit of cheese and Marmite.
Are you watching Bake Off this year?
I am. I’ve watched it every year, I’m not about to stop now. It’s interesting watching the new line-up. I love watching Noel and Sandi, they’ve taken on the role really well. But I will admit, I don’t watch it live. I record it and then fast forward through all the adverts! I don’t care for adverts for Golden Syrup and sprinkles. An hour and a quarter is a lot of time to give up when you have things to do.
Do you still speak to your fellow contestants from your series of Bake Off?
Not enough! We’re all so busy. They were all over at my house last Christmas, so I’m hopefully going to do that again this year.
Do you have a Christmas wish this year?
I love socks, so I’m hoping somebody’s going to get me some socks…
Apart from that, we’ve made a pact as a family that this year we’re going to do something for the people in our town who don’t have a home. We live in Milton Keynes and there are a lot of underpasses there, there are lots of homeless people that live in these underpasses. We see them every single day. My husband and I are looking for charities and people that we can work with, to actively try and help in some way. Even if it’s just a slice of cake, or a meal – putting a smile on someone’s face. I really hope that over the next couple of weeks, as I do my research, I find a way to fulfil that wish. It’s not just my wish, it’s our kids as well. They really want to get involved.
Nadiya’s Bake Me a Festive Story is out now (Hodder)