How Chef Nadiya Hussain Found Inner Peace Through Baking

The ‘Great British Bake Off’ winner talks new cookbook, mental health, and the beauty of savory desserts.

Photos by Chris Terry, design by Grace Han for Thrillist

When Nadiya Hussain was growing up in Bedfordshire, England, her mom used their oven for storage. Any cooking they did was on the stovetop and her only experience with cake was something out of a packet.

“It wasn’t until I went to school that I realized the cupboard we stored our frying pans in was actually an oven,” she says with a laugh. “Baking was definitely a novelty.”

So it’s a wonder that, decades later, Hussain went on to win The Great British Bake Off in 2015 and, this week, released her latest cookbook in the United States, Nadiya Bakes, which includes more than 100 recipes for breads, cakes, biscuits, tarts, and pies. (Though, she does admit, those packaged cherry tarts with gooey white icing still hit the spot every time.)

The six years since her win on the wildly popular BBC series have been a whirlwind of book deals, TV appearances, and she was even invited to bake a cake for the 90th birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II. Her heartwarming series, including Time To Eat and Nadiya Bakes, brought viewers into her home kitchen during very uncertain pandemic times.

In fact, it’s baking that has helped Hussain quell her own anxiety.

“I started baking because I was quite anxious as a young adult,” she says, mentioning that she’ll put on a podcast or ’90s R&B while she bakes. “Baking helps me to relax, to feel less in my head. I’m able to step back, measure ingredients, and just make a banana bread. I could be making macarons, biscuits, or eclairs, one after the other—that repetitive nature is quite therapeutic.”

Another bonus to baking that Hussain didn’t necessarily predict was how she’d become an advocate. As a British Bangladeshi and a Muslim, she says she now feels a responsibility to leave the door open for others who look like her and almost feels like “a pied piper” with the amount of young people that say they’re inspired by her.

“You have to grow a thick skin, which doesn’t come naturally to everyone,” she says. “But the reality is that being a part of this job—whether it’s in publishing or media—the second you walk in, you realize there is nobody like you in that room. So the responsibility is massive, to have an ‘elbows out’ mentality and create space for more people like me in the industry.”

“I could be making macarons, biscuits, or eclairs, one after the other—that repetitive nature is quite therapeutic.”

Hussain is also inspiring her three young children (ages 14, 13, and 10), whom she and her husband agree have no interest in baking, but see the hard work she puts in. For her latest cookbook, there was a massive amount of testing of recipes that range from Chicken Donuts to Ice Cream Croissant Pudding. Sometimes, Hussain would wake up in the middle of the night and jot down a recipe idea before it slipped away.

“It’s all about finding that balance and ensuring a recipe isn’t too sweet,” she says. “One of my favorite ingredients in the book—whether it’s a bread dough or cake or garnish—is citrus. It gives an element of zing. I also love vanilla. I don’t understand how that flavor got misconstrued as boring. I use lots of extract or bean paste because it is so complex.”

One of her favorite recipes in the book is the Blueberry Lavender Scone Pizza, which she says came from the idea that not every baker has to have fancy cutters in their kitchen. Shaping it into a pizza dough makes it easier and also more communal. 

“Lavender can be very scary to use, and you don’t want a mouthful of potpourri, but paired with the blueberries and lemon zest, it’s subtle, sweet, and fragrant,” she says. “Plus, I’m very much into this idea of sticking it into the middle of the table, and everyone shares and enjoys.”

That sentiment was conveyed at the end of every episode of Nadiya Bakes, when she would offer her crew a slice of whatever she was making.

“It felt really liberating to break that fourth wall,” she says. “To be able to share that with the crew, the runners, they are the people I love and enjoy working with—especially at a time where we were so forcefully distant from our families. That’s where love, care, and joy come in.”

Blueberry and Lavender Scone Pizza
Photo by Chris Terry

Blueberry and Lavender Scone Pizza Recipe

Yield: 12 wedges
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

Scone

  • 2¾ cups/ all-purpose flour, sifted, a little extra for dusting
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried lavender, crushed
  • 1 lemon, finely grated zest only
  • ¾ cup whole milk, room temperature

Topping

  • 2 x 8-ounce jars of clotted cream or crème fraîche
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 5 Tablespoons blueberry jam
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • finely grated zest of half a lemon

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Pop the flour into a large bowl, along with the salt and baking powder, and mix well. 
3. Add the butter and rub it into the flour using your fingertips until there are no large traces left.
4. Add the sugar, dried lavender, and lemon zest and mix.

5. Make a well in the center and add the milk. Using a rubber spatula, mix until it starts to form a dough. Gently bring the dough together with your hands. Tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and form the dough into a mound, but resist the temptation to knead or the scone will become chewy rather than soft and crumbly.
6. Put the mound into the center of the prepared sheet—this just saves a messy transfer once the dough is rolled out. Using a rolling pin or the back of your hand, press the dough out to an 8-inch circle about ¾-inch thick. If you want, trim the edges, though I prefer not to, as I like the edges rough.
7. Now, using a sharp knife, cut the circle like a pizza into 12 slices, cutting all the way down and all the way through. Pop into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. The scone should be golden around the edges, a little less so toward the center, and firm to the touch.
8. Let cool completely on the sheet. As soon as it is cool enough, pop it onto your chosen serving dish.
9. Mix the clotted cream and vanilla bean paste together. Add the jam and ripple it through.
10. Spread the mixture all over the scone, leaving a ½-inch/1cm gap around the edge. Top with blueberries, scatter with lemon zest, and you are ready to serve!

Reprinted from NADIYA BAKES by Nadiya Hussain. Copyright © 2020 by Nadiya Hussain. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Chris Terry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Jess Mayhugh is the editorial director of Food & Drink for Thrillist. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.