Unlikely as it sounds, it was only recently that Nadiya Hussain — the Great British Bake Off champion — was presented for the first time with a birthday cake. “My husband Abdal made me a Victoria sponge,” she says. “He had help from the boys, who are much better in the kitchen than he is.”
It came a few days late, for on her actual 31st birthday – Christmas Day – he offered up a rather more dismal confection. “He turned a bowl upside down, put a slice of bread on top, covered the whole thing in chocolate spread and sprinkles, and then gave it to me as my cake.” Did she eat it? “Absolutely not!” she scoffs. “I was really annoyed that he wasted all that Nutella!”
It’s Nadiya’s practically minded approach and self-effacing wit that endeared the stay-at-home mother of three to millions on last year’s Bake Off. The competition’s final episode was 2015’s most- watched programme with over 15 million viewers, and Nadiya’s victory speech was heralded as one of the year’s top telly moments.
Nadiya with UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
Now her talents and presence are in high demand, with regular demonstrations up and down the country, a food column in The Times, and a book in the pipeline.
Her latest challenge is to make a colossal birth- day cake for the 21st birthday of the National Television Awards, which take place on Wednesday, and for which Bake Off is nominated in the Challenge Show category. “The cake’s so big that I need to construct it when I’m there. It’s travelling in four separate parts… Along with my dress, I’ll be taking tools to fix my cake!”
It’s a daunting task, but she’s unfazed. “Nothing’s as difficult as the Bake Off final – everything else is a doddle.” Attending the awards is a dream come true, she says. “I watch the NTAs every year — and every year I root for EastEnders.”
Not many people would attempt a recipe that demands 34 eggs, so we asked Nadiya to come up with an exclusive recipe for the perfect cake. Nadiya’s Bake Off fans won’t be surprised at its “fairground candy” theme. “I could live on sweets alone. It sounds ridiculous, but the kids will eat the cake and I’ll eat the candy.”
Nadiya’s refined flavour combinations have rubbed off on her young family – two sons, Musa, aged nine and Dawud, eight, and a five-year-old daughter, Maryam – whose palettes are more sophisticated than most their age. “They know their flavours, which is nice, because it means they’ve been listening. My older son asked for a burnt sugar coconut praline cake for his birthday last year.” For Nadiya, the pleasure in baking comes in making something for other people. “As therapeutic as it is for me, the reaction that you get from people when you bake them a cake – that’s the most important thing.”
And what does 2016 hold for the queen of the cake tin? “It’s busy since this time last year when I first applied. I’m hoping to do a bit more television, and I’m working really hard to get the book out for June… It would be great if I could squeeze in a little holiday.”
She’s remained close friends with her fellow Bake Off contestants and keeps in touch with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry – whose teary pride in Nadiya’s win also stirred viewers. “I saw Mary recently, and she said to me, ‘Just because I don’t text and do all this fancy technology stuff, it doesn’t mean I don’t think about you every single day.’ I never imagined someone like her would say that to me.”
FOR THE CAKE
- 175g unsalted butter, softened
- 175g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting • 175g caster sugar
- 3 medium eggs
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp whole milk
- 150g white chocolate chips, coated in 1 tbsp flour
FOR THE ICING
- 150g raspberries, fresh or frozen • 300g unsalted butter, softened
- 500g icing sugar
- 100g white chocolate, melted
- 1 large, round fairground lolly, rainbow coloured
- 1 large, long fairground lolly, rainbow coloured
- 5 small lollies
- Sticks of rock, broken at different lengths
- Medium-size gum balls
FOR THE CAKE
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Grease 2 x 7in round pans, line the bases and dust the sides with flour, removing any excess.
- Put the butter, flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder and milk in a mixer and mix on a high speed for 2 minutes.
- Now add the white chocolate and mix through with a spatula. Divide the mixture into the two pans and level off.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until they are just firm to touch.
- Once baked, leave to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove and leave to cool on a wire rack.
- Slice the cakes in two so you have four layers to sandwich.
FOR THE ICING
- Blitz the raspberries in a food processor until smooth. Strain the mixture through a sieve, discarding the pulp and keeping the juice.
- To the juice add the butter and icing sugar and mix until smooth.
- Using an offset [bent] spatula, sandwich the four cake layers together, then use the remainder of the icing to cover the whole cake, making sure to get a smooth and even finish.
- Melt the white chocolate, place into a small piping bag and cut off a small tip. Pipe a ring half a centimetre thick around the edge of the cake, encouraging little drips to form and trickle down the sides.
- The trick for the decoration on the top of the cake is to have sweets and lollies at different heights. So start with the tallest lollies at the back and then build up with smaller lollies and candies at the front.
- This is the perfect opportunity to experiment with different types of sweets, but I love the ease of using lollies as they come at different lengths allowing for sturdiness and difference in height.
The National Television Awards are on ITV tonight (Wednesday 20th January) at 7.30pm