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Nadiya Hussain Shares Her Favorite Ingredient And Other Inventive Baking Tips – Exclusive Interview

Nadiya Hussain smiling
Nadiya Hussain smiling - Netflix

When Nadiya Hussain took the crown for Season 3 of "The Great British Baking Show," there was no doubt she was on the road to sweet success. The prolific cookbook author and television personality now reigns as Netflix's culinary queen with a pair of hits: "Nadiya Bakes" and "Nadiya's Time to Eat." Both shows spotlight Hussain's dynamic and inventive kitchen prowess served up with the chef's infectious joy and warmth.

The biggest downside to watching her shows is the glass partition that divides the viewer from Hussain's delectable savory and sweet treats (Wonka Vision can't come soon enough!). Enter Netflix Bites, a Los Angeles pop-up restaurant that features a roster of dishes courtesy of some the streamer's biggest food personalities including Curtis Stone, Andrew Zimmern, and Rodney Scott. It's no surprise that Hussain (along with pastry savant Jacques Torres) were tapped to handle desserts.

While the chefs aren't normally on hand, we were fortunate enough to catch up with Hussain during a recent visit to the restaurant. During her exclusive interview with Tasting Table, she walked through her trio of fabulous desserts on the menu, which include a towering slice of honey cake with salted hazelnuts, a buzz-worthy coffee and cinnamon millionaire's shortbread, and the chef's extra nutty take on baklava (Her mango and black peppercorn cranachan was previously served during brunch, but sadly, daytime service has ended). She also shared some of her favorite ingredient swaps and other ways to spice up your baking game -- and yes, in case you wondering, Hussain is as delightful in person as she is on television.

Read more: 15 British Baked Sweet Treats You'll Want To Try

How Nadiya Hussain Takes Honey To New Heights

Nadiya Hussain with honey cake
Nadiya Hussain with honey cake - Michelle Mosqueda

Let's start with the honey cake. Why 17 layers?

It's how much batter I had at the time, and that's what I made it with 17 layers. It's an odd one, because my dad loves this cake, and it's because my name's Nadiya, and my name is Russian. I have no affiliation. I have no connection with Russia, whatsoever, apart from the fact that my name is Russian. My dad stopped over in Russia a long time ago, years ago, and that was the cake that he ate. It's one that he really loves, so I make it for him all the time.

There's this idea that when you make a cake that's got that many layers, it's meant to be really tricky or difficult. Actually, this cake is really easy to make, and that's what I'm all about. When I bake, I always think about the home cook, and as long as the home cook can make it, I'm happy. It's a very forgiving cake because you've already baked the layers, and when you put the cream in between, it all welds itself together beautifully. The trick is to put it in the fridge. It always tastes better once the cream and the cake layers have settled into each other, and had a long sleep in the fridge, and then the next day it tastes really good.  

And why hazelnuts?

Hazelnuts, traditionally, they're normally made with almonds, and I love roasted hazelnuts. A lot of the things that I make are ... based on the things that my kids love. My least favorite nut in the world is an almond because no matter how much you toast them ... It's my least favorite, anyway. My favorite is a hazelnut, because when you toast them, you get that natural caramelized fragrance. That's why I went with hazelnuts.

How do you toast them? On the stove?

Yeah, because often you get people who say, "Stick the nuts on a tray and then bake them in the oven." That's a lot of work. Whenever I toast things like nuts or coconut, I always do it in a dry pan, because you want to be able to watch it. You want to move it around, you want to watch it and see how far you want to take it. In an oven, you can't do that; you have to open it and have a look, whereas on a stovetop, you can take your time.

Why Garlic And Honey Are The Perfect Match

jar of honey and garlic
jar of honey and garlic - Stephaniefrey/Getty Images

For a recipe like honey cake, is there a particular type of honey you prefer?

As long as it's a runny honey, you can use whatever honey you like. If you're going to use a honey, you can often infuse honey with things. You can infuse it with orange or ginger. I have honey garlic at home, which my kids absolutely love -- not necessarily in a cake, but I have garlic honey in the house.

Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Honey is really good for you when you're unwell. We live in England, and it's freezing cold all the time. Ever since my kids were little, I always have a jar of honey and fresh garlic cloves that are infused in that honey. It sits in the fridge, and through time, the honey gets really sweet, so it makes it more edible. My kids get the goodness of fresh garlic and a spoon of honey, and they can eat it. I can guarantee you, if I gave them a clove of garlic and said, "Here you go, put that in your mouth and chew that, and eat that before school," everyone would hate them, and they would stink.

It's raw garlic cloves?

Raw garlic goes into the honey. Mix it up, leave it to infuse, and that sits in my fridge for months.

About when do you think it's ready?

It takes about a week.

But over time, it gets sweeter?

Yeah. Over time, you would not know that it was garlic.

What do you like to use it with?

Every morning, a mouth full of garlic. That's what they have every single morning.

A More Savory, Nuttier Baklava

baklava pouch with clotted cream
baklava pouch with clotted cream - Sarah Gardner/Tasting Table

Let's move on to your baklava. The dessert traditionally has a very thin layer of nuts, which is my favorite part, but you decide to go with a pouch filled with a whole lot of nuts. What was the decision behind that?

In the original recipe, it was the traditional way, which is great, because there's a reason why it's made that way, so that syrup can get into it. In order for the recipe to fit in with all the other dishes that are on the menu, we decided to go with a pouch because it's less sweet. One of the reasons why people don't like or don't enjoy baklava all the time is because it can be really sweet. This way, by doing it in a pouch, you can control the sugar. You can make it less cloy-y sweetness.

What is the mix of nuts? No almonds!

No almonds ... Pistachios, hazelnuts, and orange blossom. We've got some orange blossom in there as well, which is such a classic ... Especially in Morocco, they use a lot of orange blossom in their tajines. I love orange blossom, it's delicious ... and the cocoa in there works really well.

There's also a nice savory note to it.

Anything that's really that sweet, it's important to balance that sweetness with some salt, or citric acid ... Even if it's just a zest of something, and it's got orange zest in there.

What's the secret behind your clotted cream?

Buy it from the shop. I don't make it! Until I traveled to Turkey and spent some time out in Turkey, I hadn't realized how they serve it. They traditionally serve it with a goat's cheese clotted cream. I couldn't find goat's cheese clotted cream anywhere!

Is there a bit of a tang to it?

It's got a bit of a goatiness to it, which I didn't enjoy. When I got home, whenever I'd make baklava, I would always serve it with some clotted cream, because it balances the sweetness of the baklava.

Would you consider substituting whipped cream?

Whipped cream has its place ... it depends on what you're having. Sometimes, when you have whipped cream, if you're making an Eton mess or a pavlova, it's delicious, because you want to keep it light. I love the richness and the thickness of clotted cream, but it's probably because I'm British. I love clotted cream. I'll have it with anything.

You just mentioned Eton mess, which is a dessert you generally won't find here. Is there any distinctly American dessert that you always seek out when you travel to the States?

I love a Boston cream pie ... they're delicious.

What is it about the Boston cream pie? 

A Boston cream pie normally has a crème patisserie mixed with whipped cream, so I love the lightness of that. I love the chocolate; the chocolate is always really sickly sweet, and I love that.

Have you had the original in Boston? 

No, I haven't. I've had lots of variations in different places. My daughter is convinced that the best donuts come from America. She's like, "The American donuts are the best." We always come here and enjoy the donuts.

If You Love Rich Desserts, Millionaire's Shortbread Is On The Money

millionaire's shortbread with raspberries
millionaire's shortbread with raspberries - Sarah Gardner/Tasting Table

Millionaire's shortbread. Why "millionaire's?" Because it's so rich?

If you look at a traditional shortbread, it's very simple, very easy to make, with very few ingredients. Millionaire's shortbread is exactly what it says on the tin. It is popular, and you have to have loads of ingredients. It is like the rich man's shortbread. It's got lots of layers, lots of different elements, and it's not as simple to make.

Millionaire's shortbread is one of those things that I love making, because I love the idea of lots of different elements. It's one of those bakes that you start at the beginning of the weekend, and you're only really going to enjoy it at the end of the weekend, because you'll have spent time putting it in the fridge, baking it, taking it out, making another layer, setting it, and putting it in the fridge. I love bakes like that.

What's the secret to mastering that bake?

Patience, because you need a lot of that. Honestly, I've sometimes made just one layer and the kids have eaten it, and I'm like, "Guys, we're not done yet. I need to finish this." Patience, 100%.

What are the layers?

In my original recipe that I did for my book, the original recipe was shortbread, and then you've got a cinnamon shortbread, a salted caramel, and then chocolate on top. This time for the restaurant, we changed it up a little bit ... it matches with the other things on the menu. We've got the shortbread, and then we've got the feuilletine, and then we've got a bit of a sponge, and then we've got the chocolate on top.

How do you incorporate the coffee?

The coffee goes into the caramel, because chocolate is delicious, but when you add caramel to the recipe, it enhances the flavor of the chocolate. Because we've got chocolate on top, I want to enhance that flavor of the cocoa. Adding coffee to the caramel is such a great way ... because you go into it and you bite it, and then you get the chocolate. When you get mixed up with the coffee caramel in between, you really get that cocoa. I suppose it's a science, it's experimenting and making sure you get the best. In that one mouthful, you want to get the best flavor. It's about getting everything in that one mouthful. With a millionaire's shortbread, that's exactly what you get.

How Nadiya Hussain Infuses Caramel Sauce With Coffee

spoon dipped in caramel sauce
spoon dipped in caramel sauce - New Africa/Shutterstock

Can you walk me through how you make your caramel sauce, and how, in this case, you would incorporate the coffee?

I would start off with sugar, and then cook that down till it's a lovely amber. Then, I would normally add cream to that, and let that thicken up.

What type of cream?

Heavy creamI'd cook the sugar down, and I always start off with a caster sugar, so a white sugar, so I can watch the caramelization happen. If you start with a brown sugar -- it feels like it's already halfway there without it actually caramelizing. I would start with the white sugar, let that caramelize, then add a heavy cream into that, and then leave that to simmer slowly and thicken.

About how many minutes?

I'd let it simmer for about seven minutes on a low to medium heat. I'd add butter to add that richness. That's the point where I would add the coffee ... You add the grounds ... add it straight in. So, instant coffee -- I go for an espresso powder because that'll melt in there much faster. The trick is to take it off the heat; otherwise, we end up boiling the coffee.

The problem with coffee grounds and too much heat is that it makes it bitter. Often, people, when they make coffee, they make it with the water too hot. If it's [boiling], that will make your coffee grounds bitter. You've got to take it off, let it cool for a little while, and then add your coffee grounds, and then mix that; then, it won't be bitter.

Aside from chocolate, what other pairings would go well with that coffee caramel sauce?

Oh my goodness. I have jars of that stuff in my fridge ... Having a caramel that you've made at home that sits in the fridge, you can do anything you want with it. My daughter, she'll take leftover cereal, and she'll mix that with cereal and marshmallows, and she makes little rice cakes with it and things like that. Caramel is so versatile, and I love putting them in my lattes.

The Pantry Staple Nadiya Hussain Uses In Her Frittatas

pepper frittata in cast iron
pepper frittata in cast iron - Nina Firsova/Shutterstock

Speaking of cereal, I want to highlight the cornflakes in your cranachan. I loved the mango, but the cornflakes put the dish over the top. Is there another unexpected pantry staple that you like to incorporate into desserts?

The reason why I love cooking is because everything is an ingredient to me. Everything, for me, is an ingredient. One thing that we always have in the cupboard are, we say crisps, you say chips. Crisps is one. When I run out of potatoes, one thing I love to do is make a frittata. If I'm out potatoes, I use potato chips, because they're already thinly sliced. I mix them with eggs and spring onions and coriander or chili, whatever I've got in the house, a bit of cheese, mix in my crisps, chips, and then fry it in a pan with some oil, and you've got an instant frittata.

Do you use flavored at all, or do you stick with plain chips?

Whatever I've got at home. Whatever it is, it'll add flavor, won't it?

Why Nadia Hussain Prefers Carrots Over Pumpkin For Pie Filling

bunch of unpeeled carrots
bunch of unpeeled carrots - ShadeDesign/Shutterstock

Fall's coming up. Is canned pumpkin a big thing in England?

No. If I'm in the States, I will buy canned pumpkin, because it's such an easy staple thing to have in your cupboard, especially for autumn recipes. No, it's not a thing, and if we do find it in the UK, it's very expensive ... I usually use stewed carrots, which sounds unusual.

For a pie?

Yeah, because we can't get pumpkin and we don't have... Around Halloween time, you have a lot of pumpkins knocking around, but I don't think they're always sweet enough. I always cook down carrots, and then puree them, and then use them in my pumpkin pie. They're delicious.

Do you use the same spice blend?

Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, all of those spices. I make a pumpkin pie using carrots and they're none the wiser. Nobody knows, but it's sweeter. Carrot has a fragrance that pumpkin doesn't. When I can't find pumpkin, it's carrots.

You stew the carrots?

I stew it in water and vanilla ... a pod. I scrape out the seeds of the pod, and put that in there, and let that cook down. That's it.

Do you do anything special with the crust?

It depends on whether I'm making a biscuit crust or if I'm making an actual pastry crust. If I make a biscuit crust, I always like to add demerara sugar to it, because it gives you that extra crunch. If I do a pastry crust that's made with pastry, I like to add ginger. It gives an extra something.

The Magic Of Cardamom And What The Future Holds For Nadiya Hussain

ground cardamom and seeds
ground cardamom and seeds - Annmell_sun/Shutterstock

I want to talk about your new book, "Nadiya's Simple Spices." Is that coming to America, or is just being released in the UK?

At the moment, it's just UK. I'm really hopeful that we can get it here, because you guys are quite a few books behind at the moment.

We have to catch up.

Yeah. It is a really special book. It's all about the spices that I use at home, that my mum used and my grandma used before her. It's amazing to be able to publish something like that, because I know it's something that my kids will really love to learn from. I really do hope I can get it to the U.S.

You focus on eight spices, but I want to talk about cardamom.

Yes ... It's one of my favorite spices.

One of mine, too. What are some of your favorite ways to use cardamom?

Cardamom is one of the most versatile spices. It's about how you use it. We often use it, if you want a less intense flavor, you don't take it out of its pod, you leave it in its pod. We love it with a cup of tea. When we make a black tea, drop a couple of cardamom pods in there; you get that beautiful aroma without that overpowering flavor. If you use too much cardamom or crushed cardamom, it can taste quite medicinal. There are lots of different ways of using it.

My mom uses cardamom pods in her savory cooking, so curries and things like that. That would be a base, one of the whole spices that she would use, alongside other whole spices. Also, in desserts, when she does savory cooking, she uses it whole. When we do sweet cooking, we take the little black seeds out, crush them, and put them in, so you get more of an intense cardamom flavor. I love it. People also, in other parts of Southeast Asia, use it as a mouth freshener, so they chew it like you would mint.

Beyond the cookbook, anything else on the horizon? Any other big projects?

Cookbook and TV series! My cookbook comes out on [September] 14th, and my new series that goes with the cookbook is out on [September] 27th in the UK. Hopefully, it'd be lovely for it to be on Netflix.

If you're in the Los Angeles area, be sure to make a reservation at Netflix Bites before the pop-up restaurant closes on September 30. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

Read the original article on Tasting Table.