Nadiya Hussain may still be known to most from her star turn on the Great British Bake Off in 2015. She won the TV competition, but even if she hadn’t, it’s likely she would have ended up right where she is now — with her own show, multiple cookbooks, and a devoted fan base. But although baking is what introduced Hussain to the world, she didn’t publish a baking book until September 2020, when Nadiya Bakes came out in the U.K. “I had waited five years to get to a point where I was really happy and I wanted to make the best baking book that I possibly could,” she says. “That was a lot of pressure.” Hussain’s U.K. audience “really enjoyed” the book, and now Nadiya Bakes is available in the U.S., complete with measurements in cups and tablespoons and plenty of “flavor” over “flavour.”
In her return to a baking focus, Hussain covers all the bases, with chapters divided into categories familiar to Bake Off fans: tarts and pies, cookies, breads and buns, celebration bakes, and desserts, which includes recipes like tutti-frutti pavlova and Earl Grey sticky toffee pudding. There’s also a chapter on no-bake bakes and one on savory bakes. The goal was to offer up a recipe for anyone who wants to bake, no matter their experience level. “When I was writing this book it was about reminding myself of myself 10, 15, 16 years ago when I was a novice baker,” she says. “I wanted it to be the kind of book that can span all abilities so if you’re a novice baker, there’s a recipe in the no-bakes section and if you’re an accomplished baker, somebody who likes to spend lots of time in the kitchen, there are recipes in the celebration bakes that take a long time.”
But none of the recipes from either camp are basic. Hussain’s “money can’t buy you happiness” brownies have layers of cheesecake and nuts encased in dulce de leche. The only doughnuts you’ll find are stuffed with shredded chicken and dusted with a sugar and spice blend. “I think the recipes people like the most are the ones that are the most kind of ‘hmm’ — the ones people think that I’ve completely lost it and it’s like actually that can’t possibly be right, or there’s a typo or an error, or that recipe shouldn’t be in there. Those are the best recipes,” Hussain says.
Her inspiration for such recipes comes from all over. “A lot of it comes from things I’ve eaten, and I’ve never visited the country, things I grew up with, and things I’ve eaten in the U.K.,” she says. “It’s definitely a lot of hybrid baking.”
This recipe for saag paneer spanakopita falls into that latter category. It’s a dish Hussain had at a restaurant in the U.K. She loved the simplicity of the ingredients, as well as the use of phyllo, which despite its showstopper look makes this one of those recipes that even beginners should attempt. “[Phyllo dough] is one of those things that a lot of us are not willing to make no matter how good a baker we are,” she says. “There is no need for anyone to make phyllo pastry.”
Saag Paneer Spanakopita Recipe
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 50 Minutes
For the filling:
1 pound 10 ounces (750 grams) spinach
¼ cup (60 grams) ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 to 4 teaspoons chile flakes, depending on how hot you like it
1½ tablespoons (8 grams) cumin seeds
8 ounces (225 grams) paneer, grated
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 small onions, finely diced
1½ teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons (100 grams) ricotta
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Handful of cilantro, chopped
Handful of chives, chopped
For the pastry crust:
9½ ounces (270 grams) phyllo pastry, defrosted if frozen
7 tablespoons (100 grams) ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Step 1: Start by making the filling. Put the spinach in a large bowl, pour boiling water all over it, and use a spoon to dunk all the leaves under the surface. Let wilt for 5 minutes.
Step 2: Drain and rinse under cold water and, as soon as it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much moisture as you physically can. Chop then finely slice the clumps of spinach, before setting aside.
Step 3: Now add the ghee or butter to a nonstick frying pan. As soon as it is hot, add the chile flakes and cumin seeds and heat gently until the seeds begin to pop. Add the paneer and cook for 5 minutes, until you start to get some golden color on it. Add the garlic and onions and cook for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.
Step 4: Add the salt and spinach and cook until there is no moisture at all left at the bottom of the pan.
Step 5: Take off the heat and let cool totally. Then add the ricotta, egg, cilantro, and chives and mix well.
Step 6: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease the inside of an 8-inch square baking pan.
Step 7: Brush a sheet of phyllo all over with ghee or butter and pop it into the center of the greased pan, leaving overhang on two sides.
Step 8: Get another sheet, brush it with ghee, then pop it into the pan as before, making sure that this time the overhang is on the other two sides. Do the same with another sheet, but this time place it in the pan at an angle, and do the same with another sheet, adding that on the opposite angle.
Step 9: What you should have now is the pan lined with phyllo, and with overhang on all the sides. Grease your three remaining sheets of phyllo and set them aside while you put the cooked filling into the pan and flatten the top.
Step 10: Fold the overhanging pastry edges up and over the top, ruffling them gently as you do. Now take each of the extra sheets, crumple them up, and place them gently on top until the filling is entirely covered. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Step 11: Put into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is hot and the pastry is crisp and golden. Let cool for 15 minutes before eating.
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.