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Nadiya Bakes is perfect: sunshine-drenched, sugar-coated, classic cooking TV

Nadiya Bakes is perfect: sunshine-drenched, sugar-coated, classic cooking TV
Nadiya Hussain in the "Indulgent Desserts" episode of Nadiya Bakes (Photo by Netflix)

Nadiya Hussain’s Nadiya Bakes opens with an image of a butterfly flittering around a flower, birds singing in the background, and then there’s Nadiya in a bright, airy kitchen, baking next to a large window.

There is life outside, and inside, Nadiya is giving life in this show, a bright, sunshine-drenched, sugar-coated warm blanket that I really needed right now.

“We all know that life can be tough,” she says in the intro, which you should not skip and for which Netflix should be fined for even offering. “But when I bake, somehow, it makes me feel that little bit better.” Watching her bake—and try to teach us to bake—has the same effect on me.

There’s “a soothing slice of cake,” she says, and then sniffs “the smell of freshly-made bread.” It’s so rhapsodic and beautiful that I can even forgive her adherence to the British tenet that freshly-baked cookies should be crunchy: “the comforting crunch of a biscuit right out of the oven.” (They should be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.)

Nadiya Bakes is a baking show that’s simultaneously instructional and aspirational, acknowledging how much so many of us are struggling while providing an effortless, uncomplicated escape from that.

Nadiya Hussain in the "Biscuits and Bites" episode of Nadiya Bakes
Nadiya Hussain in the “Biscuits and Bites” episode of Nadiya Bakes (Photo by Netflix)

Great British Bake-Off season six winner Nadiya Hussain is the show’s most-successful and most-recognized alumnus.

This Netflix series, which aired on the BBC last fall, is not her first television show—she co-hosted the terrific first season of Big Family Cooking Showdown—and she has been sharing her knowledge in several cookbooks.

She’s also been sharing her struggles, by being followed into therapy by cameras for the 2019 documentary Nadiya: Anxiety and Me. She’s since written about anxiety and panic disorder in everything from the about me section of her website to a children’s book. And she has a memoir coming out next month.

Nadiya Bakes acknowledges but doesn’t dwell in mental health challenges, but also doesn’t pretend that everything is fine. Filmed in a bubble in Devon, with just Nadiya and a small crew, there are occasional references to social distancing and being away from her family.

Mostly, Nadiya just bakes.

Great British Bake-Off winner Nadiya Hussain in her new BBC and Netflix cooking show
Great British Bake-Off winner Nadiya Hussain in her new BBC and Netflix cooking show. (Photo by Netflix)

The 30-minute episodes have time for three or four bakes, plus a profile of another UK pastry chef that Nadiya narrates. Each episode ends with her breaking the fourth wall and sharing one of her creations with her crew, a really nice acknowledgement and a warm hug to conclude our time together.

While Samin Nosrat’s outstanding Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat was Netflix’s first instructional cooking show, it was mostly travelogue, with the how-to segment at the end.

Nadiya’s show would have fit on Food Network in the era of Barefoot Contessa, back when its shows actually tried to teach viewers rather than just numb them with dramatic music in reality competitions.

Like Ina Garten, Nadiya emphasizes ease and encourages indulgence. “Why have one thing when you can have it all?” she says when introducing her strawberry shortcake cupcakes, which have a whole strawberry and an Oreo inside.

Nadiya shares stories and makes light jokes about how her husband and kids aren’t around so she can eat everything. In a cloud of powdered sugar, she draws in air and reminisces about how her kids like to taste the sugary air.

Watching her construct these delectable-looking pastries, cakes, and cookies, sharing tips, she made me believe that I, too, could do this. Let’s be honest, though: I’m not. Maybe I’ll be inspired to wander into the kitchen, open the cupboard, and dig a spoon into the brown sugar and eat that to satiate my craving.

If I had any critique, it’s that the show may make these recipes and techniques look too easy and too perfect. Nadiya’s kitchen and cutting board remain flawlessly clean while she’s baking, even with clouds of powdered sugar in the air. I’m sure most of this is the editing cutting out both the actual labor and the imperfect edges. Imperfection from an expert only made Julia Child’s show better.

Even if the table isn’t messy, Nadiya’s love of her craft is in every frame, and that’s quite enough. “Baking really is my happy place,” she says in the second episode. “I could bake all day, and it never feels like a chore.”

The way the sun slips through the leaves of the tree, and pours through the large window, illuminating dollops of frosting and Nadiya’s techniques, I could watch Nadiya Bakes all day, too.

Nadiya Bakes: A

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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