A Master Class with Richard Bertinet - By Allan C.- with Spice Christmas Tea Buns recipe

How well do you know your neighbours? They can be full of surprises when you get to have a conversation with them. I never realised that next door to Pebble Soup HQ was "an avid bread-maker and immense fan of all things bready" until one day, in passing the name of Richard Bertinet was mentioned.

Next thing he knew, Allan was asked if he would step in for Pebble Soup at an event hosted by Lurpak, run by the famous Brittany-bred Boulanger. From his spontaneous "OMG" reply, I took he was pleased but let's see what he made of it all. 

A Master Class with Richard Bertinet - By Allan C. :

Lurpak's newest butter has been designed as the perfect topping for bread, crumpets and teacakes, rather than for use as an ingredient in cakes or cooking and the good news is - it tastes delicious.Once you understand that it has been made with a high proportion of cream, you begin to understand why. 
Richard Bertinet himself is a gentle giant of a man with an extensive English vocabulary and a thick French accent. Phrases like, "derbel in size” were particularly endearing. His acute sense of humour set us at ease from the start. In explaining the dance like movement required to work our dough properly he said, “I like to call it Strictly Come Dancing with Dough” and at one point, to demonstrate the technique to one of our number who was hopelessly out of sync he stood squarely behind her, and beamed, “have you ever seen the movie Ghost?” 

From a few brief conversations I managed to glean that Richard used to run a restaurant in London before he realised he could teach and moved out to Bath to set up a bakery school. His favourite restaurants are the ones you can eat in every day. "It's about the ambience, you can't make that", he explained.

However it was good to hear that he still cooks at home, "Adding rye to blinis which gives a little acidity is ‘quite nice’ ... soaking fruit and nuts in rum overnight before putting them in teacakes", he explains waving his gorilla like arms and massive hands expressively.
Very soon, we were in the kitchen with Richard preparing the first dough. This was to be the spiced Christmas teacake. Walnuts should apparently "always be bashed before cooking to release the beautiful oils". It certainly sounded sensible to me and our attention shifted to mixing the dough.

 "Mixing is a case of turning the bowl", we were told, as Richard produced a flexible, plastic dough scraper from his back pocket in the way that the Fonz would produce a comb. Richard worked the dough and explained the traditional methods of bread making.
Historically, women in France would take their dough to the baker to be baked. However from the 1800s, bread was required in such large amounts that 120 kg of dough needed to be prepared at a time. This was such hard work that sweat would pour from the men, known as “grunters”, and we understand that the grunter on duty that day could be identified from the taste of the bread he produced.
Working up the perfect dough, Richard encouraged us to stick to the recipe and went on to explain: Decoupage, Passage en Tête, Etirage and Soufflage, the act of getting air into the dough. We were encouraged to rock backwards and forwards as we kneaded, “if you are stiff then the dough will be stiff” we were reminded. This one I wasn't buying because no matter how 'stiff-less' I tried to be, I was not producing the same effortless motion that resulted in a silky and well behaved dough.

Richard is certainly a master of his trade.
If I were to sum up the evening in three succinct points they would be these:
1. Keep the top of the dough separate from the bottom of the dough – a nice way to explain that the wet kneading process we were using should produce a dough with a clear and separate silky top layer
2. I now, have a flexible, plastic scraper which I if can’t improve as a dough-dancer, I can use to get ice off the windscreen over the coming winter months
3. As Richard said, a bit of [Lurpak Slow Churned] butter and some bread is the best thing in life.
Spiced Christmas Tea Buns 

Working time: 45 minutes
Resting time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Baking time: 15 – 20 minutes

Makes 10 large (110g) or 20 small (55g) buns


10g sea salt (1 tsp)
480g strong bread flour
20g dark rye flour
20g fresh yeast (or 2tsp dried yeast)
1 tablespoon of good quality honey
200g milk at room temperature
100g Lurpak® unsalted butter
3 eggs (2 for the recipe and 1 for the egg wash)
100g walnuts
200g dried cranberries
70g caster sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice
Pinch of ground cinnamon
2 pods cardamom crushed
Pinch of salt for the egg wash
Lurpak® Slow Churned butter (for serving)


Pre-heat your oven to 180°C

Place the rye flour and 230g of the bread flour into a bowl. Crumble in the yeast. Add the honey and the milk and mix to a thick batter. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Add the remaining flour, two of the eggs and the butter and work the dough by stretching it and folding it over onto itself for about 10 minutes until soft and supple. Do not add flour or oil to the work surface as it will alter the recipe quantities and the quality of the finished buns.

Crush the walnuts and mix into the dough with the cranberries, sugar and spices. Rest for about one hour until the dough has doubled in volume.

Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces. Mould into balls, and place onto a baking tray. Prove for one hour until the buns have risen to nearly double the size. Beat the remaining egg in a cup with a pinch of salt. Brush over the top of the buns. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.

To serve, cut the tea buns in half. Toast and generously spread with Lurpak® Slow Churned butter.

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