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...mince pie mayhem


Pie Club 2009

For those new to the club, this page is where you will find the latest mince pie reviews, the thrilling climax that is the Pie-Offs, along with graphic crumbshots and introductory twaddle. Clear? Good.

Bring on the pies!

Check out the final standings from the group stages league table.

The Pie Club Pie-Offs 2009

With PC retired, the 2007 champions in liquidation, and seasoned commentators like Meakin and Wilson replaced by a whole host of rookie tasters, 2009 has been a difficult year for Pie Club. Pies proved particularly hard to come by at times, too, but I'd like to think we've made a fair stab at things by getting through 23 of them.

It's crunch time now, though, with the top four from the group stages thrown into no-holds-barred pie-on-pie combat.

Welcome to the Pie-Offs

The semi final line-up was finalised shortly before two o clock on December 17th, with confirmed sceptic Geraldine Glendon drawing the home pies and a nonplussed Amy Madden drawing the away pies.

Here's how it's going to go down:

M&S Deep Filled versus Selfridges

M & S Connoisseur versus Walkers Glenfiddich

Each tie is decided by a panel of three, who each vote for their favourite by secret ballot.

The Grand Final 2009

M&S Deep Filled (MSD) v M&S Connoisseur (CON)

Tuesday 22nd December 2009

Pie Club convenes for the last time this year to once again pass judgement on Marks and Spencer, who supply both finalists for the second year in a row. Girding their loins for one more big push are JC of Pie Club, Michelle Allbright of Hampshire and Chris Tighe of Chadderton.

Let Pie commence!

First Bite:

These two might come from the same prestigious roster but there isn't so much as a nod of recognition between them as they emerge into the bright December sunlight with blinking eyes firmly on the prize.
MSD are up first, as reliable a herald of Christmas as advent calendars or the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. They're straight in with the short pastry and the sweet zesty filling, augmenting those familiar flavours with an early shot of clove. CON nods on landing at the first hurdle, throwing all the shapes that got it here in the first place but surprising a couple of the panellists with a short measure of filling.
MSD 1, CON 0

Second Bite:

More of the same from MSD sweet, sweet fruits and the tang of citrus with cloves dominating the spicing. This pie has a tried and trusted formula for success and it's sticking to it. CON recovers its equilibrium a bit after that first bite stumble and puts on a fine booze-warmed chew to balance the crisp butter pastry. It's a battle and a half, this one.
MSD 1, CON 1

Final Bites:

The final bites of the season will determine which of these class acts emerges as the winner of Pie Club 2009.
MSD suffered a near catastrophe of pastry engineering in the group stages but had enough class and experience to ensure its classic credentials were once again showcased in the latter stages of the competition. CON, meanwhile, has emerged as a worthy rival to the old favourite, almost arrogantly reinventing itself after last year's success and yet still thrilling onlookers with its good looks and showmanship.

It all comes down to this

It's a cracker Remarked Chris Tighe, coming over all Frank Carson amid the tension.

With its perfect pastry belying its looks and the boozy temperament flawlessly cohering with vine fruits, citrus and spices what I mean to say is YUM!, waxes Allbright, giddily.

Towers above its rivals both physically and metaphorically. And drinks them under the table as well. What a pie!, babbles JC.

Many would suggest there was an air of inevitability about it from the off, but the simple fact is, this is one hell of a pie, as

holds sway for the second year running. We can only imagine what form this pastry changeling will take this time next year.

A massive thank you to Simon Wilson, whose infinitely superior grasp of modern technology enables Pie Club to steer clear of deforestation controversy. Big thanks, too, to PC, whose warped mind and long afternoons in the office got the whole shebang underway some ten years ago. And thanks to the myriad of debutant second opinioners (Tighe, Kinsey, Allbright, Lau, Holland, Joynt, probably a couple more I've overlooked), whose combination of bewilderment, gusto and iron constitution proved invaluable during the course of the season.

Have a cracking Christmas and a very good do in 2010.

All the best.


Semi Final Two

M & S Connoisseur (CON) v Walkers Glenfiddich (FID)

Monday, 21st December 2009

Once again, a panel of three sit - separating the crme from the crme today are JC of Pie Club, Brighty of Bishop's Waltham and Bob Allbright of Portchester.

After a spectacular performance in qualifying, will new look 2008 champion M & S Connoisseur have enough in reserve to see off the challenge of this pugnacious border raider? Whatever the outcome, a proper boozy do looks on the cards.

First Bite:

Early problems for the champ as the lid of one pie comes clean off during the extraction process. Recovery is swift, however, as the crisp, sun-kissed outer shell gives way to a luxurious, booze-soaked, filling. Meanwhile, across the border, whisky is dominating proceedings, permeating the thick buttery crust and reducing the dry fruit's role to that of hapless bystander.

Second Bite:

Buoyed by such a promising opening bite, CON piles on the pressure. The pastry is incredible and Christmas flavours abound in this stunning chew. FID isn't for lying down, though, with the powerful whisky blast settling down mid-pie to allow the vine fruits a chance to shine. The drier filling isn't for everyone but it's putting up a hell of a show going into the final bites.

Final Bites:

CON keeps the heat up to the end, throwing nuts into an otherwise moist mix and wrapping things up with a flourish, with a smooth brandy and port finish that lingers long after the pie is over. FID isnae going away, though, with candied peel adding some much needed zing to the chew and ginger coming in to form a classic union with the whisky. This could be close.

Not a foregone conclusion, then, but M&S Connoisseur keeps hopes of a second successive title alive, going through 2-1 after a valiant effort from the Jocks, whose contribution to the semi finals was summed up by one panellist as whisky whisky pastry pastry fruity whisky whisky.

A tad uncharitable, perhaps, but the Glenfiddichs certainly came off second best in the battle of the booze, and Walkers will doubtless be disappointed to find their much-lauded pastry deemed equally culpable for this defeat.

A bit less of both next year could easily garner further improvement for this progressive pie.

So that's that, then. An all Magic and Sparkle final for the second year running, with current incumbents M&S Connoisseur putting its title on the line against store colleague M&S Deep Filled, whose pedigree suggests nobody will dare put the ribbons on the trophy until the last crumb is cleared from the plate.

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Semi Final One

M&S Deep Filled (MSD) v Selfridges (SEL)

Friday, 18th December 2009.

Today's panel is made up of JC of Pie Club, Dave Kinsey of Wigan and Michelle Allbright of Hampshire.

It'd be hard to find two more contrasting performers for our first semi final. Tee-total two-time champion M & S Deep puts age and experience on the line against the boozed-up precocity of controversial newcomer Selfridges. The timeless struggle between pie and cake has come down to this.

First Bite:

Not much between the two early doors. MSD looks calm and assured with a seen-it-all-before swagger - crystallised sugar and a firm, buttery crust give way to sweet, zestful, juicy fruits. SEL's opening gambit is a strong one, too, however, sending in dense almond cakiness and lashings of butter in a spirited response. It's very much chalk and cheese here, ladies and gentlemen.

Second Bite:

MSD is relentless in its attack, pushing on with more of the same and playing up its classic credentials with nuts and a short burst of festive spice. To its credit, SEL is undeterred, playing the cherry bakewell card early and coming over all moreish and melt-in-the-mouth.

Final Bites:

MSD knows its strengths and maxes them up big time, giving its sizeable fruits their head before bringing them home with a couple of smacks of clove. SEL is starting to feel the pace after looking dangerous coming off the back straight, with the cakery starting to clag, the almond sweetness wearing thin and the filling still struggling to make a meaningful impression on proceedings.

A comfortable 3-0 success sees M&S Deep Filled move ominously into the final.

A plucky debut effort for today's loser, whose modern take on a traditional theme just didn't have the legs to see off the challenge of such a seasoned veteran.

With Walkers Glenfiddich finally in the cupboard after a shortage scare threatened to scupper their Pie Off appearance, the second semi final will take place tomorrow.

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Pie reviews - group stages

After more than a month of near-solid pie consumption I fear I may have become a shortcrust version of Flint Marko. Thankfully, Pie-Offs aside, this is my last one. Selfridges' debut appearance is almost certain to spark outrage among purists but the big question is whether Pie Club funds will run to a second box should they secure a place in the Post Season.
Ker-CHING! Selfridges Mince Pies
Ker-CHING! Selfridges Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Selfridges 15th Dec 2009 £5.99 6
Container Style
Selfridges has eschewed traditional packaging conventions to present their product in stylish clear plastic, with a slim yellow sleeve lending credence to the theory that these are indeed pies, not sushi.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Pleasantly golden and generously sugared, with more than enough airholes to suggest OCD is rife in the Selfridges bakery. Weirdly, they have a look of savoiardi biscuits. Quite small, but very, very pretty. 19
Pastry Marks out of 25
This is no run-of-the-mill festive crust by anyone's standards. The buttery notes are lovely and there's a hint of booze and the merest suggestion of spice, but there's something else here that just isn't making sense. My eyes say "pie" but my mouth bellows "almond slice". Toto, I have the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. 21
Filling Marks out of 25
Vine fruits and candied peel come together in a glossy, pale brown paste shot through with brandy and citrus and gently spiced with cloves and cinnamon. It's spread a bit thin and there's not much chewing required, but it turns out this is very much a utilitarian filling 16
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
As a rule, pies dominated by their pastry fall by the wayside fairly quickly. That's because Pie Club has never seen pastry quite like this before. Taking inspiration from the Bakewell Tart, this "pie" actually benefits from its paucity of filling, which allows almond to lead the understated festive flavours on a giddy waltz around the tastebuds. Is it pie or cake? It'll cost you six quid to find out. 21
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bishop's Waltham Marks out of 25
The carton alone is a work of minimalist modern art, with the traditional cardboard box cast aside for a sexy sheer look. Here the pies are their own PR, showing off their perfectly sun-kissed curves through the transparent casing. And it seems to work, or maybe I'm just shallow. For Selfridges it seems image is everything and, visually at least, this elevates these pies to a whole new stratosphere. But everyone knows that, with a mince pie, it is how it tastes which is of the essence. And did they tantalise the tastebuds as much as they teased the eye? "Well um yes, sort of", is the answer. Once released from its shiny enclave, the pie glistened with a frosted sugary crust. Amaretto biscuits momentarily sprang to mind, but the ring of sleigh bells and carollers in my head (no, no - I mean on the TV) brought thoughts of Christmas mirth and myrrh back to the forefront of my mind. And mincemeat. But as I chewed through the delicious soft cakeyness of the pie the mincemeat remained strangely elusive. I know it was there, immersed within the crumbly confines of this enjoyable treat, but it was impossible to discern any of the principal characters I would hope to meet in this brief and weirdly Mediterranean encounter. The overriding presence of almond that pervaded throughout further compounded my sense that this was not a mince pie I was scoffing but a distant Italian cousin. No less pleasurable, but when you are expecting Santa to visit and you get the Holiday Armadillo I don't know, something feels weirdly amiss. Or maybe it's an appealing alternative. 20
Total Marks 97
Any Other Business With late lunges in the final strides leaving Morrisons' rags-to-riches dream in tatters, the 2009 Pie-Offs will see reigning champions M & S Connoisseur defend their title against Walkers Glenfiddich, newcomers Selfridges and perennial favourites M & S Deep Filled. Christ, it's going to be like mince pie Monte Carlo.
Date Added 17th Dec 2009

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Rentokil have been baiting up the office this week following a rodent infestation caused by numpties leaving food in their desks. Now I have an image in my head of mice in party hats having it large with the plethora of mince pies in my bottom drawer.

Fortunately, this batch proved too rich, even for their tastes.
It's a pie, Mrs Walker, it's a pie... Walkers Boozy Do
It's a pie, Mrs Walker, it's a pie... Walkers Boozy Do
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Walkers Glenfiddich Luxury Mincemeat Tarts 16th Dec 2009 £3.69 6
Container Style
Exactly the sort of presentation box you'd hope to see at Christmas, though you'd expect to find a half bottle of booze and a couple of glasses when you opened it. As black as you like, with the Glenfiddich stag putting in multiple appearances and the crumbshot restricted to a thumbnail stage left. Interestingly, Walkers maintain a low profile, even on their own box.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Tall, blond, broad-shouldered and Scottish - Colin Hendry, then, except with three holes and a drift of sugar. The cogging is deep and meaningful and the lid has that tell-tale Walkers overhang that all but begs a precursory nibble. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Walkers appear to have done away with water altogether here, glugging in the whisky with gay abandon instead. Butter still comes through strong, mind and, while the pastry isn't quite so biscuity as weve come to expect down the years, it's still a million miles away from cloy. 18
Filling Marks out of 25
With apple paste desperately short staffed behind the bar it looks like it could be a dry night, but there's a rewarding chew here for the patient reveller. A large party of vine fruits makes itself heard above the low hum of whisky and the zingy clamour of candied peel, while ginger's voice echoes round the palate long after the pie has closed for the evening. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Sturdy and ginger with whisky heavy on its breath, this pie is only a sporran and a failed World Cup qualifying campaign away from being your stereotype Jock. Quite possibly Scotland's finest export since Andy Walker. 19
Second Opinion - Edd Lodder, Prenton Park Marks out of 25
A sturdy, solid-looking pie that doesn't fall apart in your hand after the first bite. The whisky taste is unusual but not overbearing, allowing the flavours of the pastry and the fruity filling to come through. The box looks cool as well! Best enjoyed with a good single malt on a cold winter's night. 23
Total Marks 96
Any Other Business The Free Online Dictionary defines a tart as "a pastry shell with shallow sides, no top crust, and any of various fillings", while a pie is defined as "a baked food composed of a pastry shell filled with fruit, meat, cheese, or other ingredients, and usually covered with a pastry crust".

Think on in future, Walkers.
Date Added 16th Dec 2009

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