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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

I've been in three Somerfields this weekend and they had Co-op mince pies in all of them. The Co-op would appear to have been a bit daft, standing by their own range of seasonal underachievers and consigning the 2007 champions to the Pie Club history books. In their absence, here's another stab at glory from Sainsbury's.

Lest we forget.
Pie Hard Sainsbury's Organic
Pie Hard Sainsbury's Organic
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsbury's Organic 11th Dec 2009 £1.99 4
Container Style
No-nonsense British racing green with a half-hearted attempt at some design jiggery-pokery to the right and the trademark Sainsbury's ribbon to the left. The crumbshot shows a cross section of what appears to be a painstakingly reconstructed model of last year's entry.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Smooth, sugar-free and pallid almost to the point of veganism, though stocky enough to suggest it's been sneaking the odd sausage here and there while nobody is looking. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Though a determined scout around the box turns up nothing by way of evidence, you'd be putting money on Walkers having their fingers in this pie. Short and biscuity with plenty of butter and an aftertaste that has you up all night trying to figure out if you like it or not. 17
Filling Marks out of 25
A negligible quantity of binding apricot jam means most of this mob are recognisable on sight. Raisins nestle shyly in the corner, currants bounce about all over the shop making a nuisance of themselves, and sultanas stride around like they own the gaff. The warming influence of coriander and brandy is more than welcome, though the repeated crack of pip and stalk most certainly is not. 18
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
The 'Organic' tag is usually enough to strike fear into the heart of the pie enthusiast but these fair better than most. The crisp, buttery bite of the pastry gives way to a dry but flavoursome chew - these could have mounted an unlikely Pie-Off challenge had it not been for my fear of dentists. 18
Second Opinion - Brighty, Hants Marks out of 25
Despite a season of either dry or nondescript pastry, and fillings so sweet they made you fear a filling, I embarked upon this pie with a sense of optimism. The pie was a tidy construction with a pale winter pallor. A bit of festive frost would have been nice. Faced with an underwhelming pastry and with not a hint of sugar glistening on its surface to stir the taste buds, I took my first bite. I was pleasantly surprised. The filling was rich and succulent and in the very small space between bite, gulp and next bite, a medley of spices ricocheted around my gob. One final clove note echoed long after the rest and I eagerly delved in for more. Bizarrely, a hint of banana seemed afloat somewhere within the balance and form. Like Joe McElderry's mysterious X-factor, it's something I just can't explain, but I found its tropical introduction quite appealing. However, it was very subtle and maybe I had been drinking. It is yuletide after all. SO, whilst not an orgasmic experience, this organic pie left me feeling festively fruity. 18
Total Marks 87
Any Other Business Apparently salt is an acceptable non-organic inclusion in organic produce.

The hours fly by here.
Date Added 15th Dec 2009

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I love the smell of mince pie in the morning as much as the next man, but these soldiers were standing by their beds ready for inspection at half past bloody seven! Still, my digestive system is on 24-hour stand-by throughout December so I'm sure I'll cope manfully with any resultant intestinal ravages.
That's Asda pies Asda Mince Pies
That's Asda pies Asda Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Asda Mince Pies 12th Oct 2009 £0.88 6
Container Style
Oh my, this is a bleak do. The power is off and the clotted cream accompanying the lead pie looks to have suffered accordingly. Still, the candlelight carries at least a whiff of festive romance and the whist pies in the background will go down a treat on Boxing Day. Red plastic inner, bagged.
Appearance Marks out of 25
As small as you'd expect for a 15p pie. The lop-sided, sunken lid does little to keep the "perfectly formed" end of the bargain despite the twinkling Star of Bethlehem and an attractive golden rim. 14
Pastry Marks out of 25
Short and sweet, like Shakira only less annoying. Nothing to write home about, but certainly nothing to write to Asda Refunds Department about, either. 15
Filling Marks out of 25
Universally brown, with only the biggest sultanas recognisable after what must have been a nuclear pureeing process. Orange and apricot are the cockroaches, thriving amid the devastation as cinnamon and ginger cling on grimly to what's left of their lives. 14
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Though price remains a Pie Club irrelevance it's hard to be too critical of these reddest of red boxers. There's plenty of scope for improvement but you wouldn't be crossing folk off your Christmas card list if they were to foist one upon you in the build-up to the big day. 15
Second Opinion - Steve Holland, Wigan Marks out of 25
Presentation was pleasing, with pastry lightly browned on top and including a pleasant surface design/decal. On tasting, pastry felt medium to light with a good moisture content - not too hard or soft with good but not overpowering taste. The amount of fruit in the pie was just about right as it blended well with the pastry to create a pleasing taste. The fruit itself was very tasty and left a pleasant zesty, spicy aftertaste. Overall the experience was good and I would have eaten another one. 22
Total Marks 80
Any Other Business We''ll have to get Steve to sample some of the big hitters, I think.

Frame of reference has been a real issue this season.
Date Added 10th Dec 2009

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