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...mince pie mayhem


Pie Club 2010

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 in the group stages league table.

The Pie Club Pie-Offs 2010

There were some big names missing from Pie Club this year, with recent semi-finalists Duchy and Walker's shunning their usual stockists in favour of a low profile and 2007 champions Somerfield sadly no more despite their store's continued high street presence. There were newcomers to fill the void, mind, with border raiders from Australia and Iceland debuting alongside regional hopefuls Booth's and Waterfield's with varying degrees of success.

It's crunch time now, though, with the 25 pies from the group stage whittled down to just four.

This is the Pie-Offs.

The draw was made shortly after lunchtime on Tuesday December 21st, with borderline giddy Waterfield's enthusiast Dianne Wright Wright Wright drawing the home pies and resolute pie virgin Paul Sutch the away.

This is what it comes down to

M&S Luxury versus Tesco Finest

M&S Collection versus Waterfield's Luxury

Three is very much the magic number, with ties played out over three bites, before a panel of three judges and on a best-of-three basis. In the unlikely event of a tie, we'll be in all manner of bother.

Semi Final One

M&S Luxury(LUX) v Tesco Finest (TES)

Tuesday 21st December 2010.

Today's panel is made up of JC of Pie Club, Matthew Strong of Newton le Willows and rookie season second opinionator Dan Sutton of West Didsbury.

Finalists in 2008 and an ill-conceived flourish of the pastry cutter shy of making a return to the post season in 2009, M&S Luxury will be out to repeat their Pie Off success of 2004. Standing in their way are one-time also-rans Tesco Finest, who posted a career best effort last year before showing further improvement in this season's group stage. Shrewdies who were on early will be watching from behind the couch.

First Bite:

LUX gets us underway, looking a bit overdone in the harsh glare of the Pie Off spotlight. Pastry is a bit heavy going and the filling barely gets a look-in early doors. TES seizes its chance with a crisp combination of buttery pastry and gently boozy vine fruit chew and suddenly there's a shock on the cards.

LUX 0, TES 1 (1-2)

Second Bite:

Shaken by the early setback LUX tries to rally. The pastry continues to be more hindrance than help but brandy and port finally break through and the subsequent chew is a long and satisfying one. TES launches a pastry-led counter with buttery notes and a sugar-crisp roof but its innards struggle to go the gallop as the pace quickens.

LUX 1, TES 1 (2-1)

Final Bites:

With the contest on a knife edge LUX sends the big, booze-sodden fruits to the front and pastry relaxes its grip to give the cinnamon-tinged citrus tang its head. With its fragile pastry and lightly-spiced marmalade bind, the TES response is a more understated one, festive spirit in particular keeping a lower profile than in the group stages.

LUX 2, TES 1 (3-0)

It was looking nip and tuck there for a while but M&S Luxury overcame a slow start to seal a place in the final. Tesco Finest put up a plucky challenge but, with big name player Courvoisier VS bottling it on the big stage, it just wasn't to be for the boys in blue and white.

Despite going through, Luxury will have to step things up for the final after a performance described by Matt Strong as comfortably reassuring without great thrills.

So will we have our third all-M&S final in as many years? Find out in tomorrow's second semi final.


Semi Final Two

M & S Collection (COL) v Waterfield's Luxury (WAT)

Wednesday 22nd December 2010

Once again a panel of three sit, with JC of Pie Club, Michelle Allbright of Bolton and Chris Tighe of Chadderton deciding who will face M&S Luxury in the final.

Connoisseur in all but name, the M&S Collection will be looking to follow an imperious group stage performance by securing what most onlookers will consider to be a Pie Club hat trick. Can Waterfield's Luxury confound anti-biscuit critics to stem the tide?

First Bite:

COL is fast out of the blocks, opening with pastry all crisp on the outside and velvet soft within, and following up quickly with a luxuriously moist, nutty chew and powerful alcohol kick. WAT rocks the most potent Viennese attack since Savicevic at Rapid in the late 90s, but beyond the shortbread lid there's worryingly little going on. Inadvertent inhalation of the caster sugar topping almost sparks respiratory chaos.

COL 1, WAT 0 (3-0)

Second Bite:

Sensing a quick win, COL piles on the pressure, leading with rapid fire brandy and port combinations before throwing in apricot and almond amid an unusually moist filling chock full with yuletide goodies. WAT's thick, buttery biscuit continues to dominate its woefully outnumbered innards. Booze makes a spirited attempt to get in the game but there just isn't enough going on in here to get competitive.

COL 2, WAT 0 (3-0)

Final Bites:

No DeSean Jackson-style showboating for COL, who keeps it honest all the way to the line. Beautifully engineered pastry throws butter shapes right to the end as booze and spice dance a beguiling last dance around an array of plump festive fruits. WAT is reeling, more biscuit now than pie, broken and defeated. A solitary raisin stands in futile defiance of the inevitable denouement. This is brutal.

COL 3, WAT 0 (3-0)

M&S Collection emerges victorious from arguably the most one-sided contest in Pie Off history, as first season challengers Waterfield's blow it by turning out a substandard batch for the biggest day of their career. A paucity of filling and an overreliance on their expensive European import proved their undoing as the Collection called upon years of experience at the highest level to coast home.

So that's that, then. An all Magic and Sparkle final for the third year running, with current incumbents M&S Collection (nee Connoisseur) putting their title on the line against store colleagues M&S Luxury, who need to leave behind an unconvincing semi final performance if they are to be crowned Pie Club champions for the first time since 2004.


The Grand Final 2010

M&S Luxury (LUX) v M&S Collection (COL)
Thursday 23nd December 2010

With chronic pastry fatigue and acid indigestion already kicking in ahead of a week of seasonal indulgence, Pie Club comes together for one last big push. Putting the Gaviscon aside for twenty minutes or so are JC of Pie Club, John Lau of Bury and Michelle Allbright of Bolton.

M&S Collection enters the arena all shiny and tall with a flawless qualifying campaign behind him. M&S Luxury follows, slightly squatter but considerably broader at the shoulder. As snow blankets the country, it's like Balboa v Drago in Russia all over again. If he pies, he pies.

First Bite:

LUX gets the final underway with a pastry assault genuinely worthy of the all-butter tag. The innards make a tentative early foray, sending out a warning shot of gently warming brandy alongside confident cinnamon. COL is straight in there playing to his strengths as crisp pastry gives way thrillingly to an alcohol-soaked inner sanctum. There's not much between them at this early juncture.

LUX 0, COL 1 (1-2)

Second Bite:

Pastry remains a real force for LUX but the filling really comes into its own on the second bite. Orange steps up to reinforce the smooth presence of port, and brandy is a gentle influence among the vine fruits rather than their driving force. COL just uncorks the bottle and sits back to enjoy the show, with heady booze overpowering all but fruits big enough to stand their ground.

LUX 1, COL 1 (2-1)

Final Bites:

Down to the final bites, then, and LUX's brittle pastry easily gives up its charms and allows port and orange to tantalize their way unchecked across the tongue. Fruit and nut work tirelessly to reward to chew and citrus peel puts in a zingy appearance at the last knockings. COL has found its stride, too the pastry is a delight and the all-powerful booze looms over the vast fruits and chunky almond shards like Mount Doom over Middle Earth. They've found a formula and they're working it relentlessly, but will it be enough?

It all comes down to this

A good engine remarked Lau, confirming the Group Stage suspicion that he watches too much Top Gear.

The true embodiment of Christmas in a pieit doesn't just rely on its boozy warmth to woo, slurs Allbright from under the table.

A worthy champion, albeit with a serious drink problem, cautions JC.

LUX 1, COL 2 (1-2)

With opinion divided all the way to the finish in as close a contest as we could ever have envisaged, was pushed to its very limits by M&S Luxury, who was just a single vote shy of springing one of the all time great Pie Off surprises. Hats off, though, to our three-in-a-row champion.

An even bigger thank you than usual to Simon Wilson, who has even taken time out from a holiday on the other side of the world to ensure the Pie Club technical department runs smoothly. Thanks, too, to PC, who set us on the road to annual mincemeat poisoning some eleven years ago. Finally, thanks to all the second opinioners who prevent pie rating from becoming an exact science year upon year. You know who you are.

Have a brilliant Christmas and a very happy New Year
Until next time


Pie reviews - group stages

With Walker's very much conspicuous by their absence from this year's contest, it falls to Northern food heroes Booth's to close the Group Stage door behind them.
For those who await the Pie Offs with breath very much abated, an inconveniently timed wedding means you'll have to bear with us until early next week. Sorry.
Booth's Luxury Brandy Purest Green
Booth's Luxury Brandy Purest Green
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Booth's Luxury Brandy 15th Dec 2010 £2.39 6
Container Style
Almost exactly the same as Booth's red box, except green. It seems a right-angled triangle of snowflakes signifies a step-up in quality for Booth's, who still include the word "luxury" in their description just to be on the safe side.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Exactly the same as Booth's red boxer. Like a massive pastry tiddlywink that's just too big for the cup. With sugar on top. And goo coming seeping from the joints. 15
Pastry Marks out of 25
Exactly the same as Booth's red boxer. The precarious lid remains a cause for concern but the smooth all-butter finish and pleasing cloy-free crumble remains joyfully intact. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
The well hard Spot the Difference game comes to an abrupt end once the innards are revealed. The fruits remain a bit on the small side but the brandy operates on two levels, applying a warming lift to the citrus and clove combination while, at the same time, drying out some of the gratuitous overjam that blighted its red box twin. A standing ovation for the unusually strong glace cherry showing. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Red Box+(Booze+Cherries)=Luxury 18
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Bolton Marks out of 25
A frost covered, rustic looking pie wearing a dodgy flat cap. The innards are moist, and cherry and brandy do a Christmas jig but the pastry is a bit overbearing and it's all a bit of an anti-climax. Like checking in to a swanky Bethlehem hotel only to be told your bed's in the barn. 16
Total Marks 85
Any Other Business Sad to see the Luxury Brandy model scoring two points less than the All Butter. Such are the vagaries of the second opinion.
Date Added 17th Dec 2010

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This is Waitrose's red box nominee.

Apologies for cutting to the chase so quickly, but time is very much of the essence.
M.O.R. Waitrose Mince Pies
M.O.R. Waitrose Mince Pies
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Waitrose 12th Dec 2010 £1 6
Container Style
Standard issue session pie red with Waitrose's fancy big number six once again taking a prominent role. For reasons that are unclear, the crumbshot has the feel of a late-70s Christmas do for posh dentists, who doubtless all cleaned their teeth post-pie before shamelessly snogging their receptionists.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Not a bad looking pie at all, all broad and browned with decent depth and gently fluted edges. The lid motif looks a bit like a fleur-de-lis, though it's taken a bit of a kicking in transit and could have been virtually anything. My guess is a twinkling, twinkling little star. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
Waitrose play it very safe with their red box shortcrust. A no frills, soft and light affair with distant echoes of butter and a side helping of minor cloy. The very definition of middling. 15
Filling Marks out of 25
Sultanas built like planets ensure the currants and raisins keep it clean as they try to get off with apple and apricot to a soundtrack of low key orange and spice. It's more high school disco than Manumission in here, to be honest, but it's alright. 15
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
The sort of basic fare you might expect, and to some extent accept, from a more proletariat outlet but, coming from a store that actively shuns riff-raff, this is a major disappointment. 15
Second Opinion - PC, Old Pies Network Marks out of 25
A long overdue box revamp for the underachieving Middle-Englander has managed to engender a totally new ambience. Why they chose to recreate the top table at Strangeways' 1988 Christmas Day lunch is beyond me though. A dirty, colourless table is dressed with empty glasses and a skirting board back-drop.
The pie manages to avoid lid blight - a ghost of Christmas Past for this contender - but suffers from a deeply unpleasant soggy bottom, made worse by having an immeasurably thick foundation. The mouth sensation is more that of a Star Bar (without being shot through with peanuts). Clag and cloy abound, with no discernable spice redemption. Only offer these if part of a cruel Community Service ritual.
Total Marks 72
Any Other Business These pies weren't even on display in the shop. A store assistant (or "partner", to use Waitrose parlance) had to nip in the back to get them. "I suppose I should put these out now", he said on his return.

This wasn't in October, this was last Friday.

Bonkers, or what?
Date Added 16th Dec 2010

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