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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 Walkers shunning their usual stockists in favour of a low profile and 2007 champions Somerfield sadly no more despite their stores continued high street presence. There were newcomers to fill the void, mind, with border raiders from Australia and Iceland debuting alongside regional hopefuls Booths and Waterfields with varying degrees of success.

Its 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 Waterfields 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 Waterfields 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, well be in all manner of bother.


Semi Final One

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

Tuesday 21st December 2010.

Todays 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 seasons 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 theres 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 wasnt 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 tomorrows second semi final.

 

Semi Final Two

M & S Collection (COL) v Waterfields 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 Waterfields 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 theres 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. WATs thick, buttery biscuit continues to dominate its woefully outnumbered innards. Booze makes a spirited attempt to get in the game but there just isnt 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 Waterfields 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 thats 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, its 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. Theres 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 LUXs 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. Theyve found a formula and theyre 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 doesnt 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
JC

 

Pie reviews - group stages

Long in the vanguard of the battle against the multinational supermarket conglomerate and family owned for five generations, heartland outposts like Clitheroe, Kendal and the once mighty Poulton-le-Fylde hold their collective breath ahead of Booth's long awaited Pie Club debut.
Pie of Lancashire Booth's All Butter
Pie of Lancashire Booth's All Butter
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Booth's All Butter 14th Dec 2010 £2.19 6
Container Style
Out on their own in a conformist world of plastic pie windows and graphic crumbshots, Booth's laugh in the face of pie box convention to bring us an image of Bertie Bassett dragging his daughter round the shops.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Nicely sized and generously sugared but it looks like the lids were put on from the other side of the kitchen as part of an impromptu Christmas game. Innards oozing outwards give these fellows the kind of homemade appearance that can only hold them back at the business end. 15
Pastry Marks out of 25
The lid requires extra care to avoid losing a pie and gaining a tart, but this chap belies his appearance with a crispness that turns quickly to crumble, and levels of butteryness hitherto unencountered in a red box hopeful. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
Sadly more in keeping with first sight than first bite. Small fruits blended with marmalade, with a handful of cloves thrown in to remind everyone what time of year it is. Not a disaster, exactly, but certainly lacking inspiration. 15
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Hotchpotch in appearance with a run-of-the-mill filling that lets its delicious shortcrust casing down quite badly. Disappointing, because I got a bit giddy when I saw the box. 16
Second Opinion - Ron Callow, Winsford Marks out of 25
Light and buttery pastry complemented with a filling of really well balanced flavours. There could have been a little more mincemeat but, overall, this is a minor criticism. A very good mince pie. 22
Total Marks 87
Any Other Business In case any of you are hanging on for those hardy perennials from Walker's, there's every chance they've blown it with some pretty shoddy distribution. Tick tock, jock.
Date Added 14th Dec 2010

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This time last year Netto got all bullish and sent us some freebies over which to run the rule. Sadly, we gave them a bit of a kicking and they appear to have fallen out with us now. Not to worry, though - we try not to hold grudges here at Pie Club and Netto is pretty cheap so we went and bought some anyway.
There is Nothing Like a Dane Netto Luxury Brandy
There is Nothing Like a Dane Netto Luxury Brandy
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Netto Deep Filled Luxury Brandy 10th Dec 2010 £1.29 6
Container Style
Ever committed to "living life for less", Netto have shunned electricity to eat Christmas dinner by tealight. Four ashen pies make as merry as circumstance allow as a handful of cherry tomatoes look on, bemused. Black plastic inner, bagged.
Appearance Marks out of 25
A tidy pie in pale gold with a three-berry holly motif and fluted edges. Last year's entrant had alcohol spilling from every pore but this year's model seems to have calmed it down a bit. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Very soft and not especially good in the holding role, so far more Petrov than Muamba. Granted the analogy would stand up better if Petrov were sweet and buttery instead of balding and workshy. 16
Filling Marks out of 25
Blows preconceptions out of the water with its boozy warmth and Christmas tang. Orange tos and fros with brandy to create a lively backdrop to a varied chew put on by fair-sized fruits and plentiful hunks of walnut. The reclusive cherry puts itself on top with a rare public appearance. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Not at all suited to eating on the move unless you've a gob cavernous enough to get the whole thing down in one go. Structural shortcomings aside, though, Netto have put together a decent pie. It just doesn't stay together, that's all. 16
Second Opinion - Michelle Allbright, Lancs Marks out of 25
Ding Dong Merrily on High! Don't get too giddy though, this pie wasn't that exciting. It was however, surprisingly good. Despite looking like it came from The Madame Tussauds for mince pies with its faintly plastic appearance, and ignoring the wavy edging that appeared to have been methodically thumbed by a member of the W.I. wearing surgical gloves for hygiene, this was an otherwise perfectly acceptable pie. And my very superficial objections to the pie might well be why it is the pie of choice for others. When it came to the true test, with my mouth and tongue as judges, this pie performed very well. It is a substantially sized pie with nicely yielding golden-tipped pastry filled with a satisfying and juicy medley of brandy soaked fruits and citrus bits, and a tinkle of festive spice. 16
Total Marks 82
Any Other Business Presumably in order to focus their efforts on bacon production, the Danes flogged Netto to Asda in May this year. With "integration" set for mid-2011, this may well be the last time they grace Pie Club with their presence.
Date Added 13th Dec 2010

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