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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
JC

 

Pie reviews - group stages

After years of domination in the Home Counties, Waitrose are currently moving north like Panzer divisions into Belgium. Though it remains to be seen if there'll be a market for the well-to-do grocer in the land of flat caps and whippets, more local availability certainly won't do their chances of Pie Club glory any harm. This is Waitrose's all-singing, all-dancing, all butter affair.
Grim up North Waitrose All Butter
Grim up North Waitrose All Butter
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Waitrose All Butter 10th Dec 2010 £2.29 6
Container Style
Last year's all black look has been replaced by a classy pale gold, with a massive but tasteful red number six for them as can't count pies through a plastic window. Unless I'm much mistaken, this is the first sans crumbshot box of the year.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Waitrose persevere with their attractive yet indescribable pie, all flat-topped and plain and bereft of anything whatsoever to talk about save for some tidy symmetrical cogging and a bit of sugar. 18
Pastry Marks out of 25
The thick biscuit lid mounts a strong defence but persistence is rewarded with a rich butter crunch. The walls are a bit more forgiving but no less forthcoming with the relentless butter assault. Walker's influenced, if not manufactured, and a touch on the sickly side for my liking. 16
Filling Marks out of 25
There must be something about the sturdier pastry casing that dries the bejesus out of pie innards during the baking process. The fruits aren't nearly so plump as you might expect from a luxury range, the brandy has been reduced almost to the point of vapour, and there isn't nearly enough festively orange goo to bring the whole shebang together. 15
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
One of the drier pies on the market this year, with the combination of short biscuit crust and parched cinnamon centre making liquid accompaniment very much a matter of life and death. 15
Second Opinion - Chris Tighe, Oldham Marks out of 25
Christmas is here! Ive been eating chocolates from behind miniature cardboard doors for 9 days and spent the morning watching a bunch of Santas race around a pond, but this festive beauty did what all those couldnt, it made Christmas 2010 arrive! Almost perfectly evenly shaped, baked so the rim was edged in orange, and the lack of design on the lid completely excused by just the right covering of sugar - the first look made me smile! Then bite number one turned that smile into a grin! Pastry almost crunchy and it crumbled just enough to keep the fun but stayed sturdy, looking after the fruity mince insides. The inside, full and rich, fruity with a boozy feel almost like a hot mulled wine, though, rather than brandy laced, counter-balanced well with the biscuit-like pastry. Enjoying first bite to last, the grin only left my face after picking the last of the pie from my back teeth! 24
Total Marks 88
Any Other Business Chris' second opinion is proof, if any were needed, that Pie Club is a far from exact science. Or he was having a bad day at the office and really needed that brandy.
Date Added 10th Dec 2010

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Partly due to some intensive lobbying by a dogged local, but mostly because our interest was piqued by an impressive performance from their luxury counterpart, today sees us having a crack at Waterfield's Traditional.
Sweetie Pie Waterfield's Traditional
Sweetie Pie Waterfield's Traditional
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Waterfield's Traditional 7th Dec 2010 £2 6
Container Style
The double decker box augurs ill for Waterfield's - its last competitive outing came in last year's group stage when 1999 winners Greenhalgh's disgraced themselves with a white pepper pastry nightmare. Nice to see them adhering to red box convention, though, and their heart is in the right place, if nothing else.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Two sizeable air holes peer through the veritable epidemic of sugar on an otherwise unadorned lid. Nicely golden, but broad and flat, as if somebody with an especially big arse has sat on them. 16
Pastry Marks out of 25
The "dusting" of sugar puts up a crisp front line resistance while the pastry beneath is short and very much to the point. Not unpleasant, but if you're looking for any depth of flavour beyond your common-or-garden sucrose, I'm afraid you're barking up the wrong pie. 15
Filling Marks out of 25
Packed to its admittedly low rafters with small but perfectly formed vine fruits, candied peel and nutty chunks, with the merest suggestion of cinnamon brushed aside by an all-out orange assault. Like drinking cordial without adding water. 15
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
If you feel at home in the dentist's chair or have a particular penchant for food you can eat through a straw, this is the pie for you. Steer clear unless your faith in the tooth fairy remains endearingly undimmed. 14
Second Opinion - Martin Griffin, The Ship Marks out of 25
Not sh*t.


He's a man of few words, our Martin.
18
Total Marks 78
Any Other Business Interestingly, Waterfield's deployed the humble apostrophe on their Traditional box but dispensed with its services when it came to their Luxury livery. Maybe they just weren't sure.
Date Added 8th Dec 2010

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