pie club

...mince pie mayhem


Pie Club 2011

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 2011

Pie Club 2011 has been tough going in the testing labs. With time constraints, stockists and a dearth of second opinions contriving against us, only twenty competitors came before the judges. Not that there were any particularly notable absentees, mind. Mrs Peek was in line for a debut until a breakdown in second opinioning scuppered her involvement (they were rubbish anyway), while it's hard to see how the likes of Sainsburys Organic or Netto would have added any value. Lack of availability in the northern badlands derailed Walkers and Waitrose, though the latter may well have put all their eggs into Heston's ineligible puff pastry basket in any case.

Whatever the issues, those twenty are down to four. It's hammer time.

This is the Pie-Offs.

The draw was made at tea time on Wednesday December 21st amid an all-emcompassing atmosphere of disinterest.

This is it

M&S The Collection versus M&S Luxury
Sainsburys Taste the Difference versus M&S Classic

The format has been tweaked slightly this year in order to keep things on the edge of interesting. Ties will be played out before two judges, over three bites and on a best-of-three basis, with home pies bitten first. In the event of a draw, ties will be settled first by aggregate scores (which won't ever produce a definitive outcome), then by Pie Factor, then by final group stage placings. Away bites will NOT count double after extra pies.

Semi Final One

M&S The Collection(COL) v M&S Luxury (LUX)
Tuesday 21st December 2010.

Today's esteemed judges are Michelle Allbright of Pie Club and Hughie Harrison of Wigan. Disconcertingly, it's a wonderful spring day.

First Bite:
COL kicks things off with a sturdy opening bite that demands proper chewing before releasing those mellow, buttery notes and brandy soaked fruits, but LUX hits back early with a heady combination of cherry and almond backed by an imposing double whammy of booze. A very assured start by the underdog. Game on.
COL 0, LUX 1 (0-2)

Second Bite:
Rattled by the early setback, COL comes back with renewed vigour, all boozy warmth and hearty of crust, with a deeply flavoursome and varied chew. LUX isn't for lying down, though, standing its ground with its own brand of buttery shortcrust and bevvied-up fruits. This is close.
COL 1, LUX 1 (2-0)

Final Bites:
It's anyone's guess which way this will go. COL is all minimal, stylish rusticity on the eye and rich, unfurling loveliness on the palate, while the lingering majesty of LUX continues to tantalise long after the last bite. It really is hard to separate this pair.
COL 1, LUX 1 (1-1)

A hell of a contest sees M&S The Collection safely through thanks to a Pie Factor of 22. M&S Luxury's semi final performance belied the 13-point chasm in the group stages, but a Pie Factor of 20 just wasn't enough in the final reckoning.

Will the Classic make it a fourth all-M&S final on the bounce, or will the spirit of Wimbledon be with surprise package Sainsburys TTD.

Find out later.

Semi Final Two

Sainsburys Taste the Difference (TTD) v M&S Classic (CLA)
Wednesday 22nd December 2011

Once again a panel of two sits, with Marc Willacy of Lancashire and Clive Wheeler of Widnes putting themselves through the pastry mill to figure out who will face now perennial champions M&S The Collection in the final.

The Classic's presence at the business end of Pie Club has been a given for many years. Winners in 2005 and 2006 and at least semi finalists at worst in three of the last four seasons, this year saw them lead the group stages until two days from time, when they were knocked off the summit by the defending champions. Hopes are high, then, for a return to the big dance, but they'll have to get past the season's surprise package first. Sainsburys TTD hadn't been within 20 points of the Pie Offs in the last five years, but a sudden renaissance built on their stubbornly leftfield filling has catapulted them into contention for 2011.

First Bite:

TTD gets off to a sluggish start, with that sturdy Scottish pastry outstaying its welcome a bit and the sticky inner struggling to engender any discernible flow. CLA has far more experience at this level, however, and throws some smooth opening shapes, making the most of that time honoured pastry and a nutty zeal.

TTD 0, CLA 1 (0-2)

Second Bite:

On the ropes in the early exchanges, TTD tries to rally but is hampered by lack of moisture. Old foibles look to be coming back to haunt our plucky underdog. CLA is cruising now, with candied peel and orange bind showboating as TTD founders. It's brutal, to be honest.

TTD 0, CLA 2 (0-2)

Final Bites:

TTD looks all set to throw in the towel, with judges' jaws reportedly grinding to a halt mid-chew amid claggy, dehydrated vine fruitery. CLA doesn't rub it in, though, finishing the job with a crowd pleasing flourish of clove. A bloodless victory.

TTD 0, CLA 3 (0-2)

M&S Classic canters into the umpteenth final of its illustrious career without so much as breaking sweat against Sainsburys TTD, who found the big stage all a bit much in the end, reverting to old ways and attempting to suffocate the life out of unsuspected judges who were clearly expecting more from a Top Four pie. The Classic knows from bitter experience it has it all to do at the last hurdle, having tasted defeat at the hands of The Collection (then Connoisseur) in the Grand Final back in 2009. However, many feel this pie is better equipped for greatness than ever before.

Tune in next time.

The Grand Final 2011

M&S Classic (CLA) v M&S Collection (COL)
Friday 23nd December 2011

The end is nigh.

The latest in a long line of M&S-Offs sees the Classic up against the Collection. First v Second in the group stages and arguably the finest pies ever to have graced Pie Club, it seems somehow fitting that it should all come down to this. There's a panel of three for the main event, with JC of Pie Club, Michelle Allbright of Bolton and Clive Brooks of Hampshire bringing down the curtain on Pie Club 2011.

First Bite:

CLA wins the toss and comes out all guns blazing. A mild festive hangover has driven my appetite to fever pitch and CLA takes full advantage with a short, all butter assault and a fruity, gently spiced chew. COL is unfazed, though, and brings an almighty butter hit of his own to the table, backing it up with a swift one-two of brandy and port. These two aren't for hanging around, that's for certain.

CLA 1, COL 0 (2-1)

Second Bite:

CLA's dander is up now and it piles on the pressure with a fabulously varied chew, throwing nuts and peel into the mix and introducing clove for extra impact. COL steps it up, playing on the opposition's shortcomings in the beverage department and sending a boozy festive warmth right through our awestruck panel.

CLA 1, COL 1 (0-3)

Final Bites:

CLA throws everything it can muster into one final push, tantalising onlookers with its moist luxury and precision pastry. Orange is performing with flair and juicy vine fruits are a steadying influence alongside the enigma of clove. COL is all understated power, though, with the crunch of that sweet pork pie pastry and the sheer gloriousness of that boozy apricot and almond chew pushing all the way to the last crumb.

LUX 1, COL 2 (1-2)

It had to work much harder than the group standings suggested, but has come through to land a fourth consecutive title. Pushed incredibly close by M&S Luxury in the last four and taken right to the wire by the brave Classic here, the Collection had to dig deep into its box of tricks to come through. As individual as it is brilliant, it's difficult to envisage anything coming out of the chasing pack to break its stranglehold on competitive pieing

As usual, big thanks to Simon Wilson, who once again provided the technical support that enables Pie Club to function without the need for pen and paper. Thanks, too, to PC, whose vision now ensures indigestion and chronic pastry fatigue each and every December. 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 cracking Christmas and a very happy New Year
Until November, then

Pie reviews - group stages

Two pies in one day? Well, It's been a longer, harder slog than usual (for readers and writers alike) but this is our last one of 2011. Whilst we're well down on numbers this year, we'd still like to think we've covered more or less all the likely contenders. So with the Pie Offs all but upon us, can Asda Extra Special force themselves into the reckoning for the first time since 2002?
The Last One Asda Extra Special
The Last One Asda Extra Special
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Asda Extra Special 21st Dec 2011 £2 6
Container Style
Still purple with the three pie viewing pane at the bottom and one of the genre's duller crumbshots in the top right corner. Handily, Asda advise the consumer that the box contains six servings, so nobody will make the mistake of trying to make two pies go twelve ways when the Queen has finished banging on.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Well browned and sturdy, if a little wonky, with its single air hole properly clogged by a generous helping of sugar. An attractive golden lid is adorned with one big star and three little stars. Like the Bangles. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Heady butter notes fill my nostrils as I go through my pre-pie routine. The pastry is biscuit short, with clag and cloy kept at bay by a proper all-round crunch reinforced still further by that crisp, granulated layer. 20
Filling Marks out of 25
The filling glistens enticingly as a waft of booze urges closer inspection. If grapes and stuff had heads and shoulders, that's how far above their vine fruit colleagues these statuesque, brandy-sozzled sultanas would tower. The fat, drunken buggers large it as candied peel, orange oil and apple go quietly about their business, lifting the portly afterglow above the realms of boozy gratuitousness while glace cherries and a cinnamon and ginger tag team work subtle magic on the fringes. 20
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
It's been a long wait for Asda but this winning combination of crisp, buttery pastry and moist, warming filling might well be worthy of a place in the post season. Simple but effective from the Leeds boys. 20
Second Opinion - Brighty, ex-Hants Marks out of 25
I'm not averse to the haphazard lumpen crust, and the three baby stars with one big daddy star has its own charm too. Liberal sugar drifts form in the dips and the pie is nicely browned, including on the all-too-often pasty base. But Asda is notoriously inconsistent - the finest carrot cake I know, but rubbish bread - so my bite is tentative. I am confronted by a yawning gap between glisteningly promising goo and pie roof. A strange medicinal note registers, which I vaguely recognise as clove and ethanol; alcohol is present, but only in the same way you sense its presence in cough syrup. Plentiful vine fruits dominate and a spark of citrus pops up late on, but aridness prevails, unaided by the dry, crunchy shell. Not very special at all, really. 15
Total Marks 92
Any Other Business No room at the inn for Asda after all, then. In case you've lost track and can't be bothered to look at the standings, our semi finalists are the M&S trio Classic, Luxury and Collection, along with the surprise package of 2011, Sainsburys Taste the Difference. If anyone's keeping count, that's three years in a row Morrisons have finished fifth.

See you in the Pie Offs.
Date Added 21st Dec 2011

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As the 2011 group stages head towards their conclusion, fans the world over are still waiting for the first 100+ score of the season. That can only bode well for M&S, whose Collection has dominated Pie Club since 2008. Is their bid for four in a row a foregone conclusion?
Big pie, little pie, cardboard box M&S The Collection
Big pie, little pie, cardboard box M&S The Collection
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
M&S The Collection 21st Dec 2011 £2.99 6
Container Style
M&S have kept last year's box, once again presenting all six shimmering, bronzed contestants for inspection, with only a stylish brown and gold ribbon to distract us from their beauty.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Unchanged since last season, so still very much blurring the boundaries between mince and pork. Traditional anti-clockwise cogging encircles a single, central air hole, while gallons of egg wash give a suitably golden finish. Awesome. 21
Pastry Marks out of 25
Genius pastry engineering gives us a crisp outer shell before unleashing a soft, sweet secondary layer. Butter seems more understated than in previous campaigns but this is still mincemeat conveyance of the highest order. Savoury stylings in a sweet context. 22
Filling Marks out of 25
Moist and plentiful with a new flavour sensation every second chew. Chunks of almond run amok among the plump vine fruits as brandy and port take it in turns to wash in and out of your Christmas consciousness. Traditional festive spicing is eschewed in favour of apricot and nutmeg, but you're certainly not going to spend Christmas wondering where the cinnamon went. 22
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
What's to say? There's going to have to be a hell of a shock in the Pie Offs for this mob to be knocked off their perch. 22
Second Opinion - PC, Pie Club CEO Marks out of 25
Glimpsing these defending champions through their viewing pane, a particularly polarizing egg wash alarms or delights (delete as applicable). I'm in the camp that is heartened by the Miggins-era browning and pudding basin fundament, but many of the people I have consulted with have renounced such Dickensian ways. There is very little argument arising from the glamorous inners however. Allow the tide of brandy and port to wash away your shopping stress and remind you about the true spirit of Christmas; self-indulgence. Go on, spoil yourself with brand name currants and a heavy touch of almond from this gentle giant of the competition. 22
Total Marks 109
Any Other Business God yes. Another pie, later today. Time's getting on, see.
Date Added 21st Dec 2011

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