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

Winners in 2004 and back to form with an appearance in last year's final, the M&S Luxury will be looking to break the stranglehold of in-store rival The Collection, Pie Club winners under a varying nomenclature in each of the last three seasons.
BOO! M&S Luxury
BOO! M&S Luxury
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
M&S Luxury 16th Dec 2011 £2.69 6
Container Style
Contrary to recent form, M&S appear to have resisted the urge to make changes to their mid-ranger, which means we get a second chance to marvel at their 3D rendering of three pie ghosts collaring a pie Pacman within touching distance of the power pill. Box side bangs on about mutton and ox tongue. Incongruous without context, I know.
Appearance Marks out of 25
As untinkered-with as the box that brought them here, with pirate ship tiller taking centre stage and triple air holes relieving the pressure from within. Theyre a tidy size and Magic and Sparkle haven't been shy with the sugar. 18
Pastry Marks out of 25
Very short, with pleasing extra crunch provided by the plethora of sugar crystals on top. Butter continues to be this pie's driving force, though its influence doesn't seem quite to strong this year. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
This lot weren't finalists last season for nothing, you know. A plentiful selection of vineyard refugees loll about in a citrus jus shot through with warming brandy and smooth port. Glace cherries put in regular appearances in a chew lifted still further by the occasional zing of candied peel, while cinnamon appears to have taken full responsibility for Christmassing things up. Simple but very, very effective. 21
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
M&S's decision to leave the Luxury meddle-free has been more than justified. A fine pie with high hopes of going one better in this year's post season. 20
Second Opinion - PC, Pie Club Marks out of 25
I've shuddered at the thought of some pies before, but rarely have I had to cower in fear following the unsheathing. Six alien faces manifested atop my luxury six (see other-worldly visage on teetering top pie on box crumbshot). Therefore, I can't confirm whether the problem chew I experienced was down to an overly stodgy inner or my mouth drying in terror.
Every once in a while a cherry/ET heart would loosen the mix, but on the whole I would expect more assistance from the apple puree. Brandy and port are willing but not pushy, and a buttery aftertaste can be achieved from the right mouthful.
One note of caution, my fourth pie suffered from a touch of stalk or grit interference, and because of that my score stays in the teens.
Total Marks 96
Any Other Business It's hardly news nowadays, I know, but perennial drivel-spouters Which? have recently made their annual pronouncement that Aldi and Lidl are better than M&S. Now we REALLY know it's Christmas.
Date Added 18th Dec 2011

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Tesco Finest were within touching distance of going all the way to the big dance last year, reaching the Pie Offs only to taste narrow defeat at the hands of M&S Luxury. Rather than simply tweaking their best pie in years, the Tesco bakery boffins have opted to rip it up and start again. Will this brave play bring belated glory to the blue and white stripes?
Tesco Finest Not for girls.
Tesco Finest Not for girls.
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Tesco Finest 13th Dec 2011 £1.5 6
Container Style
A new look for Tesco's flagship mincer sees the viewing pane jettisoned and most of the sleek black and silver colour scheme swapped for, er, brown and turquoise. Box end carries tales of festive folklore, while the designers have left nothing to chance drawing attention to Courvoisier's involvement.
Appearance Marks out of 25
A new look for the pies within, too. The four-pronged piercing is reduced to a single airhole in the middle of the SOB (star of Bethlehem). Browning of the edges has spread to the base and much of the top surface, while some sloppy lidwork let's down a potentially attractive contestant. 17
Pastry Marks out of 25
Extra time in the oven has done no harm, with a nice crispness to the lid offsetting any suggestion of clag from the walls beneath. Plentiful sugaring lends a welcome sweetness, while butter is reassuring and understated. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
Tesco haven't been shy with the filling this year, packing in vine fruits and then shoehorning whizzy chunks of citrus and nutty lumps into any gaps. The orange goo acts as lubrication and a suitable playmate for the much-vaunted boozy do, but spicing is pretty low key and the aftertaste carries a suspicion of artificiality. 17
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Margins of failure can be small at Pie Club. More care with lid placement may have eked out an extra point or two, while less meddling with last year's innards would almost certainly have given Tesco another shot at post-season glory. 18
Second Opinion - Grahame Dunbar, Bury Marks out of 25
What appears to be the Star of Bethlehem on the pastry lid misleads you to expectations of finding something magical beneath it. I think the Three Wise Men might have been a bit disappointed. Although a pleasant consistency pastry and filling, I wasnt able to taste the brandy in the fruit. 18
Total Marks 89
Any Other Business A recent taste test at Seven Hills W.I. in Sheffield (average age of 33, before your preconceptions get the better of you!) described Tesco Finest as "good pies and pretty good value, but not enough flavour in the mincemeat. For the record, M&S Luxury came out on top. Good work, ladies.
Date Added 16th Dec 2011

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