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

I'll be honest, now. Perverse lot as we are here at Pie Club, we kinda look forward to the more potentially traumatic entries. And with fig roll-style horror stories blighting their recent campaigns, they don't come with much more potential for trauma than Sainsburys. So, with molars primed and scorn at the ready, these are their Taste the Difference.
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Sainsburys Taste the Difference 14th Dec 2011 £2.5 6
Container Style
A classy affair in deep purple with a three-pie pane. Cleverly, Sainsburys have provided a neat thumbprint around the nutritional information so as to facilitate an unfettered view. Something Girls Aloud could learn from, perhaps.
Appearance Marks out of 25
Broad at the shoulder, pale and biscuity, and edged with the most determined cogging we've seen so far this season. Given JS's history of dry innards, the star cut-out in the lid doesnt seem such a good idea. 20
Pastry Marks out of 25
As unmistakably Walkers as ever. We've had our differences with those brave highlanders before but there are marked improvements this time round. A soft yet firm bite leads to a smooth, creamy butter hit that endures without turning sour. 19
Filling Marks out of 25
Interesting. Well filled with squishy vine fruits, cherry and a decent scattering of almond hunks, but it's the consistency that causes the stir. The absence of binding goo makes for a texture and depth of flavour not unlike that of rich fruit cake. There's enough moisture here to lubricate the chew, but enough bite to forge an individuality. Brandy creeps in at the last possible moment, while orange somehow manages to pull off understatement and intensity at the same time. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
We thought they were just rubbish but it's clear now that Sainsburys were salvaging valuable lessons from their annual Pie Club wreckage, adding a teaspoon of liquor with each passing failure until the vision was realised. I don't know if they're quite there yet, but next year's extra teaspoon might be something to really look forward to. 19
Second Opinion - PC, Pie Club Old Boys Marks out of 25
Akin to a BBC newsreader in HD, wrinkles surprise on closer inspection. Interesting debates abound regarding how big an air hole has to be before the pie becomes a tart. Flirting with disaster then, the bulky highlander needs to make the most of each square inch of pastry. Softer than in previous seasons, Walkers have crafted a more suitable bite for the festive nibbler, and the inners have grudgingly put a decent shift in to follow suit. Though still too thick in tone, the chew has enjoyed a step change from the crunchy then claggy trap of old. One of the better brandy aftertastes of 2011. 19
Total Marks 96
Any Other Business Hot on the heels of yesterday's frankly disturbing search engine news, today saw us discovered by a crazshy Dutchman on the hunt for images of 'hairy pie'. It took just four seconds of Readers Pies to realise we're not really that kind of website.
Date Added 14th Dec 2011

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Given the way society has gone, it seems strange that folk still bang on about shopping days before Christmas. As far as I'm aware, they're all shopping days, which means you still have eleven of them to snap up these Co-op Luxury All Butter for your festive spread. Should you see fit, that is...
Co-op Luxury All Butter Monky Magic
Co-op Luxury All Butter Monky Magic
Pie Name Date of Test Price No. in Pack
Co-op Luxury All Butter 13th Dec 2011 £1.5 6
Container Style
With all the browns and the candles, The Co-op's new box has something of a monastic air about it. The cleaved pie in the crumbshot appears to have been drained of all fluid before its photo call, while the M&S-style "Truly Irresistible" tag line seems a bit far-fetched for such a historically middling-at-best contender. The Co-op's favoured three-pie viewing pane remains intact.
Appearance Marks out of 25
The packaging my be all change but the pie appears very much the same, with the now familiar three-pronged holly motif cutting a dash across a lid with a lopsided demeanour not aided any by being far too big for the base on which it sits. 15
Pastry Marks out of 25
A chomp of that ridiculous overhang gives a rich, buttery preview of things to come. Crisp but not brittle and thick without stodge, it's fair to say this delivers far more than its appearance might suggest. 18
Filling Marks out of 25
A moister-than-most inner sanctum awash with splinters of almond and hunks of apple and candied peel. Brandy and orange combine to offer a tangy, reassuring warmth as gentle ginger and cinnamon whisper softly in the background. A bit subdued, but perfectly pleasant. 19
Pie Factor (the whole experience) Marks out of 25
Probably the Co-op's best effort in living memory. A bit more finesse with the pastry and a little more oomph in otherwise decent innards could see them pushing for a place in the Pie Offs next season. Certainly a world away from their red box atrocity. 18
Second Opinion - PC, DD Marks out of 25
If you like your pies a touch more fluid prior to the mouth mash, then you've come to the right place. The buttery pastry does very well to contain such slippery fruits, and gives a fair account of itself with sugaring to please the eye then some depth of character to hold firm, even post-bite. Brandy is aware of the job required and sets about her task with some precision, but no flair, allowing the viney tang enough time to parade its own wares. A steady, if somewhat moist, ship. 18
Total Marks 88
Any Other Business Pie Club feels somewhat sullied today having been offered up by Google in response to a Polish search for 'Dirty Pies'. Mercifully, Zbigniew took just nine seconds to achieve full gratification.
Date Added 13th Dec 2011

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