...mince pie mayhem
Mince pie tastings are usually conducted professionally, by an uninspired panel, trotting out bone dry statistics that feed the need of opinion factory magazines, and other fettered institutions.
Wouldn't you rather enjoy a rogue one?
Pie Club's return as inexorable as an English football crisis or a paternal Star Wars melodrama, should bring fire to the belly of Christmas scrutineers everywhere.
The sixteen finalists in our tournament draw have been selected by applying a comprehensive formula, based on variables including but not limited to: historic performance, number of previous appearances, and likely availability.
Someone warn the internet, the maelstrom of mixed fruit starts here!
|Grand Final - Marks & Spencer Classic vs Co-op Luxury|
15th Dec 2016
|Pie Club 2016 has been a year of spectacular comebacks with M&S Classic rediscovering their form, Waitrose All Butter doing a Jon Snow by coming back from the dead, and Lego Donald Trump appearing everywhere after overturning the polls, common sense and good judgement. So before we rush off to witness the cinematic return of our favourite bad dad in black (and his moon-sized holiday home), why not pick up a couple of boxes and play along at home. See if you agree with my findings… or whether you find my lack of taste disturbing.|
Also, before I get down to business, I’d like to thank Simon Wilson for his timely and expert web work, my long-suffering wife and kids for putting up with this festive distraction and cardio-brinkmanship, the team of eager procurement officers, retweeters everywhere, and the good people of Lucasfilm for inspiring much of the photography. And Merry Christmas to everyone who has landed here and taken the time to wonder what this is all about. God bless you.
|M&S Classic - It's goodbye from us||Co-op Luxury - And it's goodbye from them|
|Marks & Spencer Classic||Co-op Luxury|
|MSC last lifted this crown in 2006, but it feels like they have been in and around the latter stages most years, often losing out to the eventual winners or stepping aside to let their more expensive brethren take the plaudits. They certainly lost their way on the spicing in more recent incarnations, but the double shipment of cloves this year has helped them re-find their mojo.||Co-op’s most memorable achievement to date has been the ludicrously camp box of 2014-2015. How they have gone from sitting a couple of chums in and around a lace swing to the brutality of their 2016 battlefield crumbshot is beyond me. I am absolutely sure, though, that same designer could not be behind both versions. If they go on to win this, expect utter carnage on everyone’s 2017 sleeve.|
Despite my nearly twenty years of competitive pie tasting experience, I still find it hard to settle into big occasions such as these. By the time I stand up again, we will have a new champion. Gulp.
Both teams will be relieved that the pies on show today are without any obvious damage and with precise airholes unquivered by the weight of expectation.
MSC lead us off with their biscuit disguise. A snappy edge with real, almost dunkable, credentials. In contrast, Co-op don’t try to overplay from the start, and their holly motifed lid provides satisfactory groundwork for a distant tang to tease through a neutral sugaring.
The instant MSC gives up a full bite this grand final comes to life. The generous fruit filling begins to award an infusion upon the palate before the jaw snaps shut. In moments, the deeply tart apple pulp washes away ambivalence in a foam of mulling spice and demerara. And the effect stays with you. From mouth to soul.
Co-op’s assault on the inflamed senses is not a merciful one. Bigger orchard cannon smash through the early notes releasing a mouthwatering brandy and almond finish. With a touch of spice thrown in, there is no hiding place from the majesty of Co-op’s mincemeat maelstrom.
Extra Pies was inevitable, but just how many dare I risk?
Bouncing bites back and forth, I continue until the detail is lost and only the feeling remains…
|And the winner is: M&S Classic have edged the best grand final in recent memory. Both these giants of 2016 deserve a place on your Christmas table, but MSC might create 1% more ecstasy.|
|Semi Final - Marks & Spencer Luxury vs Co-op Luxury|
13th Dec 2016
|Away in a kitchen tough judgement ahead, the blogging pie jesus lays down his tweet thread. I’ll stop all that stuff now, sorry. I am being swept away with the romance of this startling occasion, wherein a pie from nowhere is facing up to the biggest self-congratulatory line in supermarket history. Can the self-proclaimed 6 Star Kanye smack down the Co-op Craig David? There’s a place in the Grand Final up for grabs and a chance to take on M&S Classic, back in her pomp, somehow.|
|M&S Luxury – "not really my scene dear"||Co-op Luxury – it’s ok, he’s with the rebellion|
|Marks & Spencer Luxury||Co-op Luxury|
|Now rarer than hen's teeth around these parts, the precious golden box has been a tradition for the upper echelon of Marks’ pies since their inception. Connoisseur had it, Collection had it, Ultimate had it, and it has now passed to their new 6 Star hope.||They’ve been knocking on the door of the semis for a couple of years with their ‘Truly Irresistible’ offerings. How ironic that the first year they downgrade themselves to merely ‘Irresistible’ they achieve their previously impossible dream and dine at the top table (or thereabouts) of mince pie society.|
Fighters are stripped off (foil versus paper) and ready for the bell.
There is an understated elegance to MSL’s well powdered outer, but the pastry does not function well in its uncooked state meaning Co-op’s firmer bite and mid level of butteriness manages to steal a march on their more rich, doughy rival.
MSL are all about the mouth-feel and perfectly appointed inners. Eschewing crunch from biscuity walls or nutty titbits, MSL focus on a yuletide ooze that can slide you from a chair. It doesn’t pack the punch of the Classic, but spices are delicately controlled while being introduced to a modest boozy fruit combo to form a new breed of mincemeat jazz.
Co-op aren’t out of this tie, by any means, and force immediate gratification from the all powerful cidering on display. A flood of raisins attack the mash sending moist nutty shards of joy to every corner of one’s cake-hole. Irresistible may be the right word. Like a terrifying mugging.
Whisper it, in case my despairing cardiologist is listening, but this is going to Extra Pies…
It will come down to an all to familiar choice, for Arsenal fans at least, dainty or direct – which one would you choose?
|And the winner is: I’ve gone direct! Co-op Luxury have driven out the doubts and put a smile on the faces of fun-fans everywhere. Not Gungans. 'Fans of fun'.|
|Semi Final - Marks & Spencer Classic vs Tesco Finest|
12th Dec 2016
|Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house, no pies were for sharing to even my spouse. Yes, panic buying has hit hard and I am down to one pack of each remaining contestant. I was aware that festive shoppers made full use of my invaluable advice, but didn’t expect shelves to clear before I’d even finished the semis. Perhaps they are going on the strength of pronouncements by News Corp, GMTV or the Manchester Guardian, who knows? All I know is that if you see the pies you want, buy them. |
Buy them all.
|M&S Classic Box – cloves model’s own||Tesco Finest with big chew?|
|Marks & Spencer Classic||Tesco Finest|
|MSC seemed to be hitting their stride in the quarter final with Iceland, who don’t have an issue with panic buying it seems, as their shelves remain laden with affordable quality mincemeat treats (no one getting carried away by Good Housekeeping’s verdict then). But they can be susceptible to ugliness – with a misshapen starry airhole always a worry.||TescoFin have seen off some powerful pastry this term, with Lidl a particular scalp of renown. However, their pedigree is that of an also-ran, never having grasped the trophy; but they are not strangers to the latter stages of this once great institution, having now featured in the semi finals in four of the last seven years.|
Beauty and the beast sit beplated and eager to please. MSC, lucky to have provided a neatly starred lid, kiss my teeth with the demeanour of a Nice biscuit on the turn –softening but clinging to sweetness.
TescoFin dispense with crisp ideals to favour a tainted cake stance, guiding the nibble to its buttery yield. Interesting start already from two very differently angled competitors.
Fully bitten MSC cannot stop bringing the joy, their spicing has utterly excelled itself and the lower notes from cloves allow the brown sugared treacle to permeate lemon fizz in a way it ought not to. TescoFin has a few tricks of its own to fetch out, and an almond overbite extrapolates the chew, stretching a void dutifully filled by the vine mix boasting no short measure of port and brandy.
My pie stocks suddenly feel woefully short, as this contest will have to resort to Extra Pies, for the first time in 2016. Cue chin scratching montage over mounting pile of empty foil cases…
|And the winner is: MSC have found yet another gear, having already stepped up their output in the quarters. Easy on the clutch there Marks, you have to keep this up for another week!|
|Quarter Final - Tesco Finest vs Lidl Luxury|
8th Dec 2016
|As news of Greg Lake’s sad demise fills our hearts with a particular kind of Christmas sorrow, we must strengthen our resolve to stick to our beliefs. Whether we share Mr Lake’s belief in Father Christmas or not, we should all believe in the power of mince pies to bring people together. United against Mr Kipling (see @PieClubPC’s twitter stream #winteriscoming) or drawn together to share our thoughts on Heston Blumenthal’s twisted ‘lemony’ creation. Love them or hate them, Heston’s crumble-topped spice mountains are certainly something. |
Obviously, they don’t conform to this competition’s specifications, or those of most humans, so I am not able to give them a run out here.
More regular stars of the ‘scene’ complete the quarter-finals today, Tesco Finest and Lidl Luxury. Two well-matched pies I reckon. Let’s see who makes the semis…
|Tesco's Little Green Men have landed||Lidl Luxury mit tannenbaum|
|Tesco Finest||Lidl Luxury|
|Despite being competitive in many of our mince pie years, Tesco Finest have never won this competition, or even made it to a grand final. Many pastry pundits thought 2012 was going to be their year, as they topped the league table and were drawn against Asda in the semis. However, as I’m sure you will all remember, Pru Leith’s Extra Special one of 2012 was a beast and Tesco were left to wonder what might have been.||Unchanged for quite a few years, Lidl took the title in 2013 but found it hard to live up to the hype the following year, before bouncing back to finish runner up in last year’s grand final. They made us wait with erratic delivery schedules, and are still hard to come by for some country folk, so before setting out to join the big queues, perhaps wait and see how this tie goes.|
I should mention that the policy of having a further two tasters continues today, and is working well I feel, as they are keeping this secretive organisation honest.
Still the scariest alien face on any pie, I manage to go in, eyes closed, to be rewarded with a pastry edge of professional smoothness and shortbread aftertaste. Lidl’s confident star motif is mirrored by their adept baking to provide the shorter of the two bites, and marginally sweeter. The tasters found cause for concern in the lack of rigidity from Lidl as no doubt they are not as used to handling such delicate confections.
Taking a large bite across “the pleasing array of air holes” uncovers Tesco’s secret treasure. Almost a feeling that each plump fruit and miniature nib of nut has been placed carefully to allow the full cross section of textures and spiced juice in every chomp. Lidl need to step up.
You needn’t have worried that the German imports would give up without a fight! Gluhwein essences leak through their retort, both in the spice mix and the grown up tipple finish. Debate rages and chairs are launched, figuratively. Craft versus strength, anyone?
|And the winner is: Tesco Finest have seen off the last remaining European pies. I do hope this web event isn’t heading towards Brexit Island.|
|Quarter Final - Morrisons The Best vs M&S Luxury|
5th Dec 2016
|I have to say, there have been some lovely things said about Pie Club this year. Literally everyone on Twitter loves this stuff. You’d imagine. Lewis Hamilton, no doubt, enjoys the contest but finds the level of excitement unbearable, and Tim Peake was recently quoted as describing the Readers’ Pies as “out of this world”, I think. |
Anyway, the third of our quarter finals pits our first ever ‘6 star’ pie against the reigning champion (of two years). Morrisons The Best has fought off every challenge since its last defeat, back in 2013, when they were edged out by the eventual champions from Lidl.
M&S Luxury were put to the sword in Morrison’s first successful campaign of 2014, and their Classic pies were one of the victims during their 2015 defence. Is today the day that Marks strike back?
|Morrisons Best fending off criticism||M&S Luxury - no nuts allowed|
|Morrisons The Best||M&S Luxury|
|Still no explanation forthcoming from the Bradford boys regarding the veracity of their pentagonal snowflake motif. I’m not sure if they think my emails are some kind of ‘hoax’. They must enjoy my love notes to their shiny new business box, surely.||On the topic of ambiguous titles and brand, apart from these ‘six star’ mince pies I’ve found: First Place Mats, Best Practice Mats, Number One Potty Wipes and Pole Position scaffold clamps. Enough said on that perhaps. For now.|
To ensure the safety of today’s verdict, I have enlisted the help of two willing tasters, as a form of server back-up, if you will.
Virtual white smoke goes up from MozBest’s ghostly pastry, but we have become accustomed to such ethereal fayre, and the counter doesn’t convince either, as MSL proffer a limp wristed handshake instead of a snappy comeback. The flavour takes it though, and MSL edge ahead. Tasters were espousing the virtue of a well buttered pastry and a semi-rustic look. Nods all round
Defending champions rarely have a penchant for surrender, and so it proves as MozBest slaps my cheeks full of yuletide notes – both rich and tart, just how some people like them.
MSL remind us that they have some tricks of their own as a building sharpness stifles the gentler nuances of MozBest. Bells and whistles abound and tasters agree that the fruity port has shone through alongside many other star turns, but the absence of nuts has not gone unnoticed…
Happily, all are in agreement, for now, this Christmastime.
|And the winner is: M&S Luxury have found another gear, and ended the dominance of MozBest. Yorkshire’s last hope…vanquished.|
|Quarter Final - Iceland Luxury vs M&S Classic|
1st Dec 2016
|Hopefully, you have found door number one on your advent calendar, and cleared a space on your drinks shelf for the traditional litre of Croft Original, as December launched successfully this morning.|
To continue our breathless charge towards Christmas, we have an intriguing match-up today. Iceland’s brand new creation meets the veteran of at least 17 seasons – M&S Classic.
Having experienced the ‘six star’ mince pies M&S have out this term, I can now see a resemblance – not between stablemates, M&S Classic and M&S Luxury, but to this young upstart from the Icy wasteland of the high street. The ‘brothers from another mother’ share a familial starry expression, and girth. Can Iceland now see off their stepbrothers and take a giant stride towards an unlikely semi?
|Iceland Luxury, harbouring rebel cider||M&S Classic, smudged lippy but still classy|
|Iceland Luxury||M&S Classic|
|Another crumbshot sporting a pastry fork. Did I miss a public service announcement about this? What next, chopsticks to eat a pepperami?
If this tie goes well, they could probably afford to promote their miniscule Iceland logo (bottom left) to a more prominent position. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of (any more).
|I’ve not warmed to M&S’s geometric paper-folding livery for their standard fayre this term. Top marks for originality, but I’d like them to bring back the glamour of the mid-noughties. they are supposed to be magic & sparkle after all.|
One pie has pastry stars plonked atop, the other has star shaped holes. Who will win this though, the positive or the negative…
A refreshing reminder of how far Iceland have come, arrives in a crisp and sweet kick-off bite with a foundation of buttery mellowness. MSC waste no time in response by snapping off a genuine biscuit doppelganger complete with the level of stiff crystal sugaring you can feel throughout the chew. This tie is worthy of a final.
Such is the quality of the full bites that it is hard to concentrate now. Iceland put me in a hazy mood with their concentrated yet smooth boozy idyll, then MSC elicited a purr of intense joy with their idiosyncratic spice mix (which had been mostly absent in their first round tie).
This may need to be settled by taking bite after bite, making my way through both boxes until I can’t bear the sight of another mince pie – and whichever one I pick up must be the winner.
I’ve had to call it, after the sixth pie. Suffice to say there are no losers here today (myself excepted, obvs).
|And the winner is: M&S Classic have edged a game that could truly have gone either way. The real winner today was Christmas. And Barclaycard.|
|Quarter Final - Sainsbury's Taste The Difference vs Co-op Luxury|
30th Nov 2016
|The first of our Quarter Finals pits a competent Co-op versus the pastry Donald Trump, or Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference, to give them their less contentious moniker. Sainsbury’s share the same penchant for nurturing an inflated opinion of themselves, if their Corden-sung Christmas advert is anything to go by, as the main thrust seems to be that the greatest gift you can give is your attendance throughout the family Christmas. I can’t be the only one whose kids would have a ‘no-brainer’ deciding if they’d rather have my presence or presents come December 25th, can I?|
|STTD still building walls||Co-op Luxury looking to pinch it|
|Sainsbury's Taste The Difference||Co-op Luxury|
|I quite admire STTD for ‘fessing up that their own brand luxury offerings are made by the Highland throng up at Walkers. There are plenty out there who keep their pie provenance close to their corporate chest.
They may also be the only contestant to throw a pretty pastry fork into the crumbshot. Lord only knows why, though. #fingerfood
|Closer inspection of the epic frontage reveals that the festive battlefield contains downed tree decorations. Just what has been going on? Has Santa stumbled into the tree in the course of his sherry-fuelled duties? Or are the decs strewn across the kitchen units as part of an ambitious immersive Christmas installation?|
To the arithmetic and asthetic eye, Co-op begin with a slight advantage, having chosen to sport three holly leaves atop against STTD’s two. However, such frivolous thoughts are battered into the middle distance by the crunching commencement of proceedings.
STTD never veer too far from the tough biscuit line, and punctuate their buttery crumbs with faded fruit charm. Co-op’s better complexion, yields a bite as perfectly constructed as it’s well-browned and balconied outer edge. The inners repelled by a charming sweetness.
No danger of a passive moment from STTD on the full mouthful. Those resolute outers dilute the deep tone of current paste, and soft sourness returns in the form of brandy with dry ginger.
In stark contrast, Co-op is bouncing and slipping about, cheering all who witness the joyous tang, much like an excitable Labrador in the bath. There’s so much going on, it’s hard to pick out the main players pressing forward, but the intriguing cameos from cherry and almond lift this madness into top level mincemeat mixing.
|And the winner is: Co-op have fought off the muscular STTD with some aplomb, and are into the semis for the first time ever! Can they continue the fairy tale?|
|Round 1 - Lidl Luxury vs Mr Kipling|
29th Nov 2016
|It is goodbye to Round One today, with 2013’s star men versus the perennial whipping boys from an exceedingly good stable finishing us off. We may never fully understand why Mr Kipling so consistently fail to excite the festive judges, or why they pipe brown lines onto their chocolate fondant fancies, but there is a grudging respect that they keep turning up, providing an ever-present reminder of the money to be made from mediocrity.|
Lidl can consider themselves unfortunate not to be entering as the holders once more, pipped as they were by a wily Morrisons in Extra Pies. Still, they must guard against complacency because in Pie Club, like those splendid discounted non-food items they so sparingly offer, once they’re gone, they’re gone.
|Lidl Luxury, where raisins queue to get in||Actual Mr Kipling pies, no parody necessary|
|Lidl Luxury||Mr Kipling|
|Given their late arrival on the festive scene this year (still unavailable in more rural parts), it is a surprise to find that both the box and pie are virtually unchanged. They’ve spruced up the GDA information box, no doubt at the whim of a Brussels directive. I will miss my occasional unfounded outburst should Brexit ever happen.||There’s a lot going on with Kipling’s new sleeve. I suppose I’m a victim of the old man’s scattergun, as one or two of the many Yuletide images have drawn a touch of warmth from my overly-critical heart. Particularly the cartoon plates housing the crumbshots, one of which has been painstakingly lifted from the bright red 2015 box.|
A short and sweet pastry from Lidl, consistent with their excellent performance last year, wipes the floor with Kipling’s all too familiar wet paper mulch. This might be over before it’s properly begun.
Wonderful top notes of juicy fruit arrive as the crunch from Lidl subsides, never dragged down by a smooth brandy, and the finish is all apple pie. Somehow the butter gets a look in, more so than during the pastry preliminaries.
Poor Mr Kipling lurches into the first genuine cloy of the season, with stuff still being chewed way beyond the moment of flavour. After a few brave bites you build up a head of apricot steam, which is a quirk that could be built on for next year, but there is nothing else to prevent an early bath.
|And the winner is: Lidl Luxury completes our line up for the Quarter Finals, without getting a decent run out. Tesco Finest lie in wait…|
|Round 1 - Marks & Spencer Luxury vs Aldi Specially Selected|
28th Nov 2016
|Back at last! The difficulty in procuring a couple of tardy mince pies has allowed a slight hiatus in the competition, but rest assured, there will be a relentless stream of crumbshot judgments from here on in.|
Or at least for a bit.
The enforced shut down did allow time to catch up with our Star Wars images, much overdue from Force Awakens. See ‘Kyroll Ren’ and friends on Readers’ Pies. Very much like their Mrs Claus advert, the M&S Luxury squad could be well worth a closer look. In a masterstroke of forced ambiguity, they have labeled the box “6 Star Mince Pies”, bringing to mind those unofficial levels of quality self-awarded to only the most expensive hotels, in Dubai. I hope Aldi are up for the fight, as their Specially Selected team may need every ounce of self-belief to strong-arm these opulent braggarts.
|M&S Luxury. Ter-wit Ter-woo.||Aldi Specially Selected, on the rob?|
|Marks & Spencer Luxury||Aldi Specially Selected|
|Apart from a step change in star rating level, the glamorous new carton bears many hallmarks of the 2015 incarnation. Dressed in gold from head to toe, and throughout its plastic insides, it reeks of dictator chic. As I recall, much was made of the non-conformist lid last term, and again, we can see the odd fruit poking up where the dual stars fail to withhold its charms.||A jaunty new sleeve for 2016’s campaign introduces red edging to the familiar black box. In fact, there’s an altogether more grown up feel to the livery. No more Comic Sans, no farcical stacker crumbshot, now we are given embossed cognac notifications and shadowed Times New Roman. There ends the transformation, however, as the lid bears no evidence of cosmetic augmentation to it’s trad-snowflake motif.|
There is paper, where once was foil.
MSL have kept that high-brow case from seasons past, much to AldiSS’ chagrin. Polarising at the very outset, this tie may not be played in the best of spirits.
MSL don’t make a crumb-only bite very easy as their doughy outer is clinging to its, no doubt, rich near neighbours for dear life. They’ll have to belt up if they want to compete here.
AldiSS begin less nervously, offering up their pastry nibble in a crisp and even texture and sweetness. A solid, if defensive, opener.
Darkness haunts AldiSS once the lid is broken. Heavy clashes of wall and sultana provide paltry cheer, and their cognac is AWOL, perhaps hiding from the rum raisin tirade. MSL still struggle to provide a sharp bite ethic, but the softened titbit enflames the soul with sophisticated spicing akin to the heyday of it’s Classic Red Box stablemate. Spotters badge for those picking out glace cherries and treacle. Our only question unanswered, is “where are your nuts?”.
|And the winner is: M&S Luxury. They may be tailored for the demographic denied dental help after the war, but the appeal is there to the bone idle chewer too.|
|Round 1 - Waitrose All Butter vs Co-op Luxury|
17th Nov 2016
|Yes, you are reading it right. Waitrose are back from the dead! Removed from circulation by Dexter’s busy knife in 2014 (see Reader’s Pies image), no one could have ever imagined they would adorn these precious pages once more. Luckily for John Lewis grocery HQ , I am more forgiving than Trump’s Mexican barber, and I’m willing to see what has developed beneath their robust crust in the intervening years. In case you were wondering, they were killed off for poor stock management. I’ve bought two boxes just in case. I say bought, but I’ll be paying them off over 52 weeks. It’s not cheap in Waitrose, is it? I’ve signed up for email alerts in case any of their cheesecakes drop into my price range.|
|Waitrose, from beyond the grave||Co-op, not camp this Chrimbo!|
|Waitrose All Butter||Co-op Luxury|
|I know I’m not their demographic, but should I have an intuitive understanding of what their liveried ‘Waitrose 1’ range stands for? Number 1 can be either the top or the bottom, and the rest of the packaging hints at neither. A lazy, monotone, tissue box affair, with naff robin-holly doodles screaming “Colour me in!”. Once unsheathed, you’d be hard pressed to spot any differences to the pie of yesteryear. And they still have the acetic pong of a Walker’s Highland offering.||Co-op, on the other hand, have thrown everything at their new design. Gone are the camp beige daydreamers, swinging on a lace strap, and in come the damaged warrior pies scattered across the crumbshot. Perhaps this is the other end of the battlefield that Tesco Finest pies also grace, or maybe they both outsourced their mincemeat photography to the same idle graduate. We also see the old co-operative logo we recall from the ‘80s, in gold, above a helmet visor viewing pane. I sense this design comes from a dark place.
Interestingly, Co-op’s Truly Irresistible range has been downgraded to a mere Irresistible. Truly.
Waitrose waste no time in reminding me of their Caledonian credentials. Big and bold snaps through the edging which are crafted from butter but have a teasing of the rich inner yet to be unleashed.
Co-op’s laughably vast overhang make the foil removal all but impossible for the humans without prosthetic fingernails, but to be fair, I haven’t lost much of the stiff rim in my inelegant fingering. The reward is a confidently sweet flourish without falling into sicklyville. Level for devils.
One butch bite later, and Waitrose are well into their stride. The texture no doubt loosens on the warming, but for chancers like me dining at room temperature, a laborious chew entails. A decent Christmas pudding encased in thick pastry comes to mind, as the spices do not do enough to lift the mix out of a basic vine fruit frenzy when hamstrung by the over-bearing outers.
Co-op do not suffer such a handicap and their mouthful dances unabashed, pinging double nuts in and out of a slick port stew enlivened by a masterfully balanced spice finish.
We are done here.
|And the winner is: Co-op Luxury. They may no longer be Truly Irresistible, but on this form they could be labelled Reasonably Irresistible.|
|Round 1 - Asda Extra Special vs Iceland Luxury|
14th Nov 2016
|As the human race stands at the precipice of destruction, and crowds gather to watch each act of electoral brinkmanship, aren’t you glad Good Housekeeping can be relied upon to produce a survey of mince pies, so wildly aberrant that you can’t help but smile. I may be about to be proved wrong, but the GH gang have pronounced Iceland top of the tree in this year’s six-pie shoot-out. |
Could this be as pivotal a moment for those denizens of the deep-freeze as the inopportune disruption Jyn Erso’s dad suffered as he was about to enter ‘thermal exhaust port fitters’ into Checkatrade.com?
I’m sure two-time winners Asda, and their Extra Special squad will have much to say on the matter, in a repeat of 2015’s first round tie (which didn’t go well for the Icelanders).
|Asda ES, a safe pair of hands?||Iceland, well worth a visit?|
|Asda Extra Special||Iceland Luxury|
|To the untrained eye, this could be a re-run of last season’s entry. Luckily, as a pie savant, I can remember a different make up of the escaping inners on the crumbshot, and a more scrutinous inspection yields changes to the viewing pane dimensions and the height of the lit red candle pictured.
Ahem, don’t worry dad – I can’t come for Christmas.
Budding meteorologists everywhere will be glad they’ve ditched the five-fingered discount snowflake motif. Pretty box containing handsome pies.
|Well, knock me down with a brandy tuile! Iceland have played the exact same trick on the festive shoppers. The crumbshot has been copied scene by scene (one scene), with only the style of pastry participant changed. They may have gone ‘double-star’ atop, but there’s no hiding that these boys have been on a crash diet. They barely fill the bottom of the exotic gold plastic inner, and resemble half a dozen stolen waifs having been cleaned up and presented to a Sultan for heaven knows what purpose. Think happy thoughts, you poor young wretches!|
An almost embarrassed AsdaES leads us out into first titbits, and may be suffering from a lack of composure as the broad shoulders give way to a fluffy edge surprise. There is effective sweetening from the crystallised sugar, but Asda must be hoping we will consider it delicate rather than pathetic. How many of us rely on such goodwill?
Iceland immediately counter with a firmer bite, chock full of baked notes. I will excuse the liberal use of icing sugar, despite my comical top lip whitening. Could revenge be on the cards?
The full mouthful reveals AsdaES to have returned to the Western world for their yuletide spicings, having journeyed that little bit too far east in 2015. It might be a gamble though, as their orthodox inner packs negligible punch given both port and brandy are in the frame. One big bite of Iceland later, and Asda’s future is even less assured. A warming ooze cascades from beneath that dusty lid, rich with tang and well-oiled fruits.
Poor AsdaES are digging deep to drag out a slimline fructose pulp of painfully standard peel-vine finishes, but the real gloss is hammered home by Iceland (my DIY skills are really that bad) with their inspired use of cider, or at least, something that can legally bear that name.
|And the winner is: One in the eye for me, Iceland have lent credence to the Good Housekeepers and their paymasters. Feed them up for the quarter-finals!|
|Round 1 - Marks & Spencer Classic vs Sainsbury's Red Box|
13th Nov 2016
|Up until Asda Extra Special broke M&S’s stranglehold on this competition in 2012, under the stewardship of Pru Leith, the Magic and Sparkle brigade had amassed seven wins in the previous eight years. Seemingly, that marked the fall of the empire, as their connoisseur brand died out, luxury haven’t had a look-in, and the flagship Classic pie became a regular bridesmaid to the more comely offerings from the Northern Powerhouse. Obviously smarting from this ignominious run, they have dug deep and have not only put together this year’s classiest advert (#lovemrsclaus), I am happy to announce one of their glamourous food halls has opened in my local area. Of course, all at Pie Club are unwavering in their verity, but I have a tingle that the worm may be on the turn, or maybe I’m just excited about having Percy Pigs in my stocking. But enough filth, let’s pie!|
|MSC, shut yer cake-hole!||Sainsbury’s sending zombies to sleep|
|Marks & Spencer Classic||Sainsbury's Red Box|
|I’m pleased to see a redesign from MSC, moving away from the inelegant stacker crumbshot to a faux cutaway sleeve, helping us imagine how the contents may look if the Green Lantern had lost his bootlaces while on the production line night shift. There’s also a bonus bitten pie to be found by the intrepid. I’d got used to, but never enjoyed, my yearly confrontation with MSC’s unpleasant slit, and you can imagine that my heart missed a beat as I spotted a new cleft design to grace that famous lid. However, the reality of the puckered star, functioning as an airhole, may yet engender an even greater awkwardness.||Sorry Sainsbury’s fans, no new features for you to get excited about. Same box, same pie, same double holly/hedgehog motif. They’ve nailed the bake, by the looks of it. Perfect browning.|
Though anaemic, the MSC bite is firm and well-paced in its yum development. By the time the sweet afterglow mellows you may have forgotten what kind of hole you’ve just witnessed.
SainsRed leaves little to discuss with its opening crumb collapse. Grandma’s stale biscuits bought for the millennium anyone?
Unnecessarily stoic resistance meets my eager teeth as MSC’s bulbous raisins makes a proper battle of it. I win, but at what cost? Only when I find a quiet corner of the deep fill can I comment on the richness of tang (quite rich).
A contrasting slick of slop splashes through SainsRed’s full bite, which counters the claggy walls well forming a potent mush of all things Yule. Small bits of the orchard, vineyard and orangery act in concert, just not very loud.
Returning for final bites, one team finds a polish that dazzles, and in this case protects.
|And the winner is: M&S Classic haven’t found their rhythm yet, but there’s no denying their class, even if the look and feel is intended to shock.|
|Round 1 - Tesco Finest vs Walkers Luxury|
10th Nov 2016
|It has become clear that the power of mince pies as a predictive tool for North American elections is too dangerous for one small website to control. So I promise to stay off the politics this Christmas.|
As if to test my mettle, today’s big red box harks from the Highlands of Scotland. Yes, that Scotland with the thirst for referenda. Anyway, we haven’t seen Walkers round these parts since 2009 when their Glenfiddich variety raced to the semis before being edged out by the eventual winners from the M&S stable. This battle will be a good benchmark of their capabilities as Tesco Finest are no strangers to the latter stages, themselves.
So let’s get a push on, while free speech is still legal.
|Tesco Finest and the other ghouls||Walkers Billy Connolly Pie|
|Tesco Finest||Walkers Luxury|
|Whilst we have enjoyed the attempts to package TescoFin in a series of classy sleeves, I’m pleased they’ve gone back to being interesting. Gentleman’s Club wallpaper cast aside, now we have the grandest scale of crumbshot with pies everywhere, in the manner of a Planet Earth swoop over a charging herd of wildebeest. The poor, shattered victim of a sweet-toothed lioness lays ripped open, offering up his nibbed entrails. Must be a brave predator to take on this scary-faced foe – the alien visage entering its third year atop.||There’s tartan everywhere! But so much more to see – a spotter’s badge if you pick out the cinnamon sticks, prancing stags, an ‘upside doon’ crumbshot, italian reheating instructions, disco stars and posh Victorian totty. The pie itself looks hard as nails, which is to be expected from the makers of angry shortbread, and its status is confirmed by the springtime best before date. You’ll no damage these bad boys with your brittle southern teeth!|
Pastry time is conducted in an air influenced by the grand opening of the plastic surround from Walkers. The acetic acid wafts across my delicate table transporting this contest into an imaginary chipshop window. Who can power through this vivid, choking atmosphere?
TescoFin serve up a steady bite, devoid of crunch but in possession of a buttery underbelly. Walkers actually fend off my schoolboy attempts at a nibble and demand a full chomp. I feel marginally more pathetic than when I sat down, but I can at least expect to have a much hairier chest by the time I rise. The Scot’s butter batters the meagre TescoFin tinge, and screams “round two!”.
Undeterred, TescoFin trot out their glamour filling, spanked by courvoisier and laden with high-end nuts and peel(almond - lemon). Walkers make a concession to their stiff outer by proferring a slippy middle and the combination dance together with solid synchronicity, if lacking in spicy sparkle.
As matters come to a close, my mouth knows it’s been in a fight, but has anyone landed a knockout blow?
|And the winner is: By virtue of being able to find another couple of gears, Tesco Finest have out-manouvered the beast from north of the wall. I still want to be their friend though.|
|Round 1 - Sainsbury's Taste The Difference vs Morrisons Red Box|
8th Nov 2016
|As we watch the US election from behind our sofas, unable to imagine feeling happy ever again in a world willing to anoint Darth Hater as our king, why not take the edge off things by following this pie version of the current End of Days saga.|
If you forgive the confusion of party colours, we will say Sainsbury’s TTD is Trump and Morrisons Red is Clinton. Ok? You’ll get the gist as we go, don’t worry.
|Sainsbury's Trump The Difference||Morrisons Clinton Red Box|
|Sainsbury's Taste The Difference||Morrisons Red Box|
|Trump has decided to stick with the box that led him to last year’s semi-finals, despite its questionable aesthetic, but to some people, no amount of gold will ever be too much.
Created in the Scottish Highlands, the bulky Trump six cut an imposing figure. Broad of shoulder, but a shade the wrong side of shortbread for me.
|Clinton have upgraded their red boxer as well as their older statesman (see previous tie involving The Best), and the new simplicity suits them. A carefully cut crumbshot draws the eye from a background with hidden depths, and the fold on that napkin signals a team you can trust.
The pie, however, will forever be in the shadow of its stablemate. You can tell that, as neat and tidy as the precise dual holly motif may be, the inside cannot possibly be as well looked after.
Nibbling Trump’s luxurious hangover affords a glimpse of the future; there’s a crunch, no small measure of top shelf liquor and copious sugaring to soften the blow.
Clinton responds with workmanlike diligence, filling the gap between soft and tough in texture but demonstrating a shocking lack of taste. Trump draws first blood.
Getting the full mouthful from Trump is a roller-coaster of hidden fruits, fleeting sweetness and powerful walls but on reflection, you can sense an ever-present bitterness. Clinton, by contrast, slickens matters considerably and bypasses the ready teeth to deal mostly on the inner cheeks as their pulpy message hits the mark with plenty of oral constituents glad to receive such a lasting glucose glow.
Coming down to final bites, the battle continues between Trump’s tippled, brutal honesty with crispy-sided rhetoric and Clinton’s saccharin outlook, scattered with softened fruit treats to hold our interest. I don’t envy myself having to preside on this one…
|And the winner is: I can’t believe that after all this spiced fruit and slop I’m finally going…Trump (STTD). Sorry civilisation, but the more adult flavours and bite swung it for me. Hope this isn’t portentous|
|Round 1 - Morrisons The Best vs Tesco Red Box|
6th Nov 2016
|First pies of the year! Remember to make a wish as you eat them. Not you, Mr Kipling, you can dream on.|
All the sighing and soul-searching is finished, and a new plate dawns, laden today with the reigning champion and its upstart challenger. Is it a coincidence that after two Pie Club trophies on the trot the Morrisons Signature line has rebranded as ‘The Best’? Very 2011 though, guys.
I’m sure, like me, you will be relieved to see that Tesco have returned to serious imagery on their red box. Give me a neatly dusted star anise over a cartoon robin any day.
Procrastination nearly over, on with the gob combat. In a minute…
|Morrisons Best - Defending Champion||Tesco Red, see ‘non-illustrious’|
|Morrisons The Best||Tesco Red Box|
|Bradford’s ‘go to’ bakers have changed it up for the third year running. Having defended their title successfully in 2015 with a new pie, they’ve only gone and tinkered again. Out goes twinkle and crumbshot, in comes power dressed business boxes. I half expect there to be a new scart lead under the black plastic inner. And who guessed they’d take inspiration from Asda Extra Special’s 2015 five-pronged snowflake design?||Crumbshots abound everywhere, and the unfocussed festive backdrop lifts the spirits in a manner I fear may be unsustainable. Look out for free-running sugar as you open your box; it’s too late for me. My keyboard has never been sweeter, ironically. A cute little fella pops out though, with a symmetrical snowflake motif atop. I can almost sense his glossy eyes rolling at the five point beast before him.|
Inauspicious is as polite a term as possible for MozBest’s flavourless powder outer bite. No stirrings of joy so far from the team on a hat-trick this year. Sensing a chance, TescoRed makes a decent fist of providing a value crunch, and some small semblance of mid-range biscuit notes.
Revealing a more purposeful inner, MozBest chucks all sorts into the flavour basket, but the effect of minor peel, cherry and brandy tinges are overwhelmed in a currant finish. Much work to do.
TescoRed, on the other hand, demonstrates a skill beyond his price tag, pushing out a sensibly spiced slop that gets the senses going, if marred somewhat by an unholy chemical finish.
It’s now or never for the Bradford boys, and they waste no time in drowning out Tesco’s malingering metabisulphite with a drop of the hard stuff, devoid of the overarching vine. Stiff resistance comes back from the red boxer, in what proves to be a real turning point in this deep filled debate, as the dreaded crunch of stalk hits the air…
|And the winner is: By the skin (or stalk) of their teeth, MozBest pinch this one from a very plucky, but ultimately too crunchy, Tesco gateway pie. Sterner tests await this rebuilt champion.|