...mince pie mayhem
Never before has the pursuit of pastry distraction felt so important. With little to cheer in a stormy world of bullish nonsense, we can steady the ship and import joy to your desperate dockside (no offence meant).
Join us for the internet equivalent of drawing the curtains, popping on the Bagpuss boxset and settling down with a nice cup of tea. You are in a safe place here. The pies, however, had better watch out, Father Christmas is coming for you!
Sixteen pies start the season with high hopes (see our tournament draw), but only one will prevail. Ready the annals, 2017's dream is about to come true...
|Grand Final - Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger vs M&S Luxury|
19th Dec 2017
|It’s fair to say that we have never enjoyed a year in pies such as this. With the human race now 18 months into its nihilistic experiment to prove Charles Darwin wrong, finding sanctuary in mincemeat seemed all that we could offer to the weary and peckish.|
Where there is life, there is hope, and nowhere in shortcrust will you find more vitality and drive than in these Grand Finalists.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Waitrose Chocolate and Ginger’s run to the final in an increasingly insular society, unwilling to face the fear of the new with courage and an empty stomach.
What we can be certain of today is that there will be no losers. Christmas has found new layers of pleasure in an ever-growing range of pie and tart masterpieces, with yet unimagined delights still to come, perhaps in time to see out this decade of bewildering bakery change.
Standing up for the old order, M&S Luxury can be forgiven for an air of superiority, having seen so many pretenders come and go over the years, but has this chocolatey challenger got a genuine claim to the throne? Cersei Lannister versus Ned Stark’s b*stard son; if that doesn’t step too heavily on the toes of our sister website www.gameofscones.org.uk.
|Waitrose Choc - a new power in the galaxy?||M&S Luxury - about to take the stage|
|Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger||M&S Luxury|
|Even within a season, the development continues, as a new cardboard sleeve now constricts the famous foursome. To be fair, it is simply an approximation of the plastic wrapper, perhaps reimagined to allow rabid shoppers to stack ten boxes at a time without fear of a chronic stack fatigue.||We all know gold is shorthand for quality, right? Clearly the designers at M&S’ dedicated mince pie pack studio don’t want to challenge your preconceptions. Top of the range gear? Bosh! Gold everywhere. Job done. At least the craftsmen chiselling the star motif put a decent shift in.|
Easily mistaken for another pie’s plinth, Waitrose is happy to get amongst the lips. The gentle break of their tarty side gives a nibble of sweet crusty cocoa, and if uninitiated, you might expect the treat to begin and end there.
Having seen Waitrose arrive unclothed, M&S Luxury drag their feet in disrobing, but once the foil slips off there’s no doubt that they have brought their A game. Wrinkled and angular of wall, the fashionable old school look creates an expectation of sound butter business, which is easily fulfilled by the proto-chew; the citrus note chimes later.
There will be a groundswell of puritans that struggle with how closely Waitrose sail to the brownie wind, particularly with a hearty mouthful, but it doesn’t take long to spot the difference when a rock of ginger sparks into life. The warmth, surrounded by dried fruit tip this over onto a Yuletide path, or at least a path that should be taken, to see where it leads (it leads into flavour country).
Slamming right back into sharp focus, M&S Luxury draws power from its clementine heart and slings out spikey tang and brandy soaked cherry afters. No one can claim this pie is anything but authentic all-out Christmas glitz. But will it be enough to silence the dark horse once and for all?
To check our working, a small number of adjudicators from without this organisation were introduced to both finalists, and we are glad to say that each opinion matched our own…
So, that’s it for another year. Before we pronounce though, eternal thanks must go to the family of Pie Club who suffer in every conceivable way from the over-indulgence, literally and figuratively, to the web runner Simon Wilson, who just doesn’t have the heart to cancel us (currently), and to everyone who has given part of their lunchtime to read, support or berate us. God bless you, have an informed Christmas, and we hope to see you all in 2018.
|And the winner is: Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger have come from nowhere. They have opened the door to an inclusive future, and have justified their place in our annals.|
|Semi Final - M&S Classic vs M&S Luxury|
14th Dec 2017
|Reasons to be cheerful for M&S today. With both the semi-finalists coming from their hallowed Food Hall they are guaranteed a team in the showpiece final. It hasn’t been much fun being team Magic & Sparkle this season as they stumbled from one crisis to another. They’ve been responsible for Paddington learning some new swear words, they have admitted that some of their hand picked cherries were harvested by sentient fruit-drones and now an unfortunate shadow in the knitted image of Mrs Claus’ pantaloons give her the appearance of ‘dressing to the left’.|
Some of that may turn out to be untrue, but even so, the fact that we can even decide to make it up suggests that an upturn is needed. This very civil war may be just that shot in the arm.
|M&S Classic - Hey, that's my wife!||M&S Luxury - about to get started?|
|M&S Classic||M&S Luxury|
|This box contains a more tanned variety of pastry, unlike any of the many thousand already bitten, and while this promotes a stronger image, historically M&S Classic have made elegance their watchword. Audrey Hepburn with a tan, then. It has been remiss of me to make no reference previously to the one green panel on the box side being mistletoe; making a playful flap from which to introduce mince pies into any gathering.||Lots to see atop this luxury line. Two disparate stars share the space, but little in common. This pastry Odd Couple comprises the neat and tidy Felix star gripping onto the scruffier, though better crafted Oscar star. Bless M&S for their homage to Neil Simon’s finest hour. The golden box provides its own awards ceremony backdrop, but will that be prescient?|
Neither of the pies look their best, with the near burnt Classic lining up beside a Luxury unusually shedding a vine escapee.
Classic lead us off with standard fayre. Their darkened rim hasn’t impacted on the sweet crumble top, luckily. Luxury can’t wait to bury any notions of ‘standard’, pinging out their zesty crumb to wonderful effect. A surprise every time, even though it shouldn’t be by now.
Richly spiced treacle guts (coincidentally a pet name I have been given) spill forth from Classic’s shortcrust outer eliciting a nod of recognition from weary tastebuds, glad to be on home turf at last. There has never been a pie like the Classic, it has the perfect texture, spices and volume to do a solid job on anyone’s Christmas table. The full bites coming from its stablemate may be operating on an entirely different plane. To list clementine third in the list of players on the box front is either modesty beyond belief or hallmarks of a management afraid to flag up the influence of normally one of the smallest cornerstones of a festive food stop. The cocktails concocted from citrus-cherry-brandy and friends make for a constantly changing tour round the top shelf of any respectable, if fruity, mixologist.
This decision is more heart versus heart; head has no place here this Christmas.
|And the winner is: M&S Luxury have lured this judge out for the night and no doubt he is going home on the clementine express. Morning regrets incoming…|
|Semi Final - Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger vs Iceland Luxury|
11th Dec 2017
|For everyone who tried to swap their sister’s Sindy for an Action Man bazooka every Saturday morning in the late ‘70s, today may have lost its pre-Christmas gloss. But with each saddening Christmas loss the compulsion toward living life to the full must be recognised, even if the sum total of that drive is to provide honest account of supermarket mince pies.|
The first semi of 2017 heralds the dawn of a new era. Not only have Iceland finally found their feet as a mainstream provider but their pies have gone to school on the luxury end of Marks’ offerings, dragging themselves into the seasonal mix through sheer persistence. Standing in their way are the coolest new kids in town. Waitrose’s Chocolate and Ginger have all the latest toys, but do they have the best heart?
|Waitrose Choc & Ginger - Who mentioned marmalade?||Iceland Luxury - Wants to be taken seriously|
|Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger||Iceland Luxury|
|This bronze puck may be squat but their charm lies in the ‘hand-raised’ complexion afforded the upper edges and lid. Strategically original in every aspect, will we see a flurry of multicoloured top shots in 2018?||No tricks in play from Iceland’s double star lid. Little one sits on big one, no twists, no curls, job done. Cheeky glimpses of the mincemeat where the star leaves its outer ajar. Teasing in a Victorian ankle sense, not the delayed full frontal of today’s dating shows.|
Undaunted by the occasion Waitrose lead us straight into temptation, shocking a restful tongue with impossibly cocoa-led pastry, only enjoyed previously by the most craven Aztec artisans, or Belgians.
Iceland fight back in a powerfully orthodox butter crumb, and the tie takes on the appearance of Schwarzenegger’s dangerous special forces resisting the unknown Predator in a wintery jungle.
This could go either way (no 30 year old spoilers).
Fascinating granular chews approach the style of brownie mixture, allowing ample time for Waitrose to remind us that they have trapped the essence of ginger and orange deep within. We could see what lay beneath Iceland’s inexhaustive topper early doors, and on its release all hell breaks loose. Stewed fruit darts through the grind, cracking and spitting as its unmissable crack reduces what would otherwise be perfectly judged innard. Well-balanced spices complement the sensible tippling while apple leaks in and out of play.
The variation in attack is incredible, time and again my teeth no sooner settle into a cosseted stroll before being sparked into battle as the entrants alternate.
|And the winner is: Waitrose Chocolate and Ginger got lucky today, going through by virtue of their smoother output. Iceland should feel let down by their pips, at entirely the wrong moment. #pippedatthepost|
|Quarter Final - Iceland Luxury vs Tesco Finest|
7th Dec 2017
|Iceland, as traditional underdogs of the baking scene, have suffered from some tough draws through the years. And, they won’t thank us for saying this, backed the wrong horse with Peter Andre getting the nod as spokesman ahead of Craig David. However, they have easily taken the award for 2017’s best Christmas advert with the fabulously creepy ‘Luxury Gilded Turkey’. They even advertise their mince pies in a different version within the game-changing campaign. |
Tesco won’t care though. As the biggest producer never to have taken the title, these early rounds are nothing but an inconvenient delay in their quest for yuletide revenge against the posh lads from Marks. How far can their little green men go this year?
|Iceland Luxury – Not Frozen Food||Tesco Finest – Can anything hold them?|
|Iceland Luxury||Tesco Finest|
|Sporting this year’s must have, the star duo motif, Iceland continue the luxury feel by sitting in a golden sleeve within a sophisticated midnight jazz club crumbshot. Confident enough to use ‘Luxury’ as a one word description of their contents, we need to scan the side panels to glean further titbits of info, but even then, little more than a Tweet* awaits.||Having been edged in the semi by M&S Classic, there was no earthly reason to change their look and feel. Now proudly the only entrant to insist that alien faces make great Christmas memories, the sheer terror engendered on their introduction in 2014 has ebbed away to be replaced by a sense of nostalgic relief.|
Getting into the drift of what passes for icing sugar dumped upon Iceland’s starry upper, a well-browned lip provides crisp butter reward.
In response, Tesco’s dull biscuit taint has a comforting yield and the faintest pinch of fruity undertone, but may still need to make up ground from within.
Under Iceland’s dazzling lid is a wonderland of neatly spiked fruit hanging within a jammy landscaped orchard. There is joy to be had here.
Tesco’s own playground for the palate seems paltry in this new light. The investment in Courvoisier was perhaps a gamble, and the welcome addition of nuts presents a solid team, on paper. The punch is sadly absent though, particularly notable as the episodic crunch is navigated carefully, a hiatus in which we could expect to be thrilled by the depth of tang or the rich festive cheer of spiced currants.
Clearly, our expectations of a hiatus with punch have not been met. Not yet anyway, but the wait for a taxi after the Pie Club Christmas party on Black-Eye Friday should see to that.
Anyway, I think the last semi-finalist can be announced.
*By the way...if you want to be alerted the moment our semis appear, follow @PieClubPC on that Twitter
|And the winner is: Iceland Luxury have achieved greatness. A semi-final berth for a frozen food merchant seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. Fairytale stuff.|
|Quarter Final - Marks & Spencer Classic vs Waitrose All Butter|
5th Dec 2017
|The defending champion returns to action today, nearly a month after their first round triumph. Much has changed in the intervening weeks, particularly our attitude to confection innovation. Can M&S turn the style back on in a tournament that has openly embraced the weird and wonderful? Waitrose lurk, under the radar and the bed, hoping to surprise and delight in a manner inversely proportionate to the success of the John Lewis Monster.|
As an aside, it now seems a stroke of real genius that the ‘Moz’ branded merchandise was made of insanely biodegradable cotton to avoid choking the landfill sites that he will be hiding under in 2018. Or have I imagined that?
|M&S Classic - classy lady?||Waitrose All Butter - all man?|
|Marks & Spencer Classic||Waitrose All Butter|
|Pie Club has contacted M&S for the background story to their intriguing sleeve. Amongst the many matters to be addressed, we hoped to learn more about the red granite work surface, the domino influence and the apparent nibble – akin to our own first bite regime. Going bare atop, the starry airhole is a brave move which gives a deep insight into the machinations beneath.||Unlike some companies that farm out their pie baking to The Highlands, Waitrose keep it hush hush on the box. The time-served tang from the box along with genuine shortbread credentials spell Walkers from beyond the wall. Hopefully, 2018 will be a year to address the monotone nature of their Waitrose1 livery.|
Crunch for crunch, Waitrose definitely have the edge in constructing a solid defensive outer. Their sparky crust inhales plenty of the fruity fug sitting within an unopened packet, affording more than simple biscuit notes. M&S may be a touch sweeter to deal with, but the engineering is not their strong point.
As attention turns to fuller portions, M&S begin to work through the gears. Sliding spices between clashing waves of stiffened sultanas and thick peel chunks, a spectacular burst of mulled splashes extinguish any fire of regret.
Taking greater girth of Waitrose proves only to continue the earlier tang theme, as their hearty inner has become so heavily infused that the peel, vine fruit and almond offer little distraction from the brandied pulp route.
M&S haven’t put this to bed yet, but Waitrose will need to showcase their range of ingredients to get back into the tie. Flash us a cherry at least guys.
|And the winner is: M&S Classic are not the stellar performer of 2016, but have edged into the semis. The sign of a true champion?|
|Quarter Final - Morrisons The Best vs M&S Luxury|
1st Dec 2017
|A song as old as time enjoys a 2017 reprise, as the traditionally aspirational M&S Luxury rub up against Morrisons’ premium player. The teams contesting today’s Beauty and ‘The Best’ fixture have taken our crown in six of the previous nine seasons, and in our most recent history, M&S gained sweet revenge for their early 2014 exit by knocking out Morrisons in last year’s quarter finals.|
History lesson over, it’s time for what one Iraqi critic describes as ‘hack project number 1’. We chose to interpret that as his valuation of our writing skills, and our premier status amongst similar struggling artisans. His seventy thousand attempts to guess our admin password is a mark of respect in the Arabian Peninsula, perhaps.
|Morrisons The Best – Pastry Trump||M&S Luxury – Listening to The Stones|
|Morrisons The Best||M&S Luxury|
|Since round one, The Good Housekeeping Institute have added their seal of approval to the box front. On cursory glance at their lightweight competition, it seems Morrisons The Best were not placed, but here we are, faced with the GHI badge and ‘Approved 2017’ stamped beneath. On closer inspection it appears that the badge was attached in sticker form post delivery. Rest assured, the mystery will be unravelled before the arrival of Santa. There’s a fella in Iraq who may be able to help.||Nothing from the ‘Housekeepers displayed by M&S despite them securing a runners up berth in the unholy Tried & Tested survey. The entries within their golden sleeve bear more than a passing resemblance to their waiting foe. Marks’ have gone for six points atop, MozBest only five, I wonder if that will be crucial. The top-droppers at M&S’ bakery appear to enjoy a sober working life, unlike the inaccurate Yorkshire production line, if their sloppy stars tell the tale.|
Deep powder derails the nibble of MozBest, leaving a cooling sensation after the crunch ebbs away, without a discernable flavour direction.
An immediate dollop of buttery biscuit snaps back from MSL, with plenty of that playful clementine in the roots. MSL are up for this.
MozBest will not be cowed and their strong cider comeback bears fruit, and brandy depth. Peel pops up once the paste thins, and anyone would be impressed by their authentic winter warmer of a filling.
MSL offer an interesting, if sideways take on the festivities. A drier, chewier vehicle emerges, unafraid to remind us that oranges and their affiliates have a place at our heaving table.
Very much like cousins at the family get together, there may be a striking likeness in their haircuts and jawline but their taste in music is very different, and deciding whose is best is the stuff of Boxing Day arguments up and down the country. Let Uncle Pie Club preside…
|And the winner is: M&S Luxury are playing our tune, and enjoying a twist on conventional delight really is our bag. This year. So far.|
|Quarter Final - Co-op Irresistible vs Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger|
29th Nov 2017
|The first of the quarter-finals sees this season’s dark horse take on 2016’s runner up. We are glad that, following our introduction of various Waitrose Frankensteins, the outcry from pie purists has been minimal, with almost zero dog dirt received through the post. Certainly no more than usual anyway.|
If the dark destroyer helps himself to a semi-final spot, the public reaction will be a perfect litmus test for our future relationship with the rest of Europe. Can we accept that everyone, and every treat, is different or are we heading down an ever-narrowing road to post dinner satisfaction? Brioche bread and butter pudding led the way, and now it’s up to you and me…
|Co-op Irresistible - hat irrepressible||Waitrose Choc&Ging - meet the in-laws|
|Co-op Irresistible||Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger|
|Since ditching the ‘truly’ part of their Truly Irresistible branding, Co-op have found their mark on more occasions than not. From wavy rim to holly motif, these are a good looking pie, but it remains to be seen if this heavily dusted version of last year’s surprise package can find the same consistency, or if their snowy topped six will leave us cold.||This season’s must have, edible glitter, has been applied sparingly to the sheriff badge atop very stumpy cylinders. This style of circular reference was once the preserve of Heston’s punty aberrations, and I am relieved to see it put to a more mainstream use here.|
Yet more sugar puffs out of the foil as Coop disrobes; where are they getting it all from? It doesn’t aid the pursuit of butteriness either, as the edge is broken up, giving mildy sweet stodge just this side of cloy.
With thorough brownness everywhere in WaitChocGing, taking only pastry becomes a tricky business, but whatever ends up between teeth is rich reward for those individuals willing to test themselves. Solely chocolate orange at this stage, which is easily enough to lead going into full bites.
Coop comes alive with the release of their creative centre. It is no exaggeration to claim that all their headliners can be heard at once. Nuts, apple, cherry and the vine-brandy combo perform a balanced yet stirring piece that will transport you to an ornate Christmas fireplace, with only the constricting polar-necked sweater of their pastry to grumble about.
Undeterred, WaitChocGing set about reminding all senses that there is a tie to win in the here and now. Adding ginger to an already capable mash seems like a lesson in overkill, but the warmth coming through justifies the gamble. There won’t be enough mincemeat to subdue the heartiest appetites, so this may not be an effective snack option, but the invention of chocolate wasn’t about feeding starving children, despite what our offspring contend.
|And the winner is: Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger have taken another big scalp in their embryonic Christmas career, and may be the the side that no one wants to meet in the semis.|
|Round 1 - Morrisons Frangipane vs Iceland Luxury|
27th Nov 2017
|The normally joyous halls of Pie Club have today fallen silent. It is with a heavy heart that the organisers of this newly-liberated competition must impose the most severe sanction on Lidl Luxury. Without a product to test, despite repeated and prolonged shopping trips, we have been given no choice but to expel them from Christmas 2017 and parachute in a more readily-available contestant. So, Lidl’s loss is Morrisons’ gain as we have continued our recent flight of fancy to pit wild new pies against the more traditional fayre on offer. Step forward our first ever frangipane top!|
|Morrisons Frangipane enjoying a manicure||Iceland Luxury - waited a long time|
|Morrisons Frangipane||Iceland Luxury|
|Despite the exotic topping, Morrisons have opted to stick to a modest viewing pane rather than allow the google earth style openness of their luxury box. Maybe they will achieve package equality next season if their demonstration year goes well. Not much going on otherwise, with a bare black frontage sporting a tiny decorative fir sprig.||Iceland have kept the same strip as 2016. The odd golden twinkle to the rear tries to jolly up an otherwise very black mood theming this crumbshot. Superimposed pies seem to follow you round the room and hopefully won’t remind you of General Zod et al.|
MozFrang could be forgiven for succumbing to inner conflict given that her opponent bears more than a passing resemblance to her stablemate MozBest. And, no doubt, IceLux will be hoping that MozFrang’s nutty fingernails don’t sink themselves into his doughy skullcap. Anyway, with the unsettling subtext now fully ladled on it is time to eat.
The edge of MozFrang is enthused with a spirited almond screech that awaits in greater volume within, I wager. Cake-soft consistency does not speak of an earnest attempt to replicate our favoured titbit, but rather a drive to showcase a new path the festivities. We’ll see.
As lacklustre as it may be, IceLux has returned fire by trotting out a genuine pastry bite. You wouldn’t cross the street for it, but you would struggle to find something to fall out with.
Travelling through the cloud of almond sponge atop MozFrang all hope of hitting solid mincemeat ground should not be abandoned; instead enjoy the disorientating drop and rest assured that the odd vine fruit awaits. Bringing flaked nut into the mash from above is a new mouth experience and can be commended for breaking the mould, and nearly the molars, but fans of deep tang and tipsy apple pulp will go home dispirited. Those very same devotees of trad-pie would probably cheer for a lock-in once IceLux reveals its top-shelf credentials. A welcome hit of cider ties together brandy highs with a snuggly under-blanket of currants in a fashion most enriching to the nostalgia gene.
|And the winner is: Iceland Luxury has barged past this creative outsider in the manner of a thristy farmer at a Tate Gallery champagne bar.|
|Round 1 - Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger vs Sainsbury's Taste The Difference|
20th Nov 2017
|We are all a little too proud of ourselves at Pie Club this year. Having let Heston join in our seasonal fun, we didn’t stop there, oh no. You will note a lack of cardboard outer and a very new steer for our dinner table delighters with a second debutant from Waitrose – the Chocolate & Ginger four.|
If anyone is beginning to believe that this fine institution may have jumped into bed with the aspirational John Lewis grocery arm, fear not, they are a convenient ally in a year of experimentation. Their more imaginative offerings arrived in store long before the evil geniuses at Lidl and Aldi had put the finishing touches atop their wild gin, gingerbread, florentine and salted caramel chimeras.
|Waitrose Choc & Ginger – a star is born||Sainsbury’s TTD – now with added girders|
|Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger||Sainsbury's Taste The Difference|
|It’s a few years since a plastic bag of pies popped up on our tasting table. Due to the diminutive nature of these dusky dainties, the clear sleeve can both expose and protect in equal measure. The packet carries a nursery slope of tobogganists, which may paint an image of the intended recipient of such base treats, or may be intended to remind the audience that Christmas is a time for obvious pleasures and innocent fun. The ‘Two Ronnies’ principle, if you will.||Sainsbury’s have been throwing their premium pies at us since the internet was in nappies with little success. Their latest monster, gurning from within a familiar gold and purple livery has opted for a double star lid. Brave to allow a potential escape route for their traditionally sturdy mincemeat mix. Clearly, much time and effort has gone into the new bead-curtain themed sleeve, although you can make your own mind up about what kind of establishments would be most likely to make use of such a sultry doorway obscurer.|
Taking only the very brown pastry in, at last an answer is given to the question “What would chocolate be like if you added flour, for some reason?” I can tell you that it is most pleasant. Hot chocolate crust gives way to a velvet underground fade out. Can’t wait for my massive mouth attack. I’ll stop now.
As spiky a bite as the pointed top suggests, this is a Caledonian masterclass in shortbread moulding. Snap off the rim to discover butter unabashed, but don’t expect granny to thank you.
The buzz felt from amid a fuller chomp of WaitChocGing is difficult to control. From the gentle choc-ginger-orange melee rises a enveloping cloud of solid cocoa heaven. Cloud nine for Dawn French and, I have no doubt, anyone else with even a glimmer of humanity left within their frantic consciousness.
Oh, are you still here STTD? Bless them for trying, and in many ways succeeding, to elongate this tie, but their orthodox inner presents little to sway opinion. There is a particularly lengthy chew ahead for those committed enough to fracture the stony walls, and the rewarding citrus peel elevates the steeped currant flavouring. You could do worse, in fairness.
|And the winner is: Waitrose Chocolate & Ginger may have redefined Christmas 2017. Let’s pray they don’t run out, literally and figuratively.|
|Round 1 - Heston's Lemon Twist vs Tesco Finest|
16th Nov 2017
|With all the crushing horror of the world today, from Christmas adverts involving nightmarish visions beneath infant beds, or potty mouthed carrot lotharios, to those bakers seeking to divide society by replacing religious idols with mechanically recovered pig meat, it must now be time for some love. With inclusiveness the watchword, Pie Club have rubber stamped the first non-trad entrant into these great halls. Heston’s lemony debutants were born without pastry lids, but that’s ok. We are happy to judge their crumble top. Who knows, 2018 may see boxes of iced, frangipane or our old frenemy the ecclefechan have starting berths. Nothing should be off our table. Even rough puff.|
The change starts here and now.
|Heston’s Lemon Twist – for children in need||Tesco Finest – too scary for kids|
|Heston's Lemon Twist||Tesco Finest|
|Waitrose have upped their game with this arty silver sleeve. Why have a tired old crumbshot when a lemon wearing holly can be sketched, out for a boat ride? Granted some purists may enjoy a glimpse into their future, and to predict the expected enjoyment, but now again it’s fun to live dangerously. The danger theme continues when the black inner is unsheathed. These titanic beasts have heft and the kind of knobbles that would make a hobnob blush. Safety goggles required.||For the umpteenth year in a row, Tesco have stuck with the three-eyed extra-terrestrial pie. Last year’s box makes a welcome return displaying the most imaginatively hewn crumbshot. Pie top left seems to have been zapped in half by an errant ray gun bolt. Friendly fire no doubt.|
Heston’s edges provide a safe haven for cinnamon society. It takes real momentum to crack the walls, but once the spiced brickwork shatters expect a punch of sweetness on the palate.
Tesco’s ET brings me back down to earth with an orthodox butter bite and the softness that aids human jawbones.
Here comes the lemon! Combined with the stiff tart floor, the effect engenders a youthful haze of sherbert lemon sweets, particularly if one gave way early and crunch accompanied fizz. The mincemeat is present but merely informs the physical side of proceedings leaving the citrus overlord to drive home its acidic finish.
Tesco are no mugs and don’t try to accentuate one aspect of their soul, but allow all their seasonal attributes to flow together in a rousing concert of rich sultana, spiked apple and nutty drop ins. Marking a pleasant change, this contest offers stark contrast between an all-powerful yellow presence and a characterful version of ‘Christmas Plan A’. Whatever happens, I urge you to play this tie at home as I’m sure opinion will be polarized. You may even discover something new about your relationship with lemons.
|And the winner is: Tesco Finest. Holding their nerve in the face of such a persuasive tart. A bold effort, Heston, but you will have to add another string to this bow in 2018.|
|Round 1 - Co-op Irresistible vs Mr Kipling|
15th Nov 2017
|Those of you who can bear to watch are about to witness the meeting of last year’s bridesmaid and the perennial weird uncle. Today’s plated wedding sees poor Co-op Irresistible having to nod politely and feign interest at Mr Kipling’s wild claims and exaggerated stories. To be fair though, Pie Club may never have been conceived without the existence of weird uncles (evidenced by the @PieClubPC Twitter feed), so I have a certain sympathy for the exceedingly good losers. And anyway, he has made very plain that he cares not what the self-appointed arbiters of festive treats think. At least, I get that sense by the kind of Christmas lines he knocks out. “Judge me on my french fancies!” he, perhaps, bellows through tears and snot after his family Christmas meal inevitably turns sour towards the end.|
|Co-op Irresistible - 2016's bridesmaid||Mr Kipling - crying tears of joy?|
|Co-op Irresistible||Mr Kipling|
|Box and lid remain from 2016, once again channeling a Game of Thrones battlefield, only this time the snowy sugar dusting has a greater resonance as winter is truly here. The eviscerated crumbshot pies will no doubt join the undead horde attacking our colonic wall this yuletide.||A return to red after a predictably unsuccessful dalliance with white sleeves, but no let up in those questionable boasts. Not only are these anti-heroes ‘merry’, exceedingly good’ and ‘deep filled’ but we must stomach the claim that they are ‘Britain’s Favourite’ too. If, by not adding ‘mince pies’ to that final claim, their legal team are satisfied, then so are we.|
As you may expect from last year’s runner up, Coop’s pastry doesn’t make any silly mistakes. Mid level firmness and sensible sweetening put down a good marker.
Kipling can match the initial dental sensation, but within moments the lid has metamorphosed into wallpaper paste. A trick worthy of drunken bluster.
Coop’s ascent through the gears gives delight at each clutch touch. Cherries lead us off, then our drive is smoothed by appley almond until butter-brandy notes signify that top gear is reached. I fear the writing has been on the wall for some time, and Kipling’s final retort comes in the shape of a chew saved by the fluidity of its inner. The hideous outer blends with a potent tang slop to create something that was implausible moments earlier - a mince pie worthy of the name.
But not worthy of a place in anyone’s quarter finals.
|And the winner is: Co-op Irresistible have displayed the kind of form that troubled the top table last season. They could be starting to believe this is their year.|
|Round 1 - Morrisons The Best vs Asda Extra Special|
13th Nov 2017
|There will, almost certainly, be a great number of people shocked to see 2012’s victor facing off against a recent two-time champion at such an early stage. A quirk of the slapdash seeding, or a sinister plot to thin out the Yorkshire pies? Commentators worldwide have hypothesised that when Asda waved goodbye to Prue Leith’s mincemeat management, they became rudderless in a crowded, choppy sea of spiced apple pulp, and that 2016’s round one defeat to Iceland was their festive nadir. Can they recreate their glory days, or will Morrisons The Best extinguish their flickering comeback flame? Hold on to your flat caps, this could get reet proper.|
|Morrisons Best - needing a hug||Asda Extra Special - pastry pac-person|
|Morrisons The Best||Asda Extra Special|
|A bigger pane you could not wish for this Christmas. Virtually every corner of the black-sleeved inner tray reports for inspection, which may have been suitable for the happy be-snowflaked pies of last season, but this mob appear to have arrived after a full 12 hour shift collecting trolleys. Loosely applied stars with burnt tips reach out for a saviour before having junior versions thrust upon them, inverted, as if to cause maximum offence. And frankly, the meagre jumble of second tier decorations swooshing across what was a plain black panel last year was definitely not what the head of marketing meant by ‘adding pizzazz’.||Still a fun-time purple slip on, giving just a glimpse of what lies within to pique the interest of people identifying as male, female or confection. The second crumbshot in 2017 to reanimate the memory of Pac-Man, with a clever cutaway at the top right of the viewing panel. The horrors inflicted on the crumbshot’s focal pie can only be guessed at, but at least they have a jolly star motif after the unsuccessful blank canvas of 2016’s lid.|
Fears of MozBest not only masquerading as a cheap Lyon’s titbit, but also having the same distinct emptiness are quickly scotched. True, there isn’t a hard kick from the pointy outers and the walls shrink under impactful gaze but having a neutral aftertaste will allow the rich gizard to spill across the palate.
AsdaES wave away the thought of supporting acts and whip up a buttery semi-crunch, which could compete with any other lid so far this yuletide.
On the big bite MozBest come out of their shell, finding a pitch perfect sloppiness which keeps a loose grip on raisin matter and an even looser grip on the purse strings. A round of ciders with a brandy chaser soften the tang comedown and serenity takes hold.
Inner peace is a hard act to follow, although you wouldn’t notice any signs of pressure from AsdaES as they find issue their own saucy mix of port and brandy to the gathered viners. Crumbly times ensue that threaten spice but never reach the expected warmth of character.
|And the winner is: Morrisons The Best have kept the bragging rights, but I can well imagine that the debate will rage in the streets of Pudsey and its neighbouring Leeds-Bradford border towns.|
|Round 1 - Waitrose All Butter vs Aldi Specially Selected|
10th Nov 2017
|Anyone with a keen eye for tournament history will have spotted some significant moves by Waitrose this year. Not only is today’s regular entrant lining up again in 2017, but Pie Club have opened our arms to the wider world in accepting their Choc/Ginger debutant. Currently, their pal Heston has been invited to the party, but that decision has been referred to the review panel with judgement expected in 10 to 14 eating days.|
You probably don’t need me to ramp up the excitement about their dad, John Lewis’ Christmas advert. The teaser trailers look terrifying, as will our homage – follow @PieClubPC on twitter or look out for #UnderTheBed.
Hope today’s opponent is feeling brave…
|Waitrose All Butter, all eyes on him||Aldi SS – well dusted|
|Waitrose All Butter||Aldi Specially Selected|
|Despite never having taken this crown, Waitrose are pushing on with the dull black and white box that isn’t nearly as classy as it thinks it is. I am heartened by a mini crumbshot on the side panel that shows a trio of butch shortcrusters ready for a dust up. Maybe next year the spirit of fun may start to pervade the front cover, even.||Identical to last season’s unlucky six pack, eliminated in round one by a strong M&S Luxury outfit, except for one intriguing alteration. Following an enlightening phone call from Susie Dent and her team at #PositiveSpinEtymology what was Laced in 2016 has become Steeped in 2017. Bravo on that, and congrats on configuring the snowflake motif to have six points. We often take common sense like that for granted (still cross with Morrisons).|
I cannot begin my cruel duty without mentioning the highland tang buffering my attempts to reach Waitrose’s burly clansmen. There is no mention on the sleeve, but these curvy bricks bear the hallmark of a Walkers product. Once the acetic waft subsides the pastry nibble opts to surprise in its almost pliable outlook, and goes on to delight with a shortbread glow infused more from the vine than the still.
In contrast to their barren counterpart, AldiSS have a sugar drift weighing heavily atop their neatly motifed bake, and all that powder serves to nullify any crunch that would otherwise have risen to meet the dental assault. Flavour is a long time coming, and is merely polite upon arrival.
The annual panic sets in as Waitrose’s large mouthful momentarily refuses to wilt upon entry to the mashing arena. Flashbacks of being fitted for a brace and the stiff white cast coming flooding back, but before the nostrils even fully flare, access to the black and tan paste is achieved and Christmas cake notes abound, only partially supported by brandy, but wholly softened by a glace cherry finish.
The time has come for AldiSS to wheel out its ‘Steeped’ core, and having done so, I can’t help wondering if there needed to be a few more nuances. The pulp has a real energy from the moment the brittle outer crumbles but all the sultana tones and peel highlights are dulled by the cooling waves of dust-sweetened cognac.
|And the winner is: Waitrose All Butter have come through this dogfight largely due to its strong outer walls and no-nonsense inner. But can it ‘park the bus’ again in the quarters?|
|Round 1 - Marks & Spencer Classic vs Morrisons Red Box|
8th Nov 2017
|Another day, another Marks & Spencer pie facing a potential banana skin. Morrisons have had their moments through the years, and reigned supreme, albeit with their flagship entrant, in 2014 and 2015 before the resurgence and eventual victory of M&S’ Classic darling last season. |
If their off-message Christmas advert is any indication, this classic pie may struggle to regain the festive momentum, and if their inner spicing has as much of a first draft feel, today’s underdog could snatch an unlikely berth in the quarter finals. Possibly even without the need of a dizzying series of wildly unfortunate turns for the worse, or the intervention of a comically heroic yet previously unvaunted talking bear.
|M&S Classic + admiring glances||Morrisons Red Box + spoiler alert|
|Marks & Spencer Classic||Morrisons Red Box|
|Thankfully, the origami theme of 2016 has been abandoned for something altogether more elegant. Red-lit granite houses the charming quartet with a story to tell – why has only one pie been dusted with extra sugar, and why has it forced an evacuative cough from the pastry pac-man? There is even an entirely green panel at one end should you need to disguise your purchase in a busy pantry. They think of everything, sometimes, these magic and sparkles types.||I hope I’m right in saying that Morrisons must be especially proud of their red boxers this time. A viewing pane has been installed, a luxury normally reserved for their more accomplished Best brethren. Unfussy and well-wreathed, the modest sleeve smacks of a Victorian Yuletide, where hyperbole are unwelcome in a world of simple adjectives such as sweet and plump. However, the academic rigour employed by the great thinkers of our imperial past may fail to find the words for the impossible five pointed snowflake motif.|
While the fur coat/packaging is new, MSC remain the star-hole topped glamour queen we knew before, beneath it all. The biscuit crunch to their pastry overhang is undeniable and satisfyingly sugared.
MozRed, using the provocative and unnatural crystal design, usually reserved for their premium range, give little away from their nibbled edge starter. Either very delicate outer work or a desperate lack of punch.
They will need to think on, though, as MSC have provided a mouthful of Christmas cheer to banish any dainty half measures in this contest. A robust innard of heavyweight vine fruits bejeweled with citrus peel fights hard against the chew, affording plenty of time to enjoy the perfect cloven spicing.
There is much to commend within the fightback from MozRed. Ratios of pastry to filling and solids to pulp are expertly handled and the overall effect is positive. The influence of the cheesepairing Scrooges of old London town has raised its historic head though and both the sugar and spice levels have suffered as a result.
|And the winner is: M&S Classic may be thicker round the middle, but she hasn’t lost her touch. How long can she keep turning heads, though, in a world of sloe gin tarts?|
|Round 1 - Marks & Spencer Luxury vs Sainsbury's Deep Fill|
6th Nov 2017
|Pie Club has awoken in 2017 to a new day, filled with strange wonders. In three weeks time, we will be able to buy a mince pie – croissant crossover. A pastry so distracting it must surely have been concocted by an underground group of Russian ultras to give the free world a new topic of conversation. Congratulations on your mincessants comrades!|
And the less said about everything else, the better.
Opening day has thrown up a classic tie, which has been rather one sided down the years, but if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing can, or should, be taken for granted. In pastry, Star Wars or real life.
|M&S Luxury - Oranges virtually the only fruit||Sainsbury's Deep Fill - a pretty box|
|Marks & Spencer Luxury||Sainsbury's Deep Fill|
|I’d like to think that all our playful tickling of M&S’s sensibilities was not to blame for them ditching their six star branding. The understated Collection livery seems more at home with their luxury core message, and the crumbshot displays two six-star lids atop each contestant. So we can make our own judgements about how many stars are merited. A new recipe is also on the table, and flashed upon their sleeve. Clementine juice being the stand out differential.||A fresh Christmas theme is offered by Sainsbury’s in 2017. The cartoonish fir tree and bleak crumbshot are replaced by an elegant reindeer astride a bestriped snowy hillside, clipped upon a full size crumbshot making full use of fuzzy-focus twinkles. A well stocked inner yawns onto artisan woodwork to boot. That’s the spirit!|
The first professional bites of the season identify all too familiar pastry weaknesses.
MSL offer a sweet yielding fluff akin to a candyfloss bobble hat and SainsDeep suffer a meltdown into soggy newspaper paste. Excuses are in play regarding having to warm the pies for best results, but we don’t all have the luxury of oven time, and don’t get me started on the perils of a molten cranberry.
Having picked out the clementine pre-match as one to watch, it seems ungallant to point out how much influence and delight the citrus brings. Whether this is to pair with Bucks Fizz is yet to be announced from M&SHQ, but perhaps you should make your own mind up. Sorry.
SainsDeep hasn’t given up though and achieves eventual joy of a mixed vine fruit occasion, once the chew sees off that blank, cloying outer.
The final full bites continue to support the mismatch, leaving time to ponder if MSL have put all their eggs in this orangey basket.
|And the winner is: M & S Luxury have taken this without breaking sweat, but they may need to find deeper meaning to power their fruity bandwagon.|