...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...
|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|