...mince pie mayhem
For too long, this great institution shunned the seemingly imperfect or non-conformists among the mince pie population and we must therefore shoulder at least part of the blame for the decline of civilised society to this unusually low ebb.
Ushering in a new era for inclusivity and tolerance, our doors have been thrown open to the tart, the iced, the crumble top and even an Ecclefechan. Eight normals will compete to represent tradition in a grand final against the champion of the crazy eight. See tournament draw.
Liverpool's famous Game Theorist, Holly Johnson, will have his furious 1980s hypothesis tested by the Two Tribes of Pie Club 2018, and he will have his answer.
|Grand Final - Tesco Finest vs Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan|
19th Dec 2018
|Two Tribes go to war, finally, in this most open of festive competitions. And with finalists that literally no one foresaw representing their brethren to decide whether ‘Normal’ or ‘Crazy’ pies will rule Christmas 2018. As my great uncle used to look me squarely in the eye and say, “We’re nearly all winners here”. Actually, I’m hearing the pointed ‘nearly’ now.|
Well neither of these winners have been in this position before, for differing reasons, so a new name shall grace our annals, and not before time, some might say.
We hope you have enjoyed the new experiences made available, or at least described at moderate length, to you in our green pages, and we hope that we may have begun to reverse the descent of mankind with our all-inclusive new outlook. Who knows?
|Tesco Finest – not again guys!||Ecclefechan – king of the white walkers|
|Tesco Finest||Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan|
|I’ll miss these strange creatures if planet Tesco decide to exterminate their terrifying motif for 2019, but I’m pleased they’ve finally gone deep into a mince pie knockout tournament. ET came home.||Despite featuring in our Readers’ Pies page, courtesy of an earnest email submission, the ‘Fechan have had to stand and watch from the sidelines for years. It should come as no surprise that their pent up frustration has manifested into an aggressive pastry strikeforce.|
Traditionally steady in rim, Tesco do a decent job of sugaring up the nibble with modest amounts of sweet crystallised love. Texture on the top side of average.
There’s no living with ‘Fechan’s outer though. Almost entirely made of butter, the snap is beyond compare and for your effort you are rewarded with a melting fat finish.
Time for Tesco to bring the rain. A chunky downpour of walnut, cherry, peel and sultana pelts the palate, allowing the thunderous booms of mixed spice to shock the senses before the lull is reassured by branded cognac afters. Not quite a mic drop, but those alien eyes are smiling.
Ecclefechan is unmoved, probably due to even more eggy butter stiffening its very soul, and I have to say that I’ve never met a pasty case containing more consistent or resilient inners. Post bite it will just stare back at you from its currant-dotted crust and I’m beginning to wonder if it will likely reform in my upper intestine once each bite is reunited. In many ways I wouldn’t begrudge it, as the heavy set mix of viners, nuts and the decorative glacé cherries combine to create festive perfection. If it helps, consider this a shortbread biscuit welded to the bottom of a tea-total fruitcake.
Extra pies once again will help resolve any outstanding matters in this fruity shootout.
With the judgement still coursing through my blood system, I must turn to the much warranted thank yous. To Simon Wilson who continues to curate this curious webpage, beset throughout the year by good natured hackers, simply for the love of the game, #invoiceincoming. To my family who put up with an occasionally vacant look, and worse, as my mind wanders each Christmas, although the spare pies soften the blow. And to all whose social media gets clogged with the regular unsolicited nudges toward this divisive undertaking, thank you. Thank you and sorry. Have a great Christmas!
All the best
|And the winner is: Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan. The Crazies take it with a mincemeat tart for the ages, and the Scot’s greatest gift to the world since Tunnock’s Teacakes.|
|Semi Final - Tesco Finest vs M&S Collection|
18th Dec 2018
|Finding a champion from the ‘normal’ side of the draw has felt a little like watching ancient knights mount their trusty steeds and charge bravely down the jousting field to eventually crown the new prince of mince. We must hope that they are not proved anachronistic in the grand final by the new type of warrior, the ill-bred beasts unwilling to fight by time honoured rules.|
Today’s contest will decide who is to test their mettle at the very edge of oblivion, by taking on the giant from beyond the wall, The Ecclefechan.
|Tesco - Houmous, we have a problem...||M&S Collection – fully evolved|
|Tesco Finest||M&S Collection|
|Tesco have a patchy history, at best. Their most memorable performance came way back in 2012 when they topped the old style league table only to lose in the play-offs. Maybe by sticking with their current team for a few years now they have instilled a confidence as yet undiscovered on planet Tesco.||As close to mince pie royalty as it gets. This line has been competing, and conquering, since a time when Heston Blumenthal was merely an outsider chef, and the idea of tinkering with a mince pie was sacrilegious. They’ve been there and done it, but can they do it again?|
Tesco’s edging leads us off in a satisfactory manner, hitting markers for firmness and sweetness. If we are being generous, there’s a touch of shortness in this crust.
The elderly M&S matriarch needs much gentle coaxing to remove her golden foil cloak, but that is where the languid demeanour ends. Crisp butter twangs provide a steely shell for the citrus dance to follow. This semi is in danger of petering out if Tesco cannot respond.
Luckily, the cognac fired secret within is quick about its work, creating a spirited chew so varied in micro-flavours and texture that we begin to re-believe in these extra-terrestrial wonders.
M&S, by their own admission, are nutless, meaning the grind encounters virtually no bumps in the road and for all their cherry and cranberry credentials, you take only clementine away with you. We may need to go to extra pies…
To make such a critical decision it is only fair to play another round, to crystallise whether it’s going to be the perfect outer with an ultra zest or the secret keeper of a nutty treasure chest.
|And the winner is: Tesco Finest. Unbelieveble scenes as they taste their first ever knockout victory over the golden girls of M&S.|
|Semi Final - Heston’s Sour Cherry vs Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan|
17th Dec 2018
|There can be no doubting the quality on show from the crazy half of our Two Tribes knockout. We may find that the simple, Neanderthal mince pies are slowly displaced by this evolution taking place across our bakery shelves, or the Cradle of Life as I refer to them.|
It is also a harder competition to judge, as the infinite varieties play to personal taste, in a polarizing way that few standard versions manage. Luckily, we’ve never steered you wrong, but I’m sure that you can imagine the damage a half-hearted bunch of industry professionals could wreak when faced with such an open ended Christmas question.
Anyway, eyes down, Pie Club 2018 is about to have its first finalist…
|Heston Sour - stranger things exist||Ecclefechan – the beast from beyond the wall|
|Heston’s Sour Cherry||Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan|
|The bobbly brown discs are really nothing to look at, and could be dubbed ‘teddy bear poo’ by a more infantile website. As a six, with the cartoony sleeve, they feel like something original. An adventure, if you will, and that’s a gift in itself.||These bruisers come without pretentions, without fanfare and obviously without motif atop. The current Taste The Difference livery is starting to look tired, and the foursome crumbshot is uninspired, particularly when placed next to a viewing pane, rendering it redundant. A deliberate ambush perhaps.|
Heston’s crunchy sides open with their usual finesse. Shovelling cocoa clusters our way with only the faintest whiff of sour cherry in the background.
Ecclefechan give up their nibble with some reluctance. The stiff walls hold firm before releasing their butter crackle to a palate grateful for such shortbread nostalgia.
On the deep bite, Heston goes long. The mash needs an age to break down the crumble’s lumpen charms, meaning the fruit gets a fair go at crafting their cherry and vine combinations. Don’t be afraid of the vodka within, it doesn’t influence the rich mincemeat half as much as the kirsch, but it provides a novel adult undertow. Truly original thinking.
Showing Heston a thing or two about lengthy chews, Ecclefechan has managed to evaporate all unnecessary moisture. Which can be daunting at first but when its buttery nuts introduce the bite, you cannot staunch the flow of juices desperate to mingle with the rich body of tart. Bring your own mush, sassenachs!
With no chinks in either’s armour, the beaten pie today will have every right to feel aggrieved. But a decision must be made between the Black Forest marriage to sultanas or a mouth-watering Highland fling.
|And the winner is: Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan. Utterly astonishing performance to knock out Heston’s masterpiece. Butter trumps chocolate. Today.|
|Quarter Final - Heston Sour Cherry vs Aldi Sloe Gin|
14th Dec 2018
|The last example of this year’s Black Forest movement are fighting to keep their cherries relevant today. They must see off the perennially popular gin slinger from Aldi, a gateway pastry in many respects to the worlds of tart, lattice work and morning drinking. The last semi final spot awaits, and the chance to visit Ecclefechan country, where the almonds are already being sharpened to a point.|
Whichever delicious treat makes it to the grand final from this wild side of the draw will have done it the hard way.
|Heston Sour – works hard, plays hard||Aldi Sloe Gin – pleasure disembowelled|
|Heston Sour Cherry||Aldi Sloe Gin|
|Nipping in before the Brexit gates slam, these tipsy lads are made in Holland, using palm oil and cherry bakewell vodka. So, quite the political animal. Neatly circular of bottom and each with a lopsided lump or two atop, we must be careful to remain grown up here.||Similarly hewn to a broad puck base, the glossy lattice presents a more uniform branding before the flaked almonds scatter to form a myriad of dots and dashes. Each one looks like a coded message, perhaps along the lines of ‘eat me, I’m probably one of your five a day’ or ‘alcoholic nuts operate in this area’.|
No foil on show today, just naked confection. See the Readers’ Pies page for that reference. Once you’ve finished your tea.
Popping off a crusty edge from Heston shares little with the experience of a normal mince pie. Infused sourness elevates the chocolate chew before a lengthy fruit slap lands.
Aldi Sloe ready their own fruit slap, but don’t let it inform the rim on a minor nibble, leaving more traditional butter to lay the groundwork for the steeped vine onslaught yet to begin.
What may have been mistaken for weird bubblegum nostalgia in Heston’s round one tie, I now see as a playfully perfumed curd sparking the kind of merriment we used to enjoy at office parties, before austerity stole our futures. Maybe this pie is the turning point, showing us a brighter tomorrow with its chewy purple heart, irregular crumble topping and mouth watering finish.
Grounding that flight of fancy, Aldi Sloe shows no sign of being put off its stride and slides out a gin soaked mincemeat between the crisp smacks of pastry. While the tang may have over-promised from such strong previous performances, at least the cranberries come together to leave a lasting memory.
|And the winner is: Heston Sour Cherry. This perky little fella may annoy some, but the twisted pleasure has piqued my interest. Vodka beat gin, it seems.|
|Quarter Final - Morrisons The Best vs M&S Collection|
13th Dec 2018
|Since winning this competition back in 2015 under the Signature branding, Morrisons’ first team have been knocked out every year by today’s opponent. M&S’ golden generation have garnered many nemesii/nemeses on their twenty year rampage through the rounds, amassing six titles, three runners up spots, two ex-husbands and a rear of the year.|
Much at stake then, with either the chance for revenge for Morrisons, or a return to the halcyon days of M&S Collection. Mouthwatering.
|Moz Best – the toast of Bradford||M&S Collection – tap and unwrap|
|Morrisons The Best||M&S Collection|
|As neat as their double starred topper is, in Pie Club’s dark past there may have been some rumblings of mistrust given the significant gaps in lid coverage, almost akin to the lattice pariah. Thankfully, we have all grown up since the days of ugly, intolerant chanting marring the terraces and ruining Christmas dinner. Haven’t we?||When their outré motif was pitched to Magic & Sparkle pastry bigwigs, few would have had the vision to accept that a snowflake could be sandwiched between two stars and even fewer would have green lit the project. But here we are, two years on, almost blasé about their crowning glory.|
Tremendous overhang is picked off with ease, supplying a mainstream sugar-fused bite, without ever nearing a crunch.
Peeling off their golden foil, a wider bottom is to be enjoyed, but the broad top edge remains, poking out their nibble full of buttery orange notes.
Morrisons steer a steady path towards tradition with their deep filled apple pulp, darkened with well-balanced spices. The brandy pays a visit to the mash, but in concert with cider, so the heat quickly subsides.
Their dainty outer softens gracefully upon chomp, leaving a smooth innard to showcase M&S’ idiosyncratic clementine zest-fest. What they lack in nuts is made up in sweet fruit highlights.
Morrisons are bringing the home comforts of deep dark vine, M&S are offering a glimpse of what goes on behind the gated community’s cherry and cranberry-filled walls.
|And the winner is: M&S Collection. Operating on a different plane of existence, just.|
|Quarter Final - Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan vs Morrisons Black Forest|
11th Dec 2018
|With their flagship gold box pie excluded from the competition, on the grounds that they are acrid gobstoppers, Sainsbury’s have to hope that their Scottish tart can continue her recent charm offensive.|
However, Morrisons may have the perfect background of Yorkshire and Germany to be able to resist the simple temptation of a topless treat. The Black Forest movement has really taken off this year, not just in the mince pie field, but their cherry bomb has exploded across every supermarket aisle. Shower gel, raw meat, coffee and shoe polish have all boarded the 1970s love train bound for sour chocolate town, or Southampton, as it has come to be known.
|Ecclefechan – winning friends?||Moz Black Forest – all that glitters|
|Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan||Morrisons Black Forest|
|The last foursome in the competition, but their lack of numbers are made up for by a filling that aspires to reach the top of their pastry case. We’ve seen some laughably empty caverns beneath many a lid this year. Ecclefechans deliver transparency – a suitably confusing slogan for the next Brexit bus perhaps.||Equally as transparent though, the lightweight Morrisons box gives you viewing rights to all six occupants. Feel free to select your favourite squad, should you be lucky enough to find any left in a shop near you. I was deliberating long enough to warrant attention from a critically unresponsive store detective.|
Clang! Teeth break through the Ecclefechan walls with an uncommon snap, allowing the butter crumb to dissemble amongst the palate, taking with it an almond essence that piques interest from first to last.
In stark contrast, Morrisons’ chocolate case demonstrates a smoke and mirrors approach to the chew. No sooner have you bitten than it has vanished. Granted, the wisp of brown magic left behind still gets a clap.
With the full bite of Ecclefechan I am undone. It never crossed my mind that sugar, butter and eggs could draw me in at this time of year. We all love a holiday romance with the odd pastel de nata, but don’t expect them to visit for Christmas. Once you chuck the deconstructed mincemeat in, almonds, sultanas and cherry lift the bone dry egg custard to new heights.
Morrisons’ golden glitter speaks of a contender that won’t be outshone, and the small pile of crumble shot through with choc chips nearly embarrasses itself with its eagerness to please. Barely a chomp is needed before the frantic chew begins, giving headlines of cocoa with a passing mention to fruit. Crowd-pleasing cherries tumble into a knowingly guilty afterglow, confident that satisfaction is felt by all.
This is definitely a tie that could be awarded to either contender on any given day. But judge we must, and regret we may.
|And the winner is: Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan. Her class made the chocolate crumble feel gimmicky and cheap. But I am typing this quickly before I get led astray.|
|Quarter Final - Lidl Luxury vs Tesco Finest|
10th Dec 2018
|Lidl have come into this season with a point to prove, having been removed from 2017 for non-appearance on their shelves. Their luxury range bullied the Co-op in round one before they lapsed into old ways and didn’t bother to stock their currently mythical chocolate orangists, leaving a lightweight frangipane at the mercy of Aldi’s powerful sloe gin gang. So far, so chequered.|
Tesco have been around this block more times than they care to mention and I have no doubt that they feel a deep sense of shame from never lifting the trophy. Will their twentieth attempt meet with long-awaited success? Or will that ‘finest’ epithet continue to prove sarcastic?
|Lidl Luxury – Much to ponder||Tesco Finest - Still probing stuff|
|Lidl Luxury||Tesco Finest|
|One of the most handsome pies in the competition. From the uniformity of their star motif to the expert tanning confined to their broad shoulders, Lidl have baked to impress. And no palm oil involved, if you share this nation’s new found concern for the displaced orangutan.||Given the history of sharing style ideas within the mince pie motif industry, we should be even more surprised that Tesco refuse to soften their stance by giving us a standard holly or star. No - they are sticking to their little green men lids and we can all shut up.|
Lidl nibbles well. Firmer than many, and sitting at the top table for butter biscuitry. Tesco can only supply a pale reflection of their opponent’s shortbread offer, and a slightly more flaccid extremity.
As the contest wades into a fuller depth, Lidl use the opportunity to show off their cognac between the waves of spice carried by competing fruit. As always, nut elevates the occasion, and sport can be had in guessing which comes next, walnut or almond.
There’s an almost identical mash to be had with Tesco’s nutty mix, albeit in slightly shorter measure. We will have to judge this one on which spice mix moves us closer to happy tears, although they both manage to shout Christmas in a hearty and balanced voice, there must be a horse selected for this 2018 course.
|And the winner is: Tesco Finest. The spicing team from planet Tesco are at it this year. Invasion of the Semi Snatchers…|
|Round 1 - Aldi Sloe Gin vs Lidl Frangipane|
7th Dec 2018
|Round One fortnight ends today, and the more eagle-eyed of you will no doubt have spotted that until recently, this tie was listed as Aldi Sloe Gin v Lidl Choc Orange. Bafflingly, the Lidl top brass seem not to be taking this competition seriously and have refused to stock their chocolately team in any sensible timeframe. |
However, where once there would have been frustration, anger and eventual expulsion, this year tolerance reigns. Lidl have been allowed to field a substitute, making us the kindest, most merciful, self-congratulatory elitists ever to grace the world of snark. Be warned, this ill-fitting largesse may not last the night, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
|Aldi Sloe Gin – our fave hashtag||Lidl Frangipane brought the boys|
|Aldi Sloe Gin||Lidl Frangipane|
|We have a variation on the 2018 sleeve in which worried sloes are wandering through a field of giant damaged descendants. Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes springs to mind. A small viewing pane exposes just enough to make out a variation in lattice work. This pack has four hashtag and two bent prison bar tops.||The kind of bluey green scheme that was abandoned around ten years ago by Tesco, but looks fresh after such a hiatus. Sophistication comes in the placement of its viewing pane, but the contents listing warns of a one-track mind. An Amaretto mincemeat, topped with frangipane sponge and finished with flaked almonds – perhaps all baked to the sound of Marc Almond’s ‘Tainted Love’, if maximum almond is the goal.|
Shunning the idea of foil, Aldi Sloe arrive wide and flat making the edge simple to prise off. There is initial stiffness before tangy cake restores power to the butter. Solid opening.
To lift Lidl Frangipane is to feel the cloud of assorted almond dust take flight. You can barely approach the pale outer before it cowers and disintegrates. Judging the rim alone is mere folly. A whiff of nut signposts the brief struggle with unpleasant paste, yielding no clue as to its true nature.
Aldi Sloe scoff at the notion of hidden intentions, using the incredible depth of sloe gin to underpin every crunch through a nutty version of an eccles cake, and lasting what seems like days after the finish.
In the face of such ferocious pie-making, Aldi Frangipane do well to carry on. Their speciality sweet almond mush provides plenty of top notes, but literally nothing to get your teeth into. It feels like a very deliberate construction, suitable for the recovery wards of the NHS, particularly as it wouldn’t hurt if it hit you full in the face.
|And the winner is: Aldi Sloe Gin. Bit of a walkover, but this gin fella’s got legs. In that analogy and beyond.|
|Round 1 - Tesco Finest vs Aldi Specially Selected|
6th Dec 2018
|The last two normal pies make their competitive bow today. The best Tesco and Aldi have to offer complete the inexhaustive list of conventional comestibles we have used this year to fit our Two Tribes concept. Like any reality format, representation has been elicited from as many corners of humanity as possible, and we accept that the least tolerant will find this hard to stomach.|
Nevertheless, many mainstream pies that missed out were tasted to avoid creating gaps in our seasonal understanding. Briefly, from the usual suspects we found Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference slightly improved by daintier pastry, Waitrose All Butter stoically stiff and dull, M&S Classic as delightful as last year, and Mr Kipling still exceedingly unpleasant. Snog. Snog. Marry. Avoid. If you will.
|Tesco Finest – observing our nuts||Aldi S.S. – seeing stars|
|Tesco Finest||Aldi Specially Selected|
|Their third year of competition in exactly the same guise. Come on Tesco, you owe us a new crumbshot at least, even if we have to concede that you’ll never change that pastry face. These alien terrors have unsettled our yuletide tables for too many years to count. About five.||Aldi have ripped up the rule book. They have dubbed their new bunch ‘Classic’ mince pies, no doubt in hope that they can one day achieve up to half as much success as their Magic and Sparkle Classic red box counterparts. The crumbshot appears to be an homage to Co-op’s long serving sleeve and the pie design shares 95% of its DNA with Morrisons'. The German word for copycat is nachahmer, apparently.|
Despite the lid having slipped to one side, the professionalism in their nibble means TescoFin always give full biscuit notes, sparkling with sugar and the taste of light brown.
AldiSS showcase the year’s best overhang, affording easy nibbling but difficult judging, given the oddly cool mush promotes virtually no flavour except the ghost of orange oil yet to come.
Taking the teeth through the centre of TescoFin, at first flags an injudicious use of deep filled within the box copy, as very little inner exists, but the meagre portion combines joyously with the crisp outer to present a bunch of munch. The odd nut, as nibbed as you’ll see, pings into the already solid bite to keep the mouth moving towards the grand finale’s cognac wash. It certainly isn’t the finished article, missing genuine fruit outcomes, but Aldi may need to find something Specially Selected to stay in this tie. Not one to be outdone, AldiSS slam down their own crunch. Unfortunately, it’s from the chunky three-layered star lid motif and renders their own diminutive inner a near passenger as you work up what is little more than an orange shortbread mulch. My continued exploration discovers no hidden chambers of chewy gems, and the pastry becomes suffocating.
Maybe both these contenders wasted too much on the brand name tipple at the expense of vine filler and apple pulp.
|And the winner is: Tesco Finest. Just enough slop in the tank to squeeze through this scrappy affair. They may have been coasting/orbiting for too long.|
|Round 1 - Co-op Irresistible vs Lidl Luxury|
4th Dec 2018
|Our latest tie from the normal end of the spectrum pits the winner of 2013 against a resurgent Co-op, unlucky to find itself in the festive path of Waitrose’s eventual chocolatey winner last time out. Co-op have made the latter stages on a regular basis, of late, and were unfortunate to lose in the famous dark horse final of 2016.|
Lidl got themselves banned in 2017 for non-delivery, having failed to stock any luxury pies until early December. The spirit of 2018 dictates that we must all be friends again, and they have held their end up so far. I’m hoping that Lidl are very much like spiders, in that they are more frightened of me than I am of them.
|Co-op Irresistible in dictionary corner||Lidl Luxury – been uber alles before|
|Co-op Irresistible||Lidl Luxury|
|To the untrained eye, 2018’s sleeve could be mistaken for the previous two, but for the third year running the crumbshot has been reproduced to be indistinguishable from its ancestors. It appears that the Creatives have continued their sabbatical round Africa leaving the work experience lad a template to work from. He’s done a fine job, to be fair. If the bakers hadn’t changed the motif atop, he could have got on with more photocopying. Swings and roundabouts.||Resorting to Google to check for changes, it appears Lidl are still happy with their 2017 sleeve. Judging by the eye-popping measure of cognac in the crumbshot, the management have every right to feel more relaxed, with lower inhibitions and a greater sense of self-confidence. And maybe they forgot to make a new one for 2018? That’s lock-ins for you.|
Blowing clumps of powder aside, a sensible nibble of Co-op’s crust sets off down the road of butter, but very quickly needs to recharge its bite and ends up being towed across the shortcrust line by an unnaturally smooth bake. Lidl take the high ground on this opening skirmish with a crispy lid full of sweet credentials and the crystallised sugar coating that should never fall out of favour.
With a startlingly similar list of ingredients, this might be a matter of finer details, or will this tie expose the producer with all the gear but no idea?
Getting through Co-op’s slab atop exposes a characterful inner, less inclined to spice our moments but boundlessly enthusiastic in the fruit field. Citrus plus glace cherries leave a smile, once their claggy rooftop has been dismantled.
Lidl let you feel the nuts consistently in their accomplished chew, without the panic of a crunch. A more balanced spicing works with the cognac to round off a fully realised vision of Christmas warmth.
|And the winner is: Lidl Luxury. Outmuscled a limp opponent with ye olde workmanship. We’re going to miss the Germans when we have to leave the party.|
|Round 1 - Aldi Salted Caramel vs Morrisons Black Forest|
3rd Dec 2018
|Two famous flavours from times past and present meet in mincemeat combat today, in what must be an industry first. Whilst Millennials worldwide are accustomed to having a salted caramel version of everything from KitKats to beard wax, their elders are likely to be nostalgic for a world where things taste like they are supposed to, with black forest gateau their rock of ages from which all sophistication was derived. Until Viennetta was born, obviously. |
Savouring the fresh challenge, and reflecting on the parallels between this tie and the many cinematic flashpoints between old master and feisty young apprentice, we should have plenty to get our teeth into here.
But before we start, let us remind you that you can be alerted to the updates we fling on here by following @PieClubPC on that Twitter, or liking our @PieClubPC page on that Facebook. #showingmyage
|Aldi Salted Caramel - unmistakeable||Morrisons Black Forest Monster|
|Aldi Salted Caramel||Morrisons Black Forest|
|Riffing on the same crumbshot as the standard pie’s sleeve (borrowed from Co-op) the addition of a splash of caramel spattering to the leaf-strewn slate marks this out as a runny customer. A wide viewing pane reveals a disco star motif on their sparkly dancefloor crust.||The vast viewing pane on a full black surround allows us to confirm every man’s worst fear, we are about to eat edible glitter. As if the disturbed crumble top wasn’t peculiar enough, the golden flecks adorning a faux chocolate frame speak of a shiny chemical outcome for every part of our face and intestine.|
Nibbling quickly on the rim of the AldiSalty, as it appears the sauce may burst through at any moment, you’d be surprised how much caramel you feel in the butter crumb. A rare treat at this stage.
Swift and positive bites are required to take an edge from MozBlackForest lest the powdery sides fall apart before reaching you. Earthy cocoa top notes pop out to great effect and encourage real hope for the next, fuller experience.
Caramel paste envelops AldiSalty’s chew, drowning out the tiny sliver of mincemeat until the very last knockings, at which point tang seems to intrude upon an expected sweet finish, giving a toffee apple afterglow. Definitely stay for the twist ending.
Where do I start with the maelstrom of MozBlackForest’s mouthful? There is crispness in the choc-chip crumble topper, prolonged mashing of a modest cherry pulp by virtue of the odd juicy sultana, involuntary puckering once the Kirsch kicks in, and the overall sense of wonder of a child’s first visit to Santa’s grotto.
These pies make me feel like anything is possible. Anything.
|And the winner is: Morrisons Black Forest. Enough good ideas on show for two or three mince pies. We should feel spoilt.|
|Round 1 - Morrisons The Best vs Asda Extra Special|
2nd Dec 2018
|As it’s derby weekend in the football, it seems fitting that today’s normal tie is a contest as old as the York Stone pavement on which it is usually fought. We’ve transplanted the West Yorkshire street fight to a crumb-filled dining table on the internet and will definitively award the Christmas 2018 bragging rights for Tetley men everywhere.|
With two titles each, it’s fair to say these giants of the affordable pastry game have underperformed in the last twenty years. Since the double of 2014-15, Morrisons have gone out to M&S Luxury twice. The chance to gain revenge awaits in the Quarter-finals, if they can overcome an Asda brought to life in 2012 as part of Prue Leith’s march to the Great British Bake Off, but in the doldrums since they let their Special One go.
|Morrison’s big fish little fish…||Asda Extra Special contains alcohol|
|Morrisons The Best||Asda Extra Special|
|While the look and feel stays the same, the considered tweaks are impactful. The box retains its clean black gravitas, but a return to the traditional viewing pane makes it look a lot less like scart lead packaging at Dixons. Cloth-capped boffins have also fixed the crust’s double star pattern to sit regularly with points in harmony rather than the unholy tangle of 2017.||There has been tinkering in Leeds too. No longer are the players on view through this solid purple sleeve, and the write up ends with the stark warning, CONTAINS ALCOHOL. Perhaps the health and safety folk have been round. Full marks for the brandy butter dollop in the crumbshot, no doubt deliberately sculpted to represent the county’s emblematic white rose.|
No disgrace in the texture or well-pitched sweetness of pastry from Morrisons’ nibble. The five pronged upper takes me back to the days of bmx ‘mag wheels’, but nothing yet towards mushroom grips.
Asda’s exploding star motif may be something to put our daily struggles into context, but the lightweight crumb and almost indiscernible butter do not provoke the same serious thought. They will need their inners to shine, very much like the supernova atop.
A full examination of Morrisons’ offering finds welcome orange influences on an ultra traditional vine fruit combo, devoid of nut or cherry. A silk purse fully crafted from their sow’s ear content. Asda, appear to have a similar make up, but lose some of their fruit’s goodwill due to the boozy antics of port and brandy. The chew slightly overstays its welcome too. Finishing the pies off removes any possible doubt about the outcome of this northern derby between two stereotyped working class heroes.
|And the winner is: Morrisons The Best. Rich enough to satisfy the Christmas palate, and big enough to handle itself if the party gets rowdy.|
|Round 1 - Heston’s Choc & Sour Cherry vs Mr Kipling Iced Top|
29th Nov 2018
|The iced top mince pie is a beauty we have admired from afar. Pressures from within The Club meant we never dared approach such an obvious siren call, built for those free spirits for whom mince pies had always felt short of an extra 10% sugar. |
Her opponent, Heston’s sour cherry infused chocolate crumble, is very much a pie for 2018. We’ve been caught off guard by an ambush borne in The Black Forest, with Kirsch-tinged squads arriving quite unexpectedly in a wide variety of supermarkets. As baffling as this invasion is, the larger mystery regarding Waitrose’s decision to abandon its unbeatable chocolate ginger monster from 2017 will, no doubt, stir debate for years to come.
Can their new brown one continue an embryonic dynasty?
|Heston Choc – look out for the vodka||Kipling Iced Top – plus golden balls|
|Heston’s Choc & Sour Cherry||Mr Kipling Iced Top|
|There’s tipple to be had here, as evidenced by the cherries escorting a smug looking bottle of bakewell tart vodka on a free-standing sleigh. The ingredient list on the reverse reads like a novel, where our hero, booze, is held in a freakish laboratory before escaping the shackles of the many dreaded carbonates. Crumble bumps create a brown moonscape outer liberally dusted with sugar fallout.||The daring deep pink sleeve sports a neat side panel crumbshot and more stylish decor than previously found on any Kipling Christmas range in living memory. To continue the theme, the sleek white topping has been adorned with gold and silver nuggets. Optimists call that pretty, pessimists just ready the vacuum cleaner.|
If the edge of Heston is taken in isolation, as warranted on first bites, a childhood reminiscence of cherry bubblegum is engendered, only this one stays crunchy. In contrast, Kipling’s failings of the past have come back to haunt his pastry case. Textureless and without discernible butter, we had been warned as they are described as light pastry cases. The Hubba Bubba gets a lot more adult as Heston supplies a controlled hit of kirsch, enrobed in sour curd and the odd bit of fruit, all throughout a chew that plays like a kiss chase, each buttery crumble lump well worth the tongue’s effort. Perhaps we should have seen this coming, but once the historic first full bite of iced top mince pie reaches judgement, it all falls rather flat. I expected more than the sensation of eating a soggy mince pie with an extra spoonful of sugar. Somehow, I thought it must be more than the sum of its parts. I was wrong.
Mr Kipling has continued his yuletide tradition of producing disappointment in boxes of six.
|And the winner is: Heston’s Chocolate and Sour Cherry Crumble mince pies. A name to look out for, conjure with, and find a sensible abbreviation for.|
|Round 1 - Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan Tart vs Heston’s Lemon Twist|
27th Nov 2018
|Pie Club history is being made today. Never have we witnessed (or allowed) a contest between two non-traditional comestibles, but as we begin our twentieth tournament, maturity is creeping into our outlook. The next generation won’t worry about embracing tarts or salted caramel, so we must blaze a trail of acceptance with an open mind and a sweeter tooth.|
Today we have the four-box derby as the only two entrants to shun the sixer go head to head. If there’s a fifth member at your Christmas table, I hope they like the trifle.
|Ecclefechan – beautiful on the inside||Heston's lemon – no trolling please|
|Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan Tart||Heston’s Lemon Twist|
|A cute little box liveried in Sainsbury’s gold-purple Taste the Difference regalia, sporting an apology of a crumbshot, affords a glimpse of all four occupants. Lids have been replaced by a fuller mix of mincemeat or similar, and the resulting ‘currants in a brown swimming pool’ effect certainly stirs the senses.||Heston describes his lemon twisters as large spiced mince pies which might be taken as a threat given his tendency to overdo the flavours a little. To cheer us though, he’s popped a lemon with a holly wig in a rowing boat above the viewing pane. The two visible crumble-topped pies form an off-colour image of teddy bear wearing a thong. To those of us with an unpleasant imagination.|
As alluded to within the box detail, the Ecclefechan’s pastry is unmistakeably Walkers. The Highlanders’ walls are built thick and strong, oft accompanied with a whiff of vinegar, happily absent on this occasion.
With a buttery crunch still ringing in my ears, a nibble now from Heston’s outer instantly spanks the palate, leaving me smarting from more nutmeg and clove than I’m used to.
Taking a fuller measure of Ecclefechan is to live amongst the inners. Without a lid you are thrust face to face with her cherry almond soul and each morsel stiffens to prove its worth. Well played dear! Heston’s full bite can feel like you’ve been thrown in the deep end of a busy municipal pool, with powerful waves of flavour to overcome before you reach the sanctity of the shiny ladder. Sitting poolside, I can appreciate the wildly benevolent spicing and indulgent lemon curd was for our own benefit, and that I will be better prepared for next time, but I’m not always up for such a challenge. Perhaps such a hit could be delivered in small jabs rather than one giant knockout blow?
|And the winner is: Sainsbury’s Ecclefechan. Allow yourself to be charmed by this sweet tart, rather than spiked by Heston’s angry mob.|
|Round 1 - Iceland Luxury vs M&S Collection|
26th Nov 2018
|Welcome back to the heady world of competitive mince pie. We trust your year has been spent wisely, perhaps in pursuit of an undiscovered rough puff tart, or in search of the original, intended meaning of ‘artisan’.|
To ease us all back in gently, a tie from the normal side of the draw should test that we can still walk before we try and run. And what better way to get the ball rolling than the beaten semi-finalist versus the beaten finalist from 2017. Without the emergence of Waitrose’s better judgement and better baking, this may have been last year’s final, but as it is, the history books will forever mark the start of a more enlightened age as the Chocolate Ginger masterpiece changed the way we think about everything. Or mince pies at least.
|Iceland Luxury - Captain Conscience||M&S Collection with proud parents|
|Iceland Luxury||M&S Collection|
|An updated crumbshot, peculiarly edged with a red band, shows off the minimal interference to their successful double star design. The big news arrives in a modest green flash bottom right, announcing their green credentials. Incredibly, Selfridges now stock these Iceland pies due to their absence of palm oil. And horsemeat.||Regal and ready, this runner up is desperate to make amends. It’s etched all over their golden sleeve and foil inner. Sticking to the recipe from 2017 and another double star lid, their only change is to give a bit more blarney on the box front write up. The power of suggestion driving the copy here.|
After superstitiously remembering to make a wish on the year’s first bite of mince pie, we are underway. Good luck all!
A polished start from Iceland offers up a firmer bite than the pale powdery top would suggest, and a mood of butter remains beyond the finish. The response from M&S is a mirrored weight of chew but with a zing conveyed from the inner that may take some time to come to terms with. It might work out positively, but it has a backstory of tartness somewhere. We’ll see.
A full bite into Iceland has much to commend. Sparkling fruit is underpinned by the rare joy of cider in all its giddy glory. So far, no sign of the disastrous crack that stalked their previously slapdash vine mush. Oh my darling! Clementine cannot shout any louder from the heart of M&S’ smooth and glossy offer. It took them to within a whisker of the crown, but can be divisive. With both sides having supplied world class mincemeat here, this will be a matter of fine margins. Pie will be finished, and our truth will out.
|And the winner is: M&S Collection. Harsh on the Iceland outfit who have a genuine delight, unaffected by the absence of palm oil, but the freshness a zesty orange brings turned our head.|