Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Mince Pie (& Tart) Review

It’s that time of year, the time when the TV and shops are inundated with Christmas decorations, presents and food. The mince pie season is officially open. Over the next few weeks I will give up my time and waistline to test the ever-growing range of mince pies (and tarts). I’ve rated each pie by flavour (up to 5 stars) where the higher the better. I have also rated them by cost (up to 5 pound sings)where the higher the more expensive. So look for lots of ó but fewer £s.,  I’m attempting to create my own MPI, mince pie index, but I haven’t fathomed the maths yet.

1.       Mr Kipling Mince Pie, óóó, ££
Your Mr Kipling mince pie is the true benchmark of mincers. We all know it so let’s start here. Anyhow, there is no cellophane packaging on the Kipling and I was surprised to see a best before date of 30 November - so these little mince pies won't even make it to Christmas!

The pie is deep but there is quite a lot of air between the filing and top - some might consider that a rip off. I don't mind it for two reasons: i) it gives a good ratio of filling to crust and ii) these pies are £2 for two packets (of six) in Tesco so a mere 17p each.

The filling is on the bland side - it has no real punch to it but it is not too sweet either. The pastry is too crumbly but buttery and I think buttery flavour trumps structure. This is a basic no-frills pie at an honest price.

2.       Simmons Mini Mince Pie, óóñ, £££
My first mince pie of the season was the Simmons mini. The pastry is good but the ratio of crust to filling is too high - perhaps a fault of it being a mini. At 44p each this is also an expensive mincer. Not as tasty as our benchmark and certainly more costly, but please do shop local. I will return for a full size pie.

3.       Costa Mince Tart, óóóó, £££££
Dilemma, do I include mince tarts in my review of mince pies? I presume they are referred to as a tart as they have taken their top of in public. Actually, I am not even sure it is a tart, more of a pie with a hole in it.

First off, the Costa (all butter) mince tart is expensive – £2.10 eat in or £1.80 take away. It's a good filling - lots of citrus fruit which I like. What crust there actually is, is thin and harsh and not that buttery. But it does complement a flat white nicely. As I prefer more filling to crust, I forgive the lack of crust but not the price.

4.       Tesco Mince Pie, óóñ, ££
The Tesco mince pie is exceedingly similar to the Kipling, but there are some differences. First, the presentation is not so good, the pastry work is shoddy with filling spilling out of the lid and crookedly placed lids. It's like they were made in a hurry (or on the cheap). But the filling is bountiful with no dead air between the filling and top.

Secondly, there is no cellophane packaging but the best before date is not until 28 December. This is thanks to the potassium sorbate, sodium metabisulphate and sulphur dioxide. So not a pie for those not on an additive rich diet.

Thirdly, these mincers come in under 15p each.  So some flaws but not at all bad considering the low price.

5.       Waitrose Mini Mince Pie Selection, ó to óóóó, ££
What a curious little package boasting 3 different flavours of mince pie. But first a point of clarification, these so called “pies” have no topping; they are technically a tart and I may have a good case of approaching Waitrose over trade description. On the plus side, the pies came packaged in cellophane resulting in a best before date of January without the need for preservatives. At 50p per mini mince pie, I suspect we are paying for the packaging.

The three flavours on offer, in true gastro pub style, are: i) almond topped pies with almond and amaretto mincemeat, ii) orange crumble topped pies with orange and cranberry mincemeat and iii) ecclefechanTM tarts. I’ve tried all three this evening (burp). My favourite is the orange version, tasty mince with nice pastry (óóóó). I’m not convinced by the amaretto version as I’m not a fan of marzipan and it tasted more like a Bakewell tart than a mincer and it has almonds on it to boot (óóñ). In case you are wondering, Ecclefechan is a small village in Dumfries and Galloway known for its whiskey and tarts; not sure how Waitrose have trademarked a town. Anyhow it’s not a mince pie, tastes lardy like an Eccles cake, enough said (ó).

6.       Waitrose Mini Mince Pies with a Lemon Twist, óóóó, ££££
Damn it, I find Heston Bloominidiot pretentious so was hoping to dis his mince pie effort for Waitrose. But I thoroughly enjoyed this mincer. Open the box, break the cellophane and the wonderful Christmassy aroma of the pie hits you – it is rich in cinnamon and cloves with a hint of citrus. The aroma follows through to the pie itself. 

The dark pastry base is infused with spaces and the mince itself is abundant in fruit – cherries and candid peel. It’s all about the filing and my criticism is that there isn’t enough of it; it is verging on a mincemeat veneer. It has a crumble top, so not technically a pie but I am a fan of crumble so all is forgiven.  

The richness of the tart is reflected in calories, a whopping 255 per pie so not for those watching their waistline (unlike myself). The richness of the tart is also reflected in the price, the packet of four works out at 75p each, but worth it. 

7.       Mum’s Homemade Mince Pie, óóóóó, £££££
I would be a fool to critique my mum’s mince pies. All home-made mince pies must be treated with the upmost respect and their makers revered for their efforts. Regardless of the taste, the forgiveness factor is high, so I award all homemade mice pies five stars for effort

Whilst homemade mice pies tend to be offered free to guests they do cost to make. According to my mum, she can make two dozen with the following ingredients:
  • Mincemeat £1.50 (good quality, it will cost more if made from scratch)
  • Pastry ingredients £2 (flour, sugar and butter)
  • Tot of whisky 50p (we will ignore the other few glasses that "evaporated" during the preparation)
This works out at 17p each, similar in price to the Kipling benchmark but so so much better.

8.       B&M Sargents Deep Mince Pie, óñ, ££
What a contrast to the homemade mincer. This pie has a “soggy bottom”, as Mary Berry would say, and a soggy top too. The pastry forms a dough and clings to the roof of the mouth. The mincemeat is okay but overwhelmed by the soggy pastry.

At 99p for 6, these pies are relatively cheap but there are better mince pies on the shelves at this price. Avoid unless you have lost your teeth and need a mince pie to suck on over Christmas.

9.       Tesco Finest Mince Pie with Courvoisier, óóóñ, £££
In terms of both appearance and taste, this is certainly an improvement on the standard Tesco mince pie (Nº 4 above). There are small holes in the top, a nice aesthetic touch will also allows some aromas to break through on opening the pack.

The pie has a Goldilocks pastry, not too soft and not too hard, which is also buttery and tasty. But I do think there the ratio of filling to pastry is too low so the flavour of the mince, the main event, is lost. A real shame as the mince is zesty with some, but not enough, brandy coming through. These pies have great potential but just don't quite reach it. They cost more than double the standard Tesco mincers, but the extra 18p each is worth it.

10.       Darvells Mince Pie, óóó, ££££
This is a nicely packaged mince pie from a local bakery – packaged nicely enough to take to Christmas parties as a little extra gift. I was surprised that there was no sell by date or ingredients or allergens or nutritional information on the package, but I could have asked for details in the bakery. At 57.5p per pie this is not a cheap option but the craftsmanship is worth it in my opinion.

The pies, as well as the packaging, are also nicely presented but clearly handmade, adding to the pie eating experience (we eat with our eyes apparently). It is a unusually heavy mincer with lots of pastry and the pie is quite flat such that the ratio of filling to pie is low. This adds to the weight but also means that the subtle flavours of the sumptuous filling are somewhat lost. The short crust pastry is not a sweet one, more akin to that on a savoury flan, but great for those who don’t have a sweet tooth.

11.    Simmons Mince Pie, óóóñ, ££££
You may recall, the Simmons mini was my first pie of the season; I have finally returned to this local Hertfordshire bakers to try their full scale version. The pastry is buttery tasting akin to an all butter shortbread but has the perfect pastry texture – firm but not at all harsh.

The mince is good and it is not buried under too much pastry; there was an air gap and I would have preferred it to have been filled with more mince. These pies are 24 for £12 on-line and a little more if bought individually. So a nice all-round  mince pie but a little pricey compared to the standard fare.

12.   M&S All Butter Mince Pie, óóóó, £££
It’s a nice looking mince pie, a full lid with a little hole for the mince
to “breath” and not burst the pastry. The pastry is short, buttery and browned for full flavour. The mince fills the pie and is good quality – lots of candid fruit (my favourite) and I thought I tasted a little booze, but can’t see I tin the ingredients.

There is no cellophane, the pie isn’t inundated with preservatives but has a reasonable shelf life. At 30p each, this is a mid-range pie of good quality; one of my favourites so far.

13.    Sainsbury’s Deep Filled Mince Pie, óñ, ££
I was looking forward to trying Sainsbury’s (the poor man’s Waitrose) offering, but alas sadly disappointed.

The pastry is buttery but too crumbly and cloying on the roof of the mouth – it also tasted a bit stale. The mincemeat is bland and a little jellified. These mincers are cheap at £1 for 6 but there are better ones on the market for a similar price.

14.     Asda Baker’s Selection Mince Pie, óó, ££

This a nice looking mincer, it almost looks homemade and certainly not mass produced. The pastry is nice and firm but on the bland size, it needs more sugar (a dusting of icing sugar would help). It is quite a flat mince pie and whilst the mince is tasty it is lost amongst the pastry. At 75p for four, this is low cost mince pie.

15.     Asda Extra Special Mince Pie, óóñ, £££

It is similar looking to the Baker’s Selection but twice the depth. I liked the extra mince and the ratio of mince to crust is better; the pastry tasted more balanced. The pie had a boozy taste – the packet says port and brandy but it tasted more like a chemical amaretto additive than genuine.

16.    Aldi All Butter Cognac Laced Mince Pie, óóóñ, ££
The pie looks well made – firm with a snowflake decoration. It’s a deep pie but quite an air gap between mince and top. It’s a nice enough pastry and a good ratio of crust to mincemeat. I found the mincemeat a little too glutinous but liked the subtle brandy flavour. At 21p each, this is a good price for a boozy pie.

17.    Iceland Luxury Mince Pie, óóóó, ££
This is the one they have all been talking about; it has been voted best mincer by a few panels. Sadly, due to illness, it is my last mince pie taster before Xmas. The pie looks good – a star top allowing breathing room with a dusting of icing sugar. It’s a good well balanced pastry and the ratio of pastry to mincemeat is pretty well spot on. The mincemeat has some nice fruit flavours coming through but I would have liked more of a brandy (and cider) hit. The pies are well priced at 25p each and just make it to ££.

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