As Christmas well and truly pins us down and sits on our chest, I finally embraced it and invited some friends round to trough down and give their thoughts on a variety of different mince pies. Sounding like the cast of a twee sitcom, Luke, Rachel, Sam, Candice and Mikey joined me to determine a champion.
* Waitrose’s ‘9 mini shortcrust mince pie selection’. Featuring almond and amaretto, orange crumble and Ecclefechan.
* Sainsbury’s ‘6 deep mince pies’ – not the posh ones, not the basic ones, just the standard ones.
* Aldi ‘Specially Selected Crumbly All Butter 6 mince pies with brandy laced mince meat’. From their swanky range. And…
* Ones I made at home.
I love baking but I was in a rush so I used the simplest recipe I could find. BBC Good Food’s ‘Unbelievably Easy’ mince pies. I bought the mince. Easy. Then I came to make the pastry. Less easy.
The recipe doesn’t contain any liquid. My ‘dough’ was just yellow dust. It looked less like something you should eat and more like a Simpson’s ashes. I read the recipe’s comments. They all said ‘DO NOT add any liquid’. So I didn’t, I kneaded it more as suggested, while getting more and more pissed off that it was too dry. I stuffed them together in the same foul mood as a teenager whose just been told they can’t do whatever they want whenever they want. Awful.
I didn’t tell the testers where each pie had come from. Once all the pies were warm, everyone had a brew or a mulled wine and the cream and custard were out: we got Hoovering.
We started with the Sainsburys’ ones. Code name ‘Holly Leaf’. There were lots of noises of appreciation. Candice was a bit “Hmmm” about them. Candice and Rachel don’t really like mince pies. What can I say? I didn’t want these pies getting an easy ride. Luke pointed out how boozy they were, “like Christmas pudding in a pie”. Mikey loved them. But Mikey loved them all. That’s why I love him. Sam noted that the pastry was especially biscuity and short, which we all agreed was nice. I found it just about satisfying and dynamic enough, perhaps a little heavy on the pastry to filling ratio. Rachel helped us all by mumbling “moist.”
Next were Aldi. Code name ‘Snowflake.’
It all started so well. We all loved the design with the little uniform snowflake on. Though Luke pointed out that “all snowflakes should be different.” Sam said “good crimping” which I didn’t understand but it sounded wonderful! It was downhill from there. They tasted of an office party. There was way too much pastry. The mince was dry, full of giant lazy chunks of somehow bland zest. It all tasted of Kipling apple pie with the soul removed. No booze, no spice and soggy bottoms. A resounding disaster.
Talking of disasters, we ate the homemade ones next. There was no ‘blind testing’ here. I’d patched them together so grumpily they looked like they’d been baked by someone with hooves. Somehow… they were delicious. They looked like shit, but they tasted great. I partially take back my ruding of the recipe.
The mince was tasty, tangy and its contents finely distributed. Not my doing, but that of Sainsbury’s and yes, we could taste the difference. It was that annoyingly dry pastry which, when cooked, made them. Feathery light, super buttery and molten crumbly. Compliments came in mainly about the good mince to pastry ratio and the decadent richness of the pastry. What a shame they looked like a horse made them.
Sam gets in the Christmas spirit. Well done that woman.
Finally we threw down the Waitrose ones. Code name ‘The Littluns.’ These were the best, axiomatically “by a country mile.” Utterly delightful. I had an orange one, which was full of Cointreau yet somehow so silky. It made my mouth feel like it was having satin draped over it like in a Galaxy advert. The Amaretto one was just as sexy. The Ecclefechan one didn’t get described very articulately. It was too funny instead to ask Luke (a Geordie) to repeatedly say “Ecclefechan.”
It was the pastry which took the Waitrose ones so far out of the park. They had no lids, which was perfect, and the tiny little bottoms were all the good things: crisp, thin and crumbly. Sticky and chewy with a crunch and screaming with booze. Yes.
So, in last place were Aldi. Then there was some confusion over whether it was a draw between homemade and Sainsburys or if homemade pipped it. And, the best of the lot, the fancy pants Waitrose ones.
After all that, Rach and Candice decided they did like mince pies, actually.