Visit any food emporium this time of year and you’ll see mince pies, whether that’s stacks of boxes piled up on supermarket shelves, or a sugar-dusted affair in your cafe of choice, they’re everywhere.
Last year in the UK, we spent £47.7 million on mince pies, with estimates of over 370 million pies consumed. It’s big business, clearly. We’ve consumed these little pies since the 12th century, with the ingredients and idea brought back by the returning Crusades. Back then, it was a more practical affair of a flour and water case used to transport mince meat – mutton. It survived Cromwell’s Puritan years to its transformation in Victorian times as a purely sweet treat, mainly eaten in the festive season.
When choosing a mince pie, it’s personal: flaky pastry or shortcrust? Packed with filling or just enough? Infused with booze or plenty of fruit? Choice is more restricted for some: vegan? Gluten-free?
Reader, I’ve eaten all the pies. OK, not all of them, but I have conducted my own taste test to help narrow things down a little.
For my sample, I chose five different varieties of mince pie readily available in supermarkets. I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, scored them out of five in each of three categories: overall appearance, filling and pastry and so each is scored out of a total of 15 points. Surveys like these often announce ‘you’ll be amazed/surprised/your life will be changed by the results’ – I just found it a fun thing to do!
As a post-script, there is of course, the home made option. I like making them, usually a week or so before Christmas Day, seasonal music on, bun trays out. I prefer thin, shortcrust pastry, quite small mouth-sized pies and a rich, vegetarian suet filling packed with fruit. I’ve been known to add extra cherries just because I like them. And I like a pastry star for a lid. But that’s just me.
(And as a second post-script, my Little Elf Helper’s test of the same pies reported completely different results to me. Just shows!)
ALDI – All Butter Classic Mince Pies
£1.25 for 6
Appearance: Evenly cooked, golden crust, filling just peeking through (4)
Filling: moist and juicy, immediate citrus hit on the first bit (4)
Pastry: melt in the mouth, not too thick, not too thin (4)
CO-OP – Mince Pies
£1 for 6
Appearance: smallest of the bunch, completely covered pie (3)
Filling: more like a paste, overpowering taste of brown sugar with a hint of ginger (2.5)
Pastry: too much pastry, dry and claggy (2)
Total score: 7.5
All Butter Pastry Luxury Mince Pies
£2 for 6
Appearance: Glimpses of filling through the pattern, well-cooked, golden crust (4)
Filling: juicy, not a particularly rich or fruity taste and an odd bitter tang as an after taste (2)
Pastry: buttery and rich, crumbly (4)
Total score: 10
OGG – Luxury Handmade Mince Pies (vegan)
£2.50 for 4
Appearance: looks appealingly homemade, heavy dusting of icing sugar, filling visible around the edges. A bit flat looking (3.5)
Filling: juicy, quite fruity (3.5)
Pastry: crumbly and light, reminded me of my childhood rather strangely (4)
Total score: 11
SAINSBURY’S TASTE THE DIFFERENCE
All Butter Mince Pies Infused with Brandy
£2 for 6
Appearance: largest pie,well-cooked, golden crust (4)
Filling: not well-filled (1cm gap between pastry and filling), ‘dark’ fruity flavour (3)
Pastry: good buttery flavour, thin (3.5)
Total score: 10.5
So, here’s the winner: Aldi’s All Butter Classic Mince Pies