MINCE pies are a vital addition to most cupboards and tables during the festive season, but which ones should be in the trolley this Christmas?
To find out which of the high street outlets is offering the perfect festive sweet treat, we took five different mince pies and subjected them to a rigorous taste test.
The contest pitted established supermarkets Tesco and Morrison’s against one of the new continental upstarts on the block in Lidl and two established bakeries in Greenhalgh’s and Poundbakery.
First out of the traps was the Poundbakery with its handmade pies which are being offered at £1 for four, a bargain for cash-strapped shoppers looking to make austerity budgets stretch further in the run-up to December 25.
The Poundbakery also enters this contest with some form in the Wigan Observer and Wigan Evening Post’s taste tests, having scooped the top prize both in last year’s hunt for the best mince pie and our Easter hot cross bun challenge.
There’s a lot of very buttery pastry on the bakery’s large but rather flat mince pies, which don’t have a huge amount of filling in them but ensure the mincemeat there is tasty, fruity and containing suet for that traditional touch.
There’s also a hint of citrus and a definite lemon tang in there as well, while the tasting panel were also impressed by the sweetness of the generous coating of sugar on top.
Also scoring well in the nostalgia stakes are Greenhalgh’s luxury mince pies, which impress the panel members with an appreciation of tradition with the addition of suet in the filling and being what was described as “an old-fashioned mince pie”.
At £2.25 for a box of six it should be noted these are the most expensive pies in the test by some distance but the old adage about getting what you pay for also has some relevance here as this is a classy product.
The pastry is not as crumbly as some of the others but is nicely cooked and they are a pleasant light-golden colour. The mincemeat filling is tasty and will satisfy those craving a good traditional mince pie.
Despite faring well in the value-for-money stakes the two supermarket offerings do less well. Morrison’s Fruity Festive Mince Pies score well on appearance, being a compact but deep pie decorated with an attractive holly-leaf pastry design on top.
The pastry doesn’t taste too bad either, being very buttery, but the filling is a disappointment, with simple flavours of raisins which are rather bland and don’t have a lot to them.
Tesco, which adorns its own-brand mince pies with a star, also has an offering which suffers from a lack of character or memorability. It’s OK, just nothing exceptional, with a slightly unpleasant sharp aftertaste and a bland filling, which promises fruity mincemeat on the box but doesn’t live up to billing.
That leaves Lidl to make its claim against the more established supermarket names, and manufacturers Snowy Lodge, which are making the festive offering exclusively for it, certainly rises to the occasion.
The black-and-white box is a high-quality product which immediately brings to mind more expensive, high-end retailers, and the pies look impressive too. They are a good size, with plenty of depth to them, and the lid is adorned with an elegant Star of Bethlehem design rather than the simple five-pointed one seen elsewhere and a light dusting of tiny sugar granules.
The most notable aspect of these pies is the use of Courvoisier VS cognac and the brandy gives it both an upfront richness and a warming, slightly boozy flavour which immediately stands out from the other treats being tested.
There’s a good amount of filling and it is neither thin nor dry, being full of plump fruit and a nice moreish consistency.
The buttery shortcrust pastry is crumbly and the whole pie just immediately makes the testing panel think of Christmas.
Aldi, Lidl and their European peers have certainly put the pressure on Britain’s best-known supermarkets over the past few years, and when it comes to this long-established festive tradition they have done it again.
The Lidl pie was the unanimous choice of the testers, though if the use of alcohol in the pie doesn’t appeal, Greenhalgh’s luxury effort comes in as a worthy runner-up.
If you’re tucking into mince pies this Christmas, spending a few extra pennies can certainly reap dividends.