With Wishes

The Twelve Days of Christmas Pies

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Part public service, part indulgent investigation, we're biting into and reporting on a different mince pie on each of our last days in the studio before Christmas. Here's hoping our research helps inform your pie choices in 2012, and wishing you all the best in 2013.

Bonus Material: It turned out that our resident American (Brendan) had only tried one mince pie before this project began. His personal reviews are therefore pulled out of the group review in order to provide a more uniquely subjective pie perspective.

  1. Day 12



    Early in our research, we were asked if "…for Brendan's sake!–is anyone's mother going to contribute some homemade ones?" via @sarah_chapman. With all our mothers living far outside of London however, this seemed like a sadly implausible, if very lovely, idea. That was until one of those perfect magic Christmas moments occurred, and our very own in-house new mother, Jenifer–just 10 days after giving birth to a beautiful daughter–made us mince pies, and with little one in tow, paid us a visit to deliver.

    Again then, dear research reader, you may assume an unfair review on these pies, but this time you really are wrong. These pies, Jenifer pies, a mothers pies, are unequivocally the best. Perfect in every way. Mince pies will never be the same again. We wish Jenifer was our mum… Oh, wait, she kind of is. Yay!

    To her then, back on maternity leave after pie duty, and to you all out there, here's hoping you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year with as many friends and family as you can muster. See you next year. Love, With.

    Brendan says: A nice touch of orange added to this wee thing. Very refreshing and the perfect end to the project.

  2. Day 11

    Marks & Spencer All Butter Mince Pies

    Box of 6 for £1.79

    After a couple days of handmade and local-to-London pies, we're back to British staples with M&S, and considering that it's following yesterday's triumph from Melrose and Morgan, and that it's mass-produced (with the standard tin case and plastic wrap) this modest 'classic recipe' has put smiles on all our faces.

    Decent, honest, generous and just simply good. Filling to pastry ratio is spot on. Buttery crumbliness is just right. Filling is juicy with a delicious mix of spice and character that, while not overbearing, manages a character that the other big brands couldn't muster. Would be very easy to eat a lot of these. Very easy indeed.

    Brendan says: This ain't bad. After all this, though, I haven't figured out exactly what's inside these. I keep hoping it'll be something else. I'm bored. I want chocolate covered gummy bears.

  3. Day 10

    Melrose and Morgan

    Box of 6 for £7.50 online or in-store

    Full disclosure: You'll see over on our wish list and gift guide, that we have a bit of a bias toward Melrose and Morgan, in that we built their new site this year, while finding them to be quite unbelievably lovely people. It is the readers choice therefore to take the following review with an extra pinch of icing sugar, though we are happy to say we stand by the review irrespective of our relationship with the makers.

    In short, best of the bunch so far, by far. The butter in the pastry is at just the right quantity to make it melt in the mouth. It's nice and fruity, and, if you're lucky, a wee bit nutty. Also, it comes in a gift pack that looks proper handsome. Buy these pies, serve them to the neighbours, and end your year being know as the people with the best and most fancy pies on the street.

    Brendan says: Very nice, actually. This is about as daring as y'all get with your mince pie recipes and the added almonds work. Most Christmasy trail mix ever.

  4. Day 9

    St John mince pies

    £2 each from St John on St John Street

    These bad boys are massive. Literally, the size of a child's fist. Though the childishness stops there, as these are grown up, manly, monster pies with a weight behind them that makes their £2 cost seem cheap (is it actually possible to buy that much edible matter for just £2?).

    Thick, sturdy and awesome were some of the words this pie conjured, though as the old (hopefully true) adage goes, size isn't everything, as these pies did lack subtlety and came in just a bit too over fruity for some which pulled them down in the scoring. Half the size, or shared with a friend (or three), with a ton of brandy butter and a sherry, they are respectable pies, but one-on-one, it's likely to knock you flat until after boxing day.

    Brendan says: Meh. This is like eating a big bowl of fruit but without topping it all with Cool Whip.

  5. Day 8

    Budgens SuperValu Mince Pies

    6 Pack £1.50, two packs for £2.00

    With six people in the studio on the day we reviewed these pies, we chose not to take up the two pack deal and the opportunity of a surplus. This was very good fortune. Less lucky was having to eat the six we did actually buy as these pies are just awful. Squidgey, floppy, sad and disgraceful were just some of the group responses alongside descriptions that they are 'more like jam tarts filled with prune slop' and tasting 'more like preservatives wrapped in soggy paper'.

    Then there's the fact they're called 'SuperValu' with no space or 'e'. Val-u. Val-oo. Gross. And leaving almost as bad an aftertaste as the pies. Enough. No more energy should be wasted on these pies. Avoid.

    Brendan says: Back to square one with these pies. Even though the inside wasn't as pungent as some of the others, it was just so stale and, well… awful really. Any trust I had in mince pies is gone.

  6. Day 7

    De Beauvoir Deli handmade mince pies

    The fanciest place in the vicinity of our studio

    £1 each or six for £5

    Being 'the fanciest place in the vicinity of our studio' there was high expectation on these pies. The most expensive so far. Handmade. No fancy decoration. Not even very big. Just confidently understated. Mince pie. Boom! But, despite this clear initial bias, these pies have split the studio and elicited quite varying, almost vying, views. Full disclosure: Brendan, Erin, Mathew and Tom loved them, and agreed on their Baby Bear 'just right' quality. Sweet, spicy, fruity and tangy, but all to the near perfect amounts, with a pastry that was textured and crumbly (careful now, you'll need a plate), and at a perfect ratio to the filling.

    For Jamie and Lawrence however, this was pure fail. If they were Goldilocks and found these in a strangers house, they'd run have a mile and before even taking a sniff of Mummy Bear's portion. A 'too shallow', 'a mostly pastry taste', and generally 'chalky experience' was their feeling, leaving the other half of the team wondering it they'd eaten the same pie.

    In the end then, what was a 9 to near perfect 10 for some, scored way way lower for others, resulting in a still confident, but clearly not a wining score.

    Brendan says: Now at the point where I'm fearing what's inside. I started by nibbling around the delicious shortbread crust. I finally went for the rest and to my surprise this thing is nice! They offset the sour taste by adding more sugar and spice.

  7. Day 6

    Mr. Kipling Exceedingly Good Mince Pies

    Britain's favourite mince pie*

    6 pack £1.80 from the corner shop

    The scoffing started the moment the Kipling box appeared in the studio, revealing an oddly unanimous perception of the brand as somehow tacky and of poor quality. Oh, how wrong we were though, as this was perhaps the most easily palatable pie so far. With great palatability comes slight mundanity however, as while it was easily edible, it lacked individuality, thus making is ever-so-slightly forgettable and plain. Some also noted a larger number of raisins than the others (with the raisin being perhaps the safest of the standard mince fruits) and many noted the extra crumbliness of the pasty, tough they were divided in deciding if this was a good or bad feature. On the whole then, while Mr Kipling did exceed expectations, he still lacked the personality of his predecessors.

    Brendan says: This one is textured like a nice crumble. It kinda burns the mouth when eaten though. (Note: Brendan revealed today that he has a slight mouth ulcer which may be effecting his response. It may also be irritated by the pies. He's a fighter though and dedicated to the project, so has agreed to soldier on for now).

    * 'Mr. Kipling Mince Pie No.1 Best Selling Mince Pie. Source: Unit Sales, IRI Grocery Outlets Market Data, Great Britain, 52 weeks up to and including w/e 17.06.12', apparently.

  8. Day 5

    Homemade by Nutters of Southwold

    Brandy Rich

    55p each

    Mathew retrieved these from a weekend in the idyllic Suffolk seaside town of Southwold and sold them in as potential winners (despite his usual dislike of a mince pie without a full lid). The lovingly handmade quality and generously icing-sugar-dusted star motif reminded many of us of the kind our mothers made when we were little and the general consensus was that they were good and crusty, strong and boozy, almost savoury, with a velvety aftertaste. For some though, Mathew included, that open lid did remain an issue and tip the filling-to-pastry ratio into a 'slightly too much filling' zone.

    Brendan says: Is there a hint of ginger in this? Finally something that tastes like Christmas.

  9. Day 4

    Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Mince Pies

    Brandy Rich

    6 pack £2.00 on offer (was £2.50)

    Double the price of their standard offering from yesterday, Sainsbury's expect you to taste the difference in this Brandy Rich offering, and on the whole, you can. It's in another pie league to its cheaper and smaller younger brother, with lid decoration and a generous pie hole, alluding to a better aerated filling which satisfied us all. A little pale in the pastry department however (though a good filling-to-pastry ratio) and lacking a generous lid dusting (the sugar is hardly even noticeable) which sadly makes the pie seem slightly unloved, which is the last thing you want your mince pie to semiotically communicate at Christmas.

    Brendan says: I'm always expecting these minced pies to have more meat.

  10. Day 3

    Sainsbury's Deep Mince Pies

    6 pack £1.00 on offer (was £1.65)

    With the offer applied, these Sainsbury's pies come in just under 17p per unit, and despite a valiant attempt to get lid decoration into that budget, the pie was another over sweet let down, though possessed a surprisingly confident pastry and near perfection in it's filling-to-pastry (FTP) ratio. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to save that sickly sweet filling. Not a pie for constant consumption.

    Brendan says: A bit sweeter that the others. Why am I being force fed these again?

  11. Day 2

    Co-op Luxury all Butter Mince Pies

    “Truly Irresistible”

    6 pack £1.50 (with 20p off the price of 2)

    Stepping up where Tesco let down, Co-Op's Butter Mince Pies sport three festive holly leaves and berries atop, which make that first eye-bite a truly tasty one. Delving deeper however the pie was deemed 'slightly sloppy' and 'sugary' by some, and was criticised for falling apart. A case clearly in support of never judging a pie by it's cover.

    Brendan says: Ok, sort of like a kids juice box that shouts "real fruit juice" when in fact it's 10% juice and 90% sugar. Of course, it also tastes like the expiration date says 1992.

  12. Day 1

    Tesco Finest Deep Filled Mince Pies

    With Courvoisier VS Congnac

    6 pack £2.00 on Price Drop (was £2.50)

    This was the first pie of the season for some, so we started with expectation to set the bar high, with a Tesco Finest pie. On the whole, it went down well. Everything you'd expect from a standard mince pie, though that claim to contain Congnac seemed a little far fetched and the absence of any lid decoration was a bit of a shocker considering the 'Finest' claim.

    Brendan says: Tastes like a pickled Hostess Fruit Pie. RIP.