Another Christmas – Another Mince Pie Fiasco!

Mince pies (7 of 7)With the same regularity as you start your annual diet, the great Mince Pie Fiasco goes into full swing. This is one of the travesties of the festive season and I have had enough. It’s time to compare what you call mince pies and have a long hard look at this festive farce. 

You may have fond childhood recollections of eating flavourful, plump and richly filled mince pies. In truth, this is self-deception brought on by your over anxiety to have perfect Christmas memories. We can possibly blame a few too many glasses of over-spiced mulled wine imbibed at this time of year. But, enough of this frivolity, let’s get to the test. I compare four pies from different supermarkets in Ireland and pit them against my own. Do I have a chance of victory? 

Side note on testing mince pies: Some of these contenders are so awfully sweet, (and for impartiality) I couldn’t bring myself to taste them. I had a volunteer panel do it. I admire their fortitude.

To guarantee fair competition, marks were awarded only on a number of key criteria: 

1. Paltry pastry
Points added for a nice soft crumbliness and a buttery taste. Points removed for a hard, over-sweet taste and brittle consistency.

2. Meagre Meat 
Points taken away for a lack of definition amongst the ingredients. Even more points taken away for a lack of real mincemeat flavour. 

3. Scrooge Sludge
Points removed for not filling the pie with the sludge-like filling. Though, you could be counting your blessings for this. 

To spare the blushes of Ireland’s leading retailers in this, the season of good will to all men (and women, if you insist), I won’t be naming and shaming individual stores. For balance and to prove that I am not afraid of a fair fight, I put my own mince pie into the ring too. 

Let the festive games commence!

Pie 1 (From an Irish owned chain)

Mince pies (1 of 8)

Weighing in at 64 grammes, this is on the big side.

This one weighed-in in second place of the shop bought ones. It was lacking in the filling department and tasted very sugary. In fact, it tasted of little else.

Mince pies (6 of 8)

Lots of pastry, plenty of air and an over-sweet filling.

Pie 2 (From a European owned chain)

Mince pies (4 of 8)

Look on the bright side, a mere 54 grammes can’t cause you to over-eat.

The crispest crunch of the lot (not a good thing) and the least amount of filling made this a stand out.

Mince pies (8 of 8)

There’s enough room for an echo in there, there, there…

Pie 3 (From a UK owned chain)

Mince pies (2 of 8)

Compact in the extreme. The lightest of them all.

This one is a triumph of engineering. The lid sits on top of the filling, guaranteeing the pie will be reasonably well filled. But, there’s no denying the weighing scales (as we all know after Christmas).

Mince pies (5 of 8)

Not a lot going on here. Very small. Very, very sweet. Relatively heavy on the pastry.

Pie 4 (From another Irish owned chain)

Mince pies (3 of 8)

The biggest of the contenders at a punchy 67 grammes.

This is the biggest of the contenders. Pretty well filled but with a huge amount of pastry. The filling looked pretty good but was far too sweet for my tasters’ tastes.

Mince pies (7 of 8)

Pretty well filled and a big pastry lid. I think this is the best of the bunch.

Pie 5 (Made with love and attention by you know who)

You don’t need to read further to see who won this little challenge. My home-made Magnificent Mince Pies win hands down.

Mince pies (1 of 3)If you want to prepare my Magnificent Mince Pies, follow my recipe. You will need the following ingredients:

  • 180g large raisins
  • 90g golden raisins
  • 120g sultanas
  • 280g currants
  • 100g mixed peel
  • 200g shredded suet
  • 280g soft, dark brown sugar
  • ½ a freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp of 5 spice powder
  • 2 tsp of mixed spice
  • Zest and juice of an orange
  • Zest and juice of a lemon
  • A few pieces of candied ginger
  • 100g of fresh cranberries, reduced in a tiny amount of water and sugar until soft.
  • 1 large cooking apple, peeled and chopped small.
  • 6 tbsp of brandy

This year’s recipe differs from most others by the inclusion of the cranberries, 5 spice and candied ginger.

Chop the apple into small pieces. Chop the beef dripping likewise. Grate the nutmeg. Put the cranberries into a saucepan with a little water and a small amount of sugar. Bring to the boil.

Mince pies (2 of 3)

Cranberries. What could be more Christmassy?

Throw everything except the brandy into a big bowl and zest the orange and lemon. Squeeze in the lemon and orange juice.Mix this lot together. Cover the mixture and let it sit for 24 hours.

Mince pies (3 of 3)

Imagine the guy in the supermarket kitchen doing this? No, neither can I.

Place it in a 110ºC oven for two and a half hours. Remove and let cool, stirring occasionally as the dripping sets. When it has cooled, add the brandy and stir again. Cover with cling film and put in a cool place for a couple of weeks.

Mince pies (2 of 4)

Yes, these festive treats need home-made pastry.

Make some short crust pastry using 220 grammes of flour, 100 grammes of butter and a tablespoon or so of water.

Mince pies (4 of 4)

Butter a large (larger than the shop stuff) pie tray.

Roll out the pastry.

Mince pies (1 of 7)

I use plenty of flour to stop this pastry from sticking. Do likewise.

Make circular shapes using an appropriate bowl or plate and fill (or part fill) the moulds.

Mince pies (4 of 7)

Even at half way up the sides, these beauties are twice the size of any purchased pies.

Bake in a 190ºC oven for half an hour or so. Take them out when the pastry looks cooked. Let them cool. Serve with a good dollop of whipped cream.

Mince pies (6 of 7)

You have to enjoy these with cream and a glass of whiskey. It’s traditional!

So, when Santa squeezes his tired, overweight body down your chimney this year, what will he find? Will he sigh in resignation as he confronts that awful mulled Merlot and a pathetic excuse for a real mince-pie?  Or, will you want to create a little bit or real Christmas cheer and some real fond memories for years to come? Go on, do the right thing. Make my mince pies and leave some out with a glass of Irish whiskey. The big fella will thank your for it and might even put something special in your stocking this year….

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  • I grew up on mince pie; however, neither my mother’s or my paternal grandmother’s recipes were ever put down on paper and while I helped both of them make the tarts, I was young and don’t remember the how-to’s, just the fact that both were delicious! I think I may try your recipe as the ingredients seem similar. It will be nice to enjoy a memory of two incredible women and cooks. And thanks for the work you put into this. I can really appreciate the differences between each as I have had some pretty lousy tarts through the years. Lydia!

    • Do give it a go Lidia. The ingredients amounts are no exact science and I really encourage experimentation. I had great fun preparing these. There is lots of mixture left for more closer to Christmas.

      • I will, Conor and I will let you know how it goes!

  • It’s very hard to beat a homemade mince pie, none of those store bought ones look very appealing….yours look lovely, though my own are hard to beat too 😉

    • Hi Nicola,
      Once one has made the filling, there is no going back to anything the supermarket can offer. Send me some of yours please!
      Best,
      Conor

  • I love the little red Christmas balls on the muffin tin! I always made the Christmas Cake and the Plum Pudding – never tried mince pies. We’ve all but abandoned the Christmas Cake – it is a bit heavy (literally!) Perhaps it is time to give a mince pie a go! Happy Christmas!

    • Hi Deirdre,
      I have to weep before the Wife to get her to relent and make “just one more Christmas cake.” She makes a great one and it would be a shame to let it slip from our routine.
      Happy Christmas to you too (It’s still a couple of weeks away!)
      Conor

  • No contest! Your mincemeat sounds perfect and your pies are suitably plump. (And with an alter ego called Mrs Portly, I know all about plump.) Happy Christmas!

    • Thanks Linda,
      They were fun to do, even though the test bit was a bit off-putting.

      • Yes, I have to say the bought ones all looked pretty revolting. A noble gesture.

  • I give you extra points for using real suet and making the pastry and that’s just for starters. Father Christmas will leave extra presents in your house 😉

    • Thanks MD. I got the fat from cooking some beef bones for stock. It doesn’t get any more hardcore than that.

      • That’s my kind of hardcore!

  • The photos of the commercial ones are very revealing; that first one in particular is just rude… Yours, on the other hand, look beautifully lavish and the mincemeat looks luscious. Good man for not leaving out the brandy. I am afflicted with a family that doesn’t care for Christmas cake, pudding or mince pies. I make a cake mainly for myself and I will produce one batch of mince pies as a gesture of protest, as generously filled as these lovelies of yours.

    • I really think it’s time you moved out Kate. The more I hear of your life over there, the more I feel sorry for you. If it were not for the lovely weather and the herbs and mangos in your garden and all your patchwork friends and your baking and, and, and,….
      Having said all that, I think you deserve some Christmas cake.
      Thanks for the kind words as always,
      Conor

      • The push to educate them to better tastes continues. And I get to eat the whole Christmas cake by myself….

        • Then bake loads of pies and do likewise. Probably too good for them anyway!

  • No wonder Santa doesn’t like my house as much as yours. All he gets from me is a glass of milk and some cookies. Heck, I come down your chimney any day if there is a good mince pie and some Irish whiskey.

    • Things must be pretty dreadful in Sunny Cove. Leave the whiskey bottle out and the red suited one may even be there when you get up on Christmas morning.

  • They truly do look like Magnificent Mince Pies! An knowing how much you love Christmas I assume the red baubles are a permanent fixture on your pie tray 😉

  • Conor, your photographs this week terrify me. There is an awesome beauty to your ingredient shot in particular, which put a lump in my throat and almost threatened to put me off my liquid lunch. How are the rest of us supposed to keep blogging when you put it up to us with this sort of image quality? It’s not very fair at the best of times, but to do it to us at Christmas is a bit much.

    On another note, nice pies. I’ll take 6.

    • I believe Lidl are doing them at 35c each. Is that what you mean?

      • No, it is not, and you knew that. If I wanted disingenuous mince pies, I’d go to the shop, but as it is, you’re just going to have to bake them for me.

        • Hmmm… There is fierce competition for the remaining pie filling and not enough time to let more mature before Christmas. I suggest you fight it out with the Wife….

          • Sigh. I know when to pick my battles. Still, if you won’t give into my bullying tactics, someone else will.

          • Yes, but they won’t have nay delicious mince pies!

          • You are a cruel chef. You should have your own TV show.

  • Very great looking fruit pie, but sadly a lot of work for only one person who would eat it. Baby girl won`t do and husband won`t eat either 😉 I think, this year I need to stick to the simple cookies and cakes!

    • That’s defeatist talk. Make it all for yourself. They will come around to your way of thinking eventually!

      • Hilarious! They are more stubborn then you think 😉

  • We easily escape the store bought stuff. They don’t sell them stateside as far as we know. They sell the filling though I would like to try to make it completely from scratch. But we do make the pastry and our own pies. Can’t beat it.

  • Great post, Conor. Love the gratuitous decorations. Hope that supermarket stuff is real cheap so at least it has that going for them.

    • They are incredibly inexpensive. That is part of the problem. They all fight on price and quality is the loser.

  • This is the first I’ve actually read through a recipe for mince anything, Conor. It’s a testament to your writing abilities that I just had to see this thing all the way through. I still won’t be preparing one anytime soon but you’ll be the first to know when I do.

    • John, thank you for the kindness. You don’t know what you are missing!

  • Wow. Yours is gorgeous. I love this experiment. You really can’t beat homemade 🙂

    • Thanks Amanda. I feared that I buried the good stuff too far down the post.

  • Santa will find an icy cold beer and a packet of crisps in our house, we’re taking a stand against wintery Christmas traditions of yore. Having said that my Mum’s Christmas mince pies were the butt of many family jokes, until my husband of 42yrs came on the scene. He made her very happy when much to my embarrassment he ate his way through a large serving plate full. Every Christmas after that, until her death, Mum gave Mal a big tin of her homemade mince pies for Christmas.

    • On such actions are Christmas traditions formed. The store bought ones are pretty grim but, I have to say the homemade are light years ahead. They are delicious.

  • I’ve never been a fan of these. Not an American tradition so only had in recent years and must agree, all were so over sweet, really unbearable–none homemade. The ingredients are appealing though. I’m thinking about it…

    • They are well worth thinking about. You will be made Queen of Arran if you do and share with your neighbours.

      • I have surprisingly managed to not bake a thing so far this season. Gotta hop to it!

  • Love the addition of 5 spice powder! So many of the ingredients remind me of my family’s plum pudding recipe… it also calls for suet, and each year it seems to be more and more of a challenge to find here in the states. Did I read that you “made” your own?

    • I did. It is a byproduct of making beef stock. A thick layer of it forms on top of the stock when it cools.

  • Nope, mincemeat pies are not a tradition in the U.S. of A. although I have tried a bite of one in the past. Sweet just doesn’t do it for me, either way. But I’m sure if I were a mincemeat-eating fool, I would fall over for yours! Lovely shots, as always!

    • Sure they are, although I’ve found it’s more of a Southern tradition. When I was younger and first took an interest in cooking my grandfather passed down the family recipe for mincemeat, although it’s made with green tomatoes and tart apples, so it’s slightly different. Still, it’s on our table nearly every year—it’s not really Christmas without it.

      • Hi Jenn, that US of A is a big place. Lots of room for different traditions. Kathryn, above is from the Pacific North West. Your version sounds intriguing.
        Best,
        Conor

      • Interesting! I grew up in Texas and we never had them over the holidays. Perhaps my parents and grandparents did not care for them? Of course we always had pecan pie!

    • They really are not that sweet. There is a lot of savoury going on in there. The store bought ones are nothing but sweet. Awful!

  • If I liked mince pies I would most certainly like yours. There could only be the tiniest quantities ( if any) of your wonderful array of ingredients in any of the bought examples. The suet remains the most interesting thing for me….so many good uses for stuff like that:)

    • Roger, you are, as always, far too kind to me. You are right on the suet. The sanitised urban lifestyle lived by most hides this sort of good stuff from view. A terrible waste.

  • I’d like you to do this with all food groups Conor! Shut supermarkets down – I can’t stand them and the crappola they line their shelves with.

    • Don’t hold back Rory. Tell me how you really feel! I’ll give you a mince pie if you do.

  • Your little pies brought back memories of a good friend that was from England. Each Christmas, she always made delicious little mince pies. I grew up eating the American version which is one large pie. My husband and I both love mince pie and your version sounds delicious and certainly very Santa pleasing.

    • My youngest is coming home from Toronto for Christmas. She has ordered me to make some little pies. She has a particular preference when it comes to the balance between filling and pastry. Personally, I favour a big pie.

  • You win! A washer, a dryer, a color TV and all that! And the photos are hilarious. I don’t know how you could get any more Christmasy. I’m gonna have to try making mincemeat sometime. When I was younger, the very thought of it made me gag, but it actually doesn’t sound bad now. 🙂

    • It really is delicious Michelle. I would encourage you.

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