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)
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.
Pie 2 (From a European owned chain)
The crispest crunch of the lot (not a good thing) and the least amount of filling made this a stand out.
Pie 3 (From a UK owned chain)
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).
Pie 4 (From another Irish owned chain)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Make some short crust pastry using 220 grammes of flour, 100 grammes of butter and a tablespoon or so of water.
Roll out the pastry.
Make circular shapes using an appropriate bowl or plate and fill (or part fill) the moulds.
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.
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….