Sweet as pie: The great annual mince pie survey

OUR annual mince pie survey gets the biggest response from readers.

This year we looked for pies with flavoursome pastry made with butter, not environmentally dubious oils, without odd flavours from additives for extra-long shelf life, and without sugar alternatives or over-sweet versions of sugar. We also looked for plump fruit with plenty of flavour.

We found one vegan option which made the final cut, but there are more options available as the tasters did their work earlier in the month. Many bakeries prefer butter to suet in fruit, so can be deemed vegetarian.

Local bakeries make wonderfully fresh pies and cannot be beaten, so eat local, even if they are not listed here. We shopped mainly in Cork city and found plenty to please.

We tasted pies from larger supermarkets, but even with fairly good fruit, heavy pastry, made for long shelf life, let them down. Our hardest task was comparing pies with different styles, so those who did not get the very top mark may suit your taste better.

To warm mince pies, do not microwave. Instead, place in an oven for 10-20 minutes at anything close to 180C/Gas 4 or in front of a fire.

For a complete change, we found delicious mince-pie flavoured truffles made by chef Brendan Cashman in Cocoa, Winthrop Arcade, Cork.

Free Birds Bakery €1.60

A newcomer to our survey, we found these at Douglas Saturday market. Deliciously crisp pastry had just the right amount of fruit, with the best, light pastry of the selection. Everyone voted this their choice to serve as their own homemade mince pies.

Six for €8, also in Mahon Point, Rocket Man and others – see freebirdsbakery@outlook.ie

Score: 9

ABC €1.30

From a range that includes gluten-free in the English Market and Bishopstown Court, this pie was the winner by a mile with the seven-year-old. Fresh apple diluted the flavour of low-spiced plump, marinated fruit. Buttery pastry balanced it well. Suet-free, these are suitable for vegetarians. The beautiful triangular boxes with 12 pies for €15 are unmissable.

Score: 8.75

Hassetts Bakery €1.50

Also available in an attractive, handled box of five for €7, these have a nice ratio of fruit to fresh, buttery pastry. With a sprinkle of caster sugar on top, tasters found the fruit a little too sweet.

Score: 7.75

The Cinnamon Cottage €2.95

A different type of mince pie to the traditional, the light pastry encases plump, low-spiced fruit topped with tasty, luxurious almond and biscuit crumb. Tasters were divided between those who like a stronger hit of mixed fruit and those who really don’t like mince pies, but loved this as their festive treat. At Rochestown, Cork.

Score: 8

Marks & Spencer puff pastry €3.80

In a box of six, tasters were happy once the pastry was warmed up. Not a huge amount of fruit, which was plump and juicy, but the flavours were well balanced.

Score: 7

Baking Emporium €2.60

Wide and flat, this is more a tart than a pie. The pastry is dense like shortbread and very tasty — approved by all. The juicy fruit is minced/chopped except for whole, delicious cherries. A slightly toffee taste may come from vanilla which tasters liked too. Our ‘traditional’ taster was the only dissenter, but he was out numbered for one of the top marks. We bought in O’Keeffe’s Deli, St Lukes, Cork, but check bakingemporiumltd.com for outlet near you.

Score: 8.75

The Foods of Athenry €4.99

This box of four has pies which are gluten, wheat, egg and dairy free and are suitable for vegans. Pastry is made from a mix of wheat-free flours, sustainable palm oil and rapeseed oil in the pastry, and the fruit filling has grated carrot, dates, almonds and walnuts as well as traditional dried fruit. The result appealed to tasters who didn’t know the pies were ‘free from’.

Score: 7

Heaven’s Cakes €1.80

Delicious dried fruit mixed with fresh apple and pear, is topped with good light, tasty crumbled pastry and was applauded by tasters for its more overall savoury than sweet taste.

Score: 8.75

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