Check out the winners as we put festive mince pies to the taste test

BAKERS are on top form this year with the best mince pies ever to suit many tastes. Given the high standard this year, we had to leave out quite a few from supermarkets whose pastry was a bit claggy due to the use of ingredients added for longer shelf life, writes Roz Crowley.

I was delighted to see our tasters recognising the high quality of smaller batches baked with an emphasis on low additive ingredients, often with their own interesting additions.

Many tied for second place. Despite different pastries, styles and innovations, blind tasters gave overall identical marks.

Mince pies this year come in all shapes and sizes, and we particularly liked the idea of Marks & Spencer’s mince pie uncooked pastry cases (€4.40 for 12) which can be filled with anything we fancy, even simple apple or pear for those who don’t like mincemeat. Try adding a few cranberries or nuts for festive taste and texture, or tap some pomegranate seeds on top for a jewelled finish.

For the best results, warm your chosen pies in the oven for five to 10 mins at up to 180C/gas 4 /350F. I often warm them in the falling heat after a roast. Microwaving doesn’t do it for me, making the pastry soggy and doing little justice to the rich ingredients.

Individual bakers have plenty of stock, but for large gifts/office parties, it’s best to pre-order. Try your own local baker too.

To help you make your selection here’s our guide to what’s in the shops on the mince pies front. 

Baking Emporium €2.30 and €2.50

Two types of delicious pies here, one with walnuts, the other with regular mincemeat wowed tasters. The new walnut variety gave tasters a lift with all ingredients for the mincemeat variety, except the fruit — cane sugar, cinnamon, butter, cream and rum. The dense fruit version includes moist plums, apricots, dates, raisins and walnuts. The shortcrust pastry is superb. Wide and generous, it’s one to share. See for farmers’ markets.

Score: 9

The Natural Foods Bakery €2 each/ 6 for €7

Also sold frozen so you can bake for 25 minutes and serve as your own, these have a deliciously natural fruit filling with fresh tasting citrus and rich dark fruits. Pastry is light, flaky and golden. Tasters loved them.

Score: 8.5

My Goodness raw mince pies €2.50 each

Gluten free and vegan, with extras of goji berries, cranberries, apricot, dates, fresh ginger, spices, lime and orange soaked in kombucha. Stars on top made from dates, sunflower seeds, coconut and almond add taste and texture. The raw cases, made from coconut flour and milk, sprouted cashew, agave and raw cacao butter, break up easily but taste delicious. At new English market stall, ABC and farmers’ markets around Cork.

Score: 8.5

Heaven’s Cakes crumble topped €1.80/ 6 for €10.

This deep pie has a delicious, moist filling with chunks of apple and pear with gentle spicing and no alcohol. Pastry is light, soft and substantial – more like cake. The attractive crumble topping, like small balls of snow, is made from butter, brown sugar and flour. For all the family, especially younger members who might find regular mincemeat too intense.

Score: 8.5

Diva Ballinspittle €2 each/6 for €11

These light, flaky pastry pies have just the right amount of exposed fruit with a pastry star on top. Tasters loved them. The online pop-up shop also sells a kit with readymade flaky pastry, which needs to be rolled out, along with a jar of mincemeat enough for 10-12 pies for €15.

Score: 8.5

ABC € 1.30 /6 for €7.50

In their attractive, signature triangular box, when filled with a dozen pies these make a wonderful family gift. With plenty of moist, loose filling which includes apple, the pastry cuts well. Consistent quality in Cork’s English market for the last 20 years, tasters liked them even better when warmed up. Good value.

Score: 8.5

Dunnes Stores Simply Better Cranberry & Chocolate 6 for €4.99

An interesting change for a mince pie, cranberries and chocolate chips are a good, slightly rich, addition to the fruit, showing a welcome creativity in a supermarket brand. There are hazelnuts, apple purée and grated carrot too. The pastry contrast worked better than in many of the cheaper brands which did not make our final Top 8. In an attractive black box.

Score: 6.75

Hassetts Bakery €1.50 each/ 6 for €6.50

Light pastry, crunchy yet not crumbly, has a decent bite in generous sized pies which could be shared. With fresh apple, the dried fruit mixture has no citrus back taste, which was particularly appreciated by younger tasters. Good value. There is also a 9in French style Roi de Galette (€12) made with puff pastry filled with mincemeat which also makes a good gift. See for new outlets.

Score: 8.5

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