Christmas seems to have been in the shops since children went back to school after the summer holidays. A couple of weeks ago I saw a family in town and the mother had shopping bags stuffed almost to bursting with Christmas paraphernalia, presents for the children, and even food items. I can understand – and remember vividly being on a tight budget and having to buy things in advance to spread the cost, so I’m not judging her. I have no right to judge as today I bought our first box of mince-pies. I could argue that we always do a lot of careful mince-pie research to make sure we have our favourites for Christmas Day, but that argument isn’t really valid, I confess, since I usually make my own.
When we are judging the shop bought mince-pies we have an unwritten set of criteria; the least important is appearance, but we do look at how pleasing the pastry is, how pale or brown, how regular and neat the shape (not always good since hand cut mince-pies can be very irregular but also very delicious) Then there is the actual pastry to consider; I prefer a firm pastry not one which crumbles, not too short so its greasy, but firm so it contains the mincemeat. I know many mince-pies are trumpeted as being made with butter, but I’m not keen on the flavour; I like pastry made with lard or white shortening so it’s crisp – a difficult balance between crisp and so short it explodes. I like mince-pies with pastry tops, not crumble or icing or frangipane.
The amount of mince-meat is important, but the taste, amount of fruit, amount of sweetness, whether it has alcohol in it (Not always as good as it sounds as if it might be) and whether there are any unusual ingredients. I think each person’s mince-meat preference will be different; I like plenty of plump fruit – I don’t mind which but prefer traditional currants, sultanas, raisins and chopped apple, not too sweet, quite sharp, chopped mixed peel (not a favourite with many people but I like the texture as well as flavour) I don’t mind nuts but would probably prefer without, not too dry but not too syrupy either… you see, I am quite fussy.
Every year we take on this ‘research’, trying the mince-pies cold as well as warm, without rum butter, ice-cream, custard etc at this testing stage! We try from all the major supermarkets, and from local bakers too; for the last couple of years Lidl has come out as our favourite – not the expensive luxury pies, not the basic (although they are good in our opinion) but the middle range. I’m not quite sure, it’s all a bit of a festive haze from last year, but I think Tesco had a range we also liked… but I may be confusing it with hot cross buns, because come February we’ll be trying our hcb research!