Harrods and Starbucks mince pies, the two most expensive among 13 varieties tested, triumphed when chef Angela Hartnett conducted Bloomberg’s annual taste test.
“I like my mother’s best,” says the chef, who will head the VIP catering operation at the 2012 Olympic Games and is also taking part in a charity mince-pie auction that ends tonight.
“The pastry’s got to be cooked nice and crisp, and you need a nice ratio of filling to pastry,” she says. “A lot of these look like they were made with sweet pastry and sugar on top. That’s not my palate and I don’t like the filling too pureed.”
Here’s Hartnett’s verdict -- with marks out of 10 -- from the tasting in her Mayfair restaurant, Murano. The price per pie is in parentheses and the scores are out of 10:
Harrods Puff Pastry (1.50 pounds): “There’s a hell of a lot of puff pastry and the filling itself looks quite nice. You can really see the nuts and stuff. I’d eat that one above all of them at the moment, purely from a taste point of view that it’s made with puff pastry so it’s not sweet. You think that looks posh? I’d have thought that looks like a big Cornish pasty. You could take that to a football match when you see Arsenal. It’s Harrods? Crikey. I hope I’ll get a free hamper.” 8/10.
Starbucks All-Butter (1.55 pounds): “It looks like a proper mince pie. The pastry’s good and crumbly. It’s well cooked. You can see all the raisins and stuff. The filling’s lovely. It’s not sweet. You can really taste the fruit. I like that one.” (Hartnett placed this second.) 7/10.
Co-Operative Truly Irresistible All-Butter (25 pence): “This looks quite pretty. It’s quite nice, actually: not overly sweet. The fruit’s all there. The pastry’s good.” 7/10.
Pret a Manger Home-Made (99 pence): “It’s pretty. It’s not bad, actually. That’s made with traditional pastry. It’s not sweet pastry. There’s orange in there, which I like.” 7/10.
Waitrose All Butter (42 pence): “The filling’s not bad in this one. The pastry’s good. There’s lots of orange and lemon in that one. I quite like it.” 7/10.
Duchy Originals from Waitrose (66 pence): “You can tell it’s not homemade but it looks OK. A lot of these have that gap of air, whereas if your mum makes them they’re full to the limit. I’m not so keen on the filling: It’s slightly sweeter, slightly richer. The pastry’s better.” 6/10.
EAT Christmas (99 pence): “It’s a decent shortbread pastry and they haven’t overly sweetened it. There’s a little bit of icing sugar but not too much.” 6/10.
Lidl Deluxe with Brandy (28 pence): “There’s obviously quite a lot of butter in there because the pastry’s quite yellow. The filling looks nice as well. You can see the fruit’s not mushed up. It tastes a bit artificial. Maybe it’s a lot of alcohol in there. It’s not bad.” 6/10.
Selfridges White Christmas (1 pound): “This is quite pretty, quite delicate, but you can see the filling’s all mushy. I don’t like the pastry much.” 6/10.
Tesco Finest Deep Filled with Courvoisier VS Cognac (42 pence): “There’s quite a few that are very generic. They could have been made at the same place. This is better than some of them.” 6/10.
Fortnum & Mason Traditional (1.49 pounds): “This one looks really nice and homemade. It’s quite a crumbly pastry and a lot of pastry there, though it’s too thick and the filling is mushy. You can’t see any nuts there. It’s all pureed. It’s a shame because it looked lovely.” 5/10.
Marks & Spencer All Butter Deep Filled (38 pence): “This doesn’t stand out. We’re eating all of these cold and I think there’s nothing better than a warm mince pie.” 5/10.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Brandy Rich (42 pence or 29 pence if you buy two packs): “This is another generic. The pastry’s OK, filling’s OK, but I wouldn’t take it home to my mum and say, ‘Hey Mum, this is the best mince pie.’” 5/10.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)