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Marks & Spencer Budget Pies Trounce Fortnum, Harrods

Heston Blumenthal Mince Pies
Heston Blumenthal's mince pies failed to impress. Chef Richard Corrigan said they were soggy. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Marks & Spencer’s inexpensive mince pies triumphed in a blind tasting by chef Richard Corrigan, in which Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Heston Blumenthal flopped.

The winners were the cheapest at a special-offer price of 21 pence (34 cents) each. Starbucks (1.50 pounds) and the Co-op (33 pence) were second. Among the losers were Duchy Originals, created by Prince Charles and now a brand of Waitrose.

Corrigan tried 10 different varieties in the tasting at Corrigan’s Mayfair, which was filmed by Bloomberg Television. I told him the maker of each pie after he tasted it.

This was the sixth annual Bloomberg hunt for the finest. The previous tasters were Heston Blumenthal (2007, 2008), Marcus Wareing (2009), Pierre Koffmann (2010) and Angela Hartnett (2011). Harrods scored the top marks last year.

Co-Operative Truly Irresistible Luxury All Butter (2 pounds for six): “It looks all right. Mince pies can be very dry, too much ground almonds are put into them. But I like that. It has a nice spice content. It could have a little more filling in it -- it looks a bit mean -- but it’s very tasty with a high-quality filling. The pastry is crisp: buttery, floury, sugary. It’s pretty good for a bought in mince pie. I’m going to mark it down because it could be a bit more filled.” 6.5/10

Duchy All Butter (3.99 pounds for six): “This looks a little bit mass-produced and it’s completely hollow in the middle. Look at the mean amount of mince. There’s not enough citrus in there, zest, and it needs a lot more spice. The pastry just tastes quite processed and I always think about the right amount of suet and things in the mince pie. No, it doesn’t do a lot for me. (I tell him it’s Duchy.) Oh no: The Tower of London awaits. It’s a pity. I really wonder who makes these recipes.” 4.5/10

Fortnum & Mason Traditional Petits Fours (8.95 pounds for 12): “The pastry is really badly rolled. It’s a lot of pastry on that and a tiny amount of filling. It is quite crumbly, far too sweet. There’s no spice. It’s also like having a little jam tart. It’s not good. Who have I just crucified?” 3.5/10

Harrods Luxury (8.95 pounds for six): “Really well filled, crisp pastry and it looks good as well. Really Christmassy. The pastry is very soggy and it takes away from a very nice filling. It’s a great pity. Because of the generosity of the filling, and if you warmed it up, it could be a good 4. But I’m going to give it..” 3.5/10

Heston From Waitrose Spiced Shortcrust (3.29 pounds for four): “I wonder if this would be more like its medieval counterpart. I’ve never seen one this dark. Great spice. I don’t like the pastry. It’s overcooked for a start and it’s soggy, not crisp. The spices are superb. It’s a great pity. I’m not going to go too low. Heston, please forgive me.” 3.5/10

Marks & Spencer All-Butter (1.24 for six): “It’s really Christmassy looking. Could be a little bit more filling but it’s not bad. That warmed up is very good. I like it. Marks & Spencer have a good food department. They do mass food well. Other food companies could learn from them. They get the pastry good and crisp and compare that with what we’ve just tasted. It’s great value for money in these times.” 7/10

Sainsbury Taste the Difference Brandy Rich (2.0 pounds for six): “It’s very thick pastry. Very sweet initially, not enough spice. It’s not Christmas. It’s a sweet fruit tart. It’s not nice. It’s when the sugar coats your palate and numbs it at the same time.” 3.5/10

Starbucks (1.50 pounds each): “This looks so good. It looks home-made, it really does. It’s very generous, very deep. I’m sure the price says a lot. A lot of pastry here -- nice pastry. It’s very buttery, crumbly and delicious. It tastes home-made. That’s mummy’s food. Marks & Spencer’s filling is better but overall this is a better pie. But the pastry is so thick.” 6.5/10

Tesco Finest Deep-Filled with Courvoisier: (2.0 for six) “This really looks nice. It looks home-made again. The filling looks O.K., quite jammy. It’s a nice fruity filling. The spices are not protruding at all. I don’t get the nutmeg and the mace. But that served warm would be quite delicious and the spices would protrude that little bit more.” 6/10

Waitrose All Butter (2.49 pounds for six): “The pastry looks good, well buttery, well filled: Very generous. That’s really good. It’s not all broken and over-worked with a jam-like consistency. It’s just a pity there isn’t enough spice in it. That’s my only issue.” 6/10

(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.)

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Mark Beech on music and Lewis Lapham on history.

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