Image Credit: Sophie Burton (Canva)
As part of our countdown to Christmas our editors are doing a mini series called ‘Five Festive Favourites bringing you a variety of recipes, recommendations and inspiration for the festive period!
Our second installment of Muse Food’s ‘Five Festive Favourites’ sees us reach the apex of Christmas delicacies… mince pies! These festive favourites are a cupboard must-have and can be served either as party food or, in the wintery spirit, as a snack to have alongside a hot drink.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of our top shop bought picks with a few of our favourite recipes. Ranging from fun twists on mince meat to free-from options, there’s a pie to cater for all tastes and budgets.
Number 5: Tesco Finest All-Butter Mini Mince Pies (£2.00)
Tesco have really upped their festive food game this year. In addition to their wide selection of party food, the mince pie options have been elevated in both range and quality. Back in 2019, Lucy Cooper reviewed the Tesco Finest full size all-butter mince pies and found that the lack of filling made the product fall short of its ‘finest’ promises. Two years on and it’s safe to say that this discrepancy has been addressed. The small size may seem like a cheat rather than a fix. Yet, the pastry itself is very sweet and the reduced sizing means that the taste is not overwhelming, as not to distract from the improved filling.
Number 4: Laura Strange’s Gluten-Free Mince Pies (Recipe)
In general, all major supermarkets have increased their inclusivity when it comes to catering for dietary requirements at Christmas. This covers gluten-free and vegan shoppers at a basic level (on average, a pack of four free-from mince pies will set you back £1.50). While supermarkets, such as Tesco, have shown an increasing amount of investment in these ranges (you can now buy Tesco Finest free-from mince pies at £2.50 for four), these changes are not widespread, meaning that free-from shoppers -especially in terms of gluten-free- usually have to compromise on taste.
Laura Strange, a gluten-free food blogger, addresses these shortcomings with her fantastic free-from mince pie recipe. Strange gives you the option of making your own gluten-free pastry, which makes for a fun Christmas baking activity and is a handy basis for future free-from bakes. Even though the filling does not differ from a traditional mince pie, Strange’s pastry is light and tasty: a worthy rival for supermarket free-from alternatives.
In terms of the recipe, xanthan gum is the most expensive ingredient on the list. However, most supermarkets stock the Doves Farm range, and Morrisons currently offer it for the lowest price at £2.50 for 100g. Even though this pushes the overall cost up, the majority of ingredients are store cupboard staples and any leftover mince meat will keep for next year’s Christmas baking. Plus, making the pies yourself means you can fill to your liking and avoid the disappointment of the usual disproportionate ratio of pastry to filling!
Number 3: Waitrose All-Butter Mini Mince Pie Selection (£3.50)
In terms of student-budget friendly stores, Waitrose seems an unlikely place to start. Generally, I find market alternatives, such as Marks and Spencer, pip Waitrose to the post when it comes to sweet festive treats, rivalling in both richness and price successfully. However, this year I was pleasantly surprised by Waitrose’s diversity. As to be expected, the ‘Heston from Waitrose’ range had its usual offering to break the monotony of the traditional mince pie. Although, this year my eyes surpassed Heston’s ‘carrot and caraway shortcrust pastry’ offering entirely in favour of the supermarket’s own selection: a nine pack of all-butter mince pies, featuring one with almond toppings, another with orange and juniper flavouring, and the last with a caramelised hazelnut top.
Admittedly, I was reluctant to pay the £3.50; this selection exceeded that of Heston’s by fifty pence and the pies themselves were reduced in size. Regardless, the return to traditional spiced flavours and the orange twist intrigued me and I am glad I made the investment. For me, Christmas is epitomised by roasted nuts and the scent of clove-studded oranges and these pies encapsulated all of these elements perfectly. While the size is smaller than your typical mince pie, this works to the strengths of the flavours as the almond is quite pungent in both the toppings pie and the caramelised hazelnut. I was a big fan of the orange and juniper option as the sweet citrus injection was a welcome and refreshing surprise after the general heaviness of standard mince pies.
Number 2: Nigella Lawson’s Cranberry and Port Mince Pies (Recipe)
In our house, it simply isn’t Christmas without making a batch of Nigella’s cranberry and port mince pies on Christmas Eve. Over the years we have tried a multitude of different recipes but found that this one is guaranteed to raise festive spirits amongst the family. This recipe for thirty-six pies ensures there is enough to be shared and the smaller casings (although you can make deeper pies if desired) make them perfect for a Christmas buffet. Nigella’s pastry recipe is lovely and flaky, but the star topping means there isn’t an abundance of pastry to overshadow the rich filling if you decide to use a fuller, shop bought pastry alternative.
Number 1: Aldi All-Butter Sloe Gin Mince Pies (£1.99)
Aldi’s mince pie offerings have been the ones to beat in recent years, and 2021 is no different. Sloe gin is not a common option for mince pies (port or sherry tend to be the go-to options) so it was great to see a supermarket take full advantage of its grounded flavour. While the drink edges towards the sweet end of the spectrum (depending on the brand), a good sloe gin avoids being sickly: a quality Aldi has balanced perfectly in using it as an accompaniment for the all-butter casing.
At £1.99 for a pack of six pies, Aldi’s offering is insanely competitive on price. Unlike the upper-market ranges presented by rival supermarkets, who match their ‘premium’ flavourings with ‘premium’ prices, Aldi is able to offer comparable luxury for the same price as competitor’s standard mince pies. The lattice-like top combined with a sprinkling of flaked almonds give the pies a professional finish. This, in addition to the deep filling, cements Aldi’s offering as our top mince pie pick of the season.
This concludes our second installment of Five Festive Favourites! Be sure to share any of your creations and your festive favourites with us on our Instagram Page @muse_food.