Keep your eyes on the pies

CHRISTMAS without mince pies would be like a British summer without rain &ndash; simply not possible. We love our mince pies &ndash; at least before a month of over-eating them makes us a stone heavier and permanently nausceous. <br /><br />But they can vary in quality. At their best, they are a combination of sweet, sour, gooey and crumbly. Others leave you with nothing but a belly ache and a sugary film in your mouth. <br /><br />Obviously, choosing the right pies for your party is key. So, we took it upon ourselves to do the hard work for you and taste-test seven of the best brands out there, from the widely available (Waitrose) to the niche, such as Foreman &amp;?Field, (, and Raoul&rsquo;s in Maida Vale (<br /><br />Whether you like your mince pies delicate and buttery, big, sweet and gloopy, with real meat in the middle or even in a chocolate casing, we&rsquo;ve got the mince pie for you. Let the test begin.<br /><br /><strong>DUCHY ORIGINALS</strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> Oversweet and lacking citrus and a marmalade kick.&nbsp; Nice boozy twang, though.&nbsp; <br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Disappointing &ndash; dry, crumbly, some even called it &ldquo;tough and flaky&rdquo;.<br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong> Prince Charles has missed the mark here. The pastry is the main let-down, but the low proportion of mince to pastry was also disappointing. The cavity in the pie was filled with too much air and not enough mince. 4/10<br /><br /><strong>KONDITOR AND COOK </strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> A little skimpy in proportions, but delicious. Full of fruit, nicely spiced. <br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Very buttery, slightly (but deliciously) crumbly, good mouth-feel, with baked taste dominant. <br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong>&nbsp; Pastry dominates with only a small mince cavity, but the pastry taste is splendid and makes it worthwhile, balancing out the sweetness of the mince. The glaze is attractive. 7/10<br /><br /><strong>FOREMAN AND FIELD</strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> A delicate mixture of spices with a warm, gingery flavour. It just avoided being too sweet. <br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Delicious, buttery short-crust with just the right consistency. Good aftertaste.<br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong> &ldquo;A delicious powdery sugar case with just the right amount<br />of mince inside,&rdquo; said one taster. &ldquo;Almost like an Eccles cake, this is a different type of mince pie experience,&rdquo; said another. &ldquo;The best mince pie I've had for ages.,&ldquo; said another. Get the picture? 9/10<br /><br /><strong>RAOUL&rsquo;S, MAIDA VALE</strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> Well-balanced, with plenty of fruit taste. Aromatic and prominent, with clear red cherry and citrus. Good heft; the mince really fills the pie.<br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Thin, and despite icing sugar, not overly sweet. Impressively light. <br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong> Feels and tastes hand-made, and its petite size makes it more of a mouthful than a cake &ndash; a relief for those who tire of richness. Some may feel they want more to hold on to, though. 8/10.<br /><br /><strong>HARRODS </strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> Generous, but the promised whisky-soaking came across as a difficult boozy twang, and covered most fruit flavours.<br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Stale-tasting, bland and slightly underwhelming.<br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong> A most disappointing pie, perhaps let down by expectation, dominated by the stale taste of the pastry. 3/10.<br /><br /><strong>WAITROSE </strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> Boozy, a bit like jam, and quite heavy. Very sweet, too, but intriguingly aromatic. <br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Moist, buttery, thick, &ldquo;like a crumble base&rdquo;, said one taster.<br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong> Not bad at all &ndash; good mince-pastry balance, but most found the mince cloyingly sweet. That said, some loved it: &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not a great lover of mince pies,&rdquo; said one, &ldquo;but this one was lovely, fruity, very sweet and not that spicy.&rdquo; 6/10<br /><br /><strong>FORTNUM &amp; MASON</strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> F&amp;M has returned to using real meat in its traditional pies, and the result is sweet (phew) but dark and stormy and rich, with notes of mace. &ldquo;Almost medieval&rdquo;,&nbsp; said one taster. <br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Moist, heavy, crumbling &ndash; a love/hate. <br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong> Rich and rewarding, but not for the faint of heart. Begs for a glass of big red wine to go with it&ndash; something for grandpa, we feel. 7/10<br /><br /><strong>FORTNUM &amp; MASON (CHOCOLATE) </strong><br /><strong>MINCE MEAT:</strong> More like a cake interior, it fell uncomfortably between mince, fondant and a poor quality brownie. Tasted more of cherries than mince.<br /><strong>PASTRY:</strong> Intriguing but again, not any the better for being brown &ndash; the chocolatiness escaped us, sadly, leaving only a shallow cocoa flavour.<br /><strong>OVERALL:</strong> Not a success either for mince pies or brownie purists. Its novelty factor goes far to redeem it, though, and it is truly moist, like its sister pie. Full marks for innovation, fewer for results. 4/10