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A mince pie medley [WFJ #44]
Tasting Frome’s interpretations of the festive staple
Most Brits, I’d be willing to bet, don’t actually like mince pies.
Admittedly, their buttery-sweetness sometimes provides just the right amount of comfort during the colder months. But apart from that, the incredibly cloying preserved fruit, the often pallid shortcrust, and the current alarming cost of butter cumulates in something requiring more effort than it’s worth.
Evidence, however, suggests I’m wrong.
The UK consumes more than seven hundred million mince pies each year. And apparently, people of the South West eat more mince pies than anywhere else in the country – if a 2020 study is to be believed, the average person living locally devours 24 mince pies over the festive period. That’s eight more than Londoners, six more than Midlanders, and seven more than the Welsh.
Frome is backing up the South West’s reputation – in the town centre, at least nine venues (not including supermarkets) are peddling at least eight different pies, ranging from rustic and traditional to experimental and quirky.
Whether naturally, or by that impalpable feeling of festive decree, a few food-curious individuals embarked on a tasting of as many of these pies as we could hunt down.
And so, arranged in no particular order, here’s what we found:
The Old Bakehouse’s puff pastry mince pie
An airy but firm pastry. Difficult to detect the butter (there may well be little, if any). Very sweet filling but fresh out the oven or reheated, with some clotted cream, would go down a storm. Overall, quite reminiscent of an eccles cake.
The Old Bakehouse’s shortcrust mince pie
Again, very sweet filling, and perhaps without much butter in the pastry, but delicate in its construction. As such, the almost doughy pastry is yielding, and falls apart in your hands a bit. Even so, it sparks joy. As one taster put it not disparagingly, “The closest you’ll get to a supermarket one, but not from the supermarket.”
Parson’s Viennese mince pie
Yes it’s a little on the claggy side, but Parson’s viennese is a pleasant twist on the usual. Especially if you’d rather be eating a biscuit but had no other choice. The question, though, remains: how do they do it? How do you cook a thin pastry case for a pie that has a (thicc) viennese hat? One for Gregg Wallace’s Inside The Factory, no doubt.
Home’s mince pie stollen hybrid (vegan)
Another welcome riff on the usual, Home’s take is two festive foods trolled into one. First, a notable snap to the pastry. Then, a nice hit of marzipan. With a little more spice, and a little more mincemeat (the fruitiness, unfortunately, gets a little lost), could it be a really well-rounded sidekick to an afternoon coffee.
Hobbs House all butter mince pie
Available from The Shop Next Door (£6 for 6) and Wholefoods
Cotswolds / Bristol-based bakery Hobbs House throws its hat into the ring with one for the traditionalists. It’s sweet, it’s buttery, and it’s got absolutely nothing anyone would consider offensive. Worth noting you can usually find a gluten free version in The Shop Next Door and Wholefoods.
Rye bakery’s rough puff mince pie
For those that eat mince pies chiefly for the flaky, buttery pastry – here’s one for you. Same goes if you prefer mince pies with a conscience, as these’re made with heritage wheat milled by Rye themselves. As for the filling, the nuts give it a nice bite, while the orange zest is pretty potent, offering a curious bitterness – certainly not the sugary hit you expect from a mince pie. Likely best consumed warm with ice cream or clotted cream (as they do at the Whittox Lane cafe).
Cafe La Strada mince pie
Though fairly tiny, La Strada’s pie has a pleasing balance of crust-to-filling. It has a structurally sound and rich pastry, while the mincemeat has a good dose of spice not overwhelmed by the sugar. If it weren’t for the price, you could eat a bag of these as if they were popcorn.
Not tasted: Village bakery’s mince pie (available from Hamper and Frama)
Also not tasted: River House’s contribution (because they’ve not made it yet)
Thanks to WFJ friends and subscribers Jess and Sam for helping with the tasting. Tough work.
Expletives and other poor language from the tasters were censored prior to publication
Ratings felt fairly arbitrary for this exercise – while none of the pies were what any of the tasters would consider ‘bad’, and none were deemed incredibly good, ultimately what is or isn’t to your liking isn’t for us to say (your own subjective opinion welcome in the comments)
In conclusion? For such a small town, when did we ever deserve such choice?