No Christmas is complete without a decent mince pie - and even if you're not a fan, it's obligatory to have one every year. Whether you serve them on their own, warm or with a dollop of brandy cream, they are an essential part of the festive spread.
If you don't make your own, the supermarkets are spoilt for choice on mince pies this Christmas and nowadays, there are lots of places now offering vegan-friendly options too. You can even get meat-free turkey, a fake 'beef' Wellington, and vegan pigs in blankets these days.
I was curious to see what the offering was like for vegan-friendly mince pies. Trying to find 'free from' versions in south Bristol was a bit of a challenge this week, however. Having researched online it appeared that most of the main supermarket retailers had their own vegan and gluten-free versions of the Christmas treat, but my attempts didn't quite go to plan.
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My local Aldi and Lidl didn't appear to stock them and the shelves of Asda Bedminster stood empty, proving to be a very popular item. It was the Co-op and Sainsbury's that prevailed, fortunately, offering an entire range of gluten-free and vegan-friendly Christmas delights.
Both supermarkets sold their vegan mince pies in a pack of four rather than the traditional six, meaning that you essentially pay more for less. But which one would taste better?
The overall look of the Co-op version was inviting with a festive snowflake embossed on the lid of the pie with a light dusting of icing sugar. A cross section of the mince pie revealed it was evenly filled with mincemeat - there were no gaps, which is a success for shop-bought pies.
On tasting, the pastry was incredibly dry and bland, probably from the lack of butter and gluten, which made it very crumbly. Despite the sugar coating, there was very little sweetness coming through and the spiced mincemeat fell a bit flat, failing to leave a lasting impression.
It's not uncommon that the free from range would be priced higher, but £2.25 for four pies was a little steep. For comparison, Tesco sells a packet of six for £1.50 in its plant range.
Up next was a pack of four free from mince pies from Sainsbury's priced at £1.75, which is a much better price. From the outside, the pie was unassuming and simple in design but the pastry had a much deeper colour, topped slightly with granulated sugar. The mince pie I sampled did have a bit of a gap between the pastry lid and the mincemeat filling, but this is easily forgiven for mass-produced products.
The mincemeat was incredibly rich and full of flavour, with delicate hints of spice and a lovely sweetness from the orange. It was also much moister and didn't feel at all claggy, eat bite felt more balanced as neither the pastry nor the mincemeat overpowered the other.
Reigning supreme was Sainsbury's mince pie offering the most authentic pastry out of the two as well as being the cheaper option by 50p. Unfortunately, the Co-op's version was a classic case of style over substance; while it looked more appealing, the flavour and texture were disappointing.
I would certainly buy the Sainsbury's free from mince pies in the future if I was accommodating someone who didn't eat milk or gluten. It was much closer to the real deal and it was impressive that it would achieve that flavour without being all-butter.
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