“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me….12 mince pies and 2 macarons in a pear tree.”
Joyce: We had optimistically planned 12 tastings in keeping with our self-penned Christmas carol, but our stomachs and sugar-induced headaches felled us after seven (the macaroons and charcoal bun we picked up en route probably didn’t help). Nonetheless, I think we’ve got enough of a variety to settle some age-old mince pie controversies: covered top vs lattice/star top, cakey vs biscuity pastry, the optimal fruit to pastry ratio, and ‘how much alcohol is too much?’.
Lin: Yes, on top of everything else, I ate extra macaroons. But Joyce, whom I now have a new found respect for, consumed more mince pies than required, allegedly “in the name of research”. So, as we strolled from one shop to another, in the search of mince pies, Joyce semi-skipped in a sugar-high glee.
Baker D Chirico, $3.50 (24 Crossley Street)
Joyce: Golly, how gorgeous is this artisan baker’s pop-up store? It’s like a bakery just exploded, splattering the walls with cakes and pastries and bread. As for the mince pie – it was a moist pastry shell that completely encased a generous amount of filling spiked with the distinctive flavour of orange rind, yet it didn’t taste or feel dense.
Lin: The psychedelic wallpaper of charming Baker D Chirico is reminiscent of space, only instead of planets; tarts, cakes and croissants orbit the bakery. The mince pies here were the most generous in size that we encountered throughout our journey. Minimalist in presentation, these closed-shell pies were flavoured with Marsala wine and accented but not overpowered by orange rind. The pastry had the most delectable combination of crisp-crumbliness and moistness, which was a perfect accompaniment to the juicy, flavourful filling.
Illy’s, $2.50 (David Jones’ Food Hall, 210 Bourke Street)
Joyce: My first impression – a huge whammy of alcohol and cinnamon on the tastebuds, just in case you forgot that it was Christmas. The pastry was leaning more towards biscuit, almost to the point of being like shortbread. Not great. And the fridge-cold temperature of the pastry didn’t help the cause.
Lin: The pastry, to me, was the perfect short-crust – crumbly, buttery and melted in your mouth. The filling, on the other hand, was overpowering to the point of madness. It was drunk from too much alcohol, and on top of that, was showered in so much mixed spice it felt like Christmas was bludgeoning me in the face.
Phillippa’s, $3.25 (David Jones’ Food Hall, 210 Bourke Street)
Joyce: Phillippa’s mince pies are iconic in mince pie circles, and I’m not sure why. The pastry was super sweet and buttery (which I don’t actually mind), and it overwhelmed the token smear of fruit mince in both flavour and quantity. In total, I actually ate three pies desperately hoping to decipher any of the fruit flavours listed in the ingredients sticker. The panel decided that in fact it was an Arnott’s “Full O’ Fruit” biscuit masquerading as an expensive and over-hyped mince pie.
Lin: I was one of the panel judges that agreed with the ‘Full O’ Fruit’ theory, but now that I think of it, Phillippa’s mince pies are a great choice for someone who would prefer a mild-flavoured pie. Its filling bordered on bland – the dried fruit mixture showed no signs of alcohol, spice or candied-flavourings. Essentially, it was a boring pie, but because of this, it benefited from not being overly sickening.
Bread Top, $1.30 (several outlets in the CBD)
Joyce: Even Asian bakeries get into the Christmas spirit by producing their own version of mince pies. I had very low expectations but Bread Top’s version actually didn’t come out too badly – a rough-and-ready mix of big chunks of fruit with a big kick of orange flavour (probably artificial), and again, refrigerated but no worse than Illy’s.
Lin: This is an example of an uncouth pie. Each element of the filling was loud – the dried fruit, orange rind and spices. However, they failed to complement each other when eaten as a whole.
Babycakes, $2.95 (David Jones’ Food Hall, 210 Bourke Street)
Joyce: Not a bad pie, but a complete rip-off at $2.95 for a miniature size. The only pie with still recognisable pieces of fruit such as plump whole sultanas. The pastry was a bit granular to the tongue, as if they’d run out of caster sugar and decided to just go for white.
Lin: For a teeny pie, it sure packs a punch. Of all the pies we ate, this one had the strongest apple flavour in it. I believe the filling must have been on steroids for this little fella’s orange rind, candied fruit and spice flavours were full of gusto, yet went well together. But $2.95 a pop (literally), I’d rather say ‘bah-hambug!’ to the Christmas spirit.
Starbucks, $2.50 (left)
Joyce: So, so nasty. The pie looked practically unbaked and the stodgy pastry glued itself to the roof of my mouth along with the overly sweet puréed mince.
Lin: What she said. The filling simply tasted of sugar as if trying to rob me of my teeth. Starbucks is better off selling mince pies in a frappucino version. They probably will.
Laurent, $2.40/$2.90 dine-in (right)
Joyce: Laurent’s pastries are mostly baked off-premises and mass-produced in a factory. Nevertheless, the product was pretty good, an almost wholemeal thin pastry containing a large quantity of intense and fragrant filling.
Lin: I would’ve have been completely satisfied just breathing in the aroma of this mince pie. It was ‘eau de Christmas’ bottled in a pastry shell. And with strong smell comes intense filling. Rich and flavourful, this mince pie will satisfy if not sicken after one serving.
And the verdict….
Joyce: Laurent or Baker D Chirico for their pastry-to-filling ratios, flavoursome fillings and pastry quality. Interesting that they were the only covered top pies in the list. Lin: Baker D Chirico. Billy: Baker D Chirico
This article originally appeared in Trespass Magazine.
Epilogue: After all that searching, I think I may just have found the perfect mince pie at Dench Bakers ($3.60). I didn’t actually think it was possible to stuff that much fruit mince into such a thin pastry shell, but as you can see the domed tarts from Dench Bakers manage to achieve the impossible. The moist pastry encased recognisable bits of fruit melded together with the faintly noticeable fragrance of liquer. So good that RM and I fought for the last one.
Finally, do yourself a favour and avoid the tarts from Cacao ($3.30). I love their chocolates, but they seem to have no idea about what a mince pie involves. Their version consisted of a thick, dense pastry and a filling which didn’t seem like it was made of fruit. I sniffed it, crumbled it in my fingers and tasted it – and the best description I can come up with is that it was like a dry mass-market chocolate brownie. Weird. And wrong.
Tomorrow, read all about our search for the perfect gelato.