Aldi Chocolate Stollen Bites

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I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like stollen (once they try it) and I’ve definitely not met anyone who doesn’t like chocolate, the two together should be glorious!

Don’t worry, Aldi have got it covered. Authentic German Chocolate Stollen Bites – with juicy raisins, mixed citrus peel and a delicious marzipan centre all wrapped up in chocolate like a delicious little Christmas present!

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Although, with the way they look if I found these under my tree the only present I’d be mistaking them for is one my dogs had left me! As we all know (and if you don’t know you really need to get to know) stollen has a very sweet scent but all I could smell was the chocolate. I attempted to photograph the insides but it just wasn’t happening, I did get to see a reasonably thick layer of wet marzipan running dead centre through the bites though.

They’re weird. The texture is an odd one, a thick crisp chocolate shell with a soft squidgy cake inside and fairly sized juicy chewy raisins – something for everyone but manageable and not quite too much.

The chocolate is a plain chocolate, it’s quite rich and is a good choice for the sugary marzipan middles as it tones down the overall sweetness and gives a much more interesting flavour. In the first bite all I could taste was orange, the chocolate and orange is a nice enough pairing as everyone knows but it’s not what I want from my stollen. Thankfully it just seemed to be the first with an orange imbalance as the second was much more varied.

The stollen was pretty dry, I thought there was more than enough marzipan but truth be told I barely tasted it. There was some added moisture from the raisins but these bites are definitely one of the drier stollens I’ve eaten.

The stronger chocolate seemed to overpower most of the other flavours in the bites, I quite liked them but they tasted like a generic chocolate orange cake rather than the addictive delicious stollen I inhale every December.

Rating: 6/10 

Battle Of The Mince Pies Part 2

Part 1 of The Battle Of The Mince Pies can be found here, we’ve already tried and reviewed Iceland, Mr Kipling, Sainsburys, Lidl and Co-Op Mince Pies and today I have the rest of the big U.K supermarket brands.

As before, me and the helpers will be reviewing based on looks, structure, pastry and filling.

Waitrose 1 6 All Butter Mince Pies

(£2.50 for 6)

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I thought I’d kick part 2 off with a mince pie made by the people who made my favourite mince pie of last year, Waitrose. Waitrose are generally regarded as ‘the best’ supermarket and these are “Waitrose 1” brand – the very best of Waitrose. So these should be the best of the best, right?

Looks: Exactly the same as last year, I have to say I found it a bit boring after some of the other supermarkets mince pies but better safe than sorry (as you’ll soon see!)

Structure: I think they’ve faffed around with these this year. Nutritional info from last year is identical which suggests they haven’t, but the base and lid seem a hell of a lot thicker this year. They were so big I struggled to fit it in my mouth so I was actually quite pleased when the sides gave way and the lid caved in.

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Pastry: I don’t get it, as I said, they should be identical to last year and I was raving about them then but I wasn’t as blown away this year. Maybe I’ve been spoilt for choice but the pastry wasn’t as good as some in Part 1. The extra thickness gave it a harder feel and it felt more like a biscuit than pastry. It had a pretty nice sweet buttery flavour but again not as tasty as those before.

Mincemeat: It’s a bit of a controversial one, in my house we just can’t decide. It was very thick and juicy but I had a few too many almonds which, although I enjoyed the flavour I wasn’t too keen on the extra crunchiness with the already thicker bite of the pastry. The rest of the flavour was fine for the most part but there was an odd aftertaste, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly but I’m thinking the apricot or the brandy.  My parents on the other hand, loved it, my dad especially. He found it just right, not too sweet and not too rich.

I just don’t know. I think I may need to eat a few more to fully decide… The others loved them though. Different strokes for different folks I guess! 

M&S 6 All Butter Mince Pies

(£1.80 for 6)

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I opted for the bog standard “everyday” M&S mince pies as past experience has shown what’s everyday for M&S usually translates to top end everywhere else. £1.80 was a lot more reasonable than I expected from M&S too. They couldn’t quite help themselves though, not content with a normal mincemeat filling they’ve chucked some Vositizza Currants in there too (currants only grown in the Aeghion apparently).

Looks: I expected more Markses! No two were the same and not in a handmade authentic way, ones lid was huge and bulbous and another completely flat. They’re supposed to be little stars in the lids but they looked more like someone had poked their finger through. Still the fact some of the filling was peeking through was a good sign.

Structure: Fine, all held their (odd) shapes and I managed to get four mouthfuls out of one pie and I had a clean plate afterwards!

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Pastry: O.K I guess. Unremarkable would probably be a fair word to describe it. Decent texture otherwise if a bit on the thick side on the bottom.

Mincemeat: These mince pies have the most overpowering filling I’ve ever tasted! The inclusion of those other currants seems to have made an impact but whether it’s a good or a bad one remains to be seen. It has a ridiculously strong and juicy fruity flavour with some delicious spices lurking in the background. The fact they’re completely stuffed with seriously chewy raisins, currants and sultanas means I actually didn’t notice the pastry at all – they’re huge and by far the star of the show.

The mincemeat is too much for me and husband helper, it’s nice but we’d like to actually taste a bit more of our pastry. Dad can’t decide between this and Iceland for his favourite (mums is still Iceland) but we all agree the pastry base was a bit too thick.

Tesco Mince Pies

(89p for 6)

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Tesco standard mince pies are the cheapest so far but also the only not to feature an all butter pastry, don’t let that stop them from making vague references to it it on the front of the box though. I suppose delicious glucose syrup pastry doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Look: Atrocious. Seriously look at the state of them, they would not have passed quality control in my factory. Jeez, no wonder they’re giving them away…

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I also fail to see how they couldn’t manage to find pastry lids that actually fit, the pies are half the size of all the others so far too!

Structure: Hit and miss. Somehow the lid stayed on but the thick bottom disintegrated. Work that one out.

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Pastry: I didn’t realise prior to eating that they weren’t an all butter pastry but it was apparent from the first bite. Not particularly sweet, not buttery at all and quite bland to be honest. The texture wasn’t all that either, merely a vessel to get the mincemeat in my mouth rather than deliciously goodness in its own right.

Mincemeat: This is where Tesco have clawed back a few points. The silver lining on a very dark storm cloud. A touch on the sugary sweet side but not bad flavour and as you can see for yourself, bursting at the seams. I did note the lack of alcohol but it wasn’t particularly missed. Dads filling oddly wasn’t very sweet at all and mum was left with a weird and not very nice aftertaste too.

 I’d be embarrassed to serve these ugly bodge jobs to guests (though if I’ve only spent 89p on them I should be, stingy cow). These, surprisingly, are the mince pies my mum usually buys (ahem) but she’s now vowed never again.

Morrisons 6 Mince Pies 

(£1 for 6)

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Morrisons standard mince pies interestingly, rate higher on their own website than ‘The Best’ mince pies. There’s nothing overly fancy about these – even the description on the box merely states “shortcrust pastry cases filled with mincemeat” – no unnecessary wordy crap at all!

Looks: Eaten the day after the Tesco mince pies meant these looked like works of art. Realistically, this was the best of a pretty bad bunch. They’re even smaller than the Tesco pies too!

Structure: They were fine apart from the fact the pastry lid, despite appearing otherwise, doesn’t actually fit and wasn’t attached to the sides at all. The lid was therefore, a goner. It disintegrated on first bite but the rest held up well and provided a sturdy shell for the filling.

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Pastry: Not bad. Somehow managing to be soft and firm at the same time, it isn’t hard or biscuit like at all but it isn’t quite melt in the mouth either. The flavour was quite nice, again not as flavourful as some of these all butter pastries but it’s good for what it is.

Mincemeat: Sweet and rich. Not very spiced at all but it’s still pretty tasty. It’s the thinnest filling so far with a much runnier texture but it does include lots of juicy chewy fruits. It actually reminded me a bit of a chutney… Weird!

I think husband helper summed it up best. They could be good, there’s nothing really to dislike but they feel lazy and slapped together. 

Aldi Specially Selected 6 Mince Pies 

(£1.29 for 6)

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The Aldi mince pies I have are the Specially Selected All Butter Cognac Laced Mince Pies, laced with their own award winning Cognac. They sound fancy but there actually were even posher ones in store and they were only £1.29 too!

Looks: Sweet but simple, just a snowflake stamped on top but they were all pretty even and had no jagged pastry or uneven burnt bits. I’d much rather a plainer mince pie that actually looks appetising though.

Structure: As an un-bitten solid pie it was fine but just one tiny mouthful really changes things. The bottom of mine, mum and husband helpers were very thin and they are without a doubt the flimsiest mince pie eaten so far. However dad was complaining that his was too thick, he’s either a weirdo or he got all of our pastry too.

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Pastry: The flimsy texture doesn’t only come from how thin the pastry is but just how soft it is too. It doesn’t crumble it literally melts and you don’t even need to chew this one. Sugar is the stronger flavour but it does have a lovely buttery taste too, it isn’t as strong as some of the others but I could definitely taste it.

Mincemeat: Unlike it’s fellow German competitor, the Aldi pies didn’t have as strong a alcohol flavour. Well, maybe it did, I haven’t tried Aldis award winning Cognac but unless it tastes like sweet fruits I’m guessing not. That said,  only mum when questioned thought she could taste booze, power of persuasion maybe or experience… Only joking, love you mum! The cranberries were strongest actually but had a sweeter flavour rather than the sharp I expected and worked nicely with the rest of the juicy chewy fruits.

Nice mincemeat and pastry flavour and in the top five, but missing the alcohol and really let down by the flimsy pastry casing and apparent inconsistency. 

Asda Bakers Selection 6 Mince Pies

(99p for 6) 

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Lastly, and soon to find out if leastly, Asdas standard range: Baker’s Selection Mince Pies. Crumbly and deep filled apparently, they’re amongst the plainest in ingredients, mince pies with no all butter pastry or booze hiding inside.

Looks: I thought things couldn’t get worse after the Tesco pies. I was wrong. They’re even smaller and uglier. I picked probably the best looking pie but they were all a touch burnt at the edges and don’t even get me started on the lids. None fit properly and all had one half risen above the sides and one half sunken in the pastry. Awful.

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Structure: The lids didn’t help things but somehow they managed to stay mostly intact until the end when everything kind of gave way. Something else was affecting the integrity of the pies though.

Pastry: See how bad they look? They taste even worse. The pastry lid is too thick, so thick that the inside was actually raw – take a look for yourself. The fact it wasn’t actually cooked made it soft and chewy yet despite almost still being wet ingredients it was horribly dry and bland. If this is a new recipe I’d have hated to taste it before. The others were actually baked but everyone agreed how dry they were.

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Mincemeat: Not awful but not great either. It was more like a jelly and was mainly chewy with the odd unexplained crunch every now and then. All I could taste was apples though, none of the other fruits or spices.

Congrats Asda, it seems I saved the worst till last. Maybe if you actually cook them next year I’ll give you another try but I won’t be buying anymore any time soon! We’re all in agreement the pastry is not good but the rest didn’t hate them as much as I did. Mine was so bad I’m overruling their opinions though! 

Verdict

 We all agree on one thing. Iceland are by far the best, without a shadow of a doubt. 

Things get a bit trickier after that depending on what you are after, but my advice? Stick with Iceland, you can’t go wrong! 

Aldi Specially Selected Gingerbread Ice Cream

Did you really think I wouldn’t be reviewing Christmas themed ice creams?

I reviewed Sainsburys Gingerbread ice cream last year, it’s actually back this year but Aldi have released the same flavour, under their “Specially Selected” line at only £1.99 each!

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Gingerbread flavour ice cream swirled with toffee sauce, gingerbread biscuit pieces and fudge pieces

Aldi’s gingerbread ice cream has a little extra than Sainsburys with the addition of fudge pieces, I’m not going to moan – the more the merrier!

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I’ll start with the actual ice cream. I was impressed with both the quality and flavour. Aldi describe it as deliciously cream and I’d say they’re pretty spot on. I was a bit worried when I removed it from the freezer as I could feel how soft it was immediately, but weirdly it stayed at that just beginning to melt but still pretty firm state for the whole time it took to eat.

It’s gorgeous, it has a strong gingerbread flavour but it’s sweet and creamy and not too heavy on the ginger at all – just right.

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The extras more than meet the standard of the ice cream on both counts too.

I had tonnes of gingerbread biscuits and they were all a good size. Just stronger in flavour than the ice cream but that only improved things and they have a lovely slightly softer texture than a standard gingerbread biscuit.

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I also had lots of fudge and its sweet flavour and chewy texture was a perfect partner for the warm gingerbread. Aldi picked a winner sticking that in too.

Finally the toffee sauce. Unfortunately I didn’t have much and what I did have was concentrated at the bottom, but it too was good. It has a lovely sweet toffee flavour which was surprisingly different from the fudge, too often companies lump toffee, fudge and caramel as the same when really it’s all about the subtle differences..

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I know I couldn’t ask for more from an ice cream; sweet and spiced, squidgy and chewy. All wrapped up inside a beautifully smooth creamy ice cream. This is a proper gingerbread ice cream and the perfect Christmas treat. To top it all off it’s only £1.99!

Rating: 8/10

M&S Christmas Mini Bags

I have to limit myself on how often I visit the food hall at my local M&S.. I couldn’t not go and have a little look at the Christmas treats though and I ended up £28 poorer for the experience. Say what you want about how tasty M&S treats are – they’re still rather expensive!

Sticky Toffee Caramels 

From memory these were around £3.50 (don’t take my word on that though) and were definitely part of a 3 for £10 and get a free stocking!

Milk chocolates with a toffee flavoured caramel centre 

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For 350 of my hard earned pennies I received 10 large chocolates. I did photograph the chocolate but you don’t even want to see the mess I made there… They look like a much taller Milk Tray Hazelnut Swirl and they’re deceptively heavy.

Each little wrapped bite has a thick chocolate shell and a silky smooth caramel middle. Put bluntly, they’re amazing. The centres are like liquid gold but the casings are thick enough that you can bite each in half and they still hold their shape.

The chocolate is great, I do enjoy M&S milk chocolate and this is no exception. More chocolate flavour than Cadbury Dairy Milk, not overly sweet at all and a lovely milkiness which means these go down far too easily.

Inside is a gorgeous caramel. It’s more burnt toffee tasting which is good as it really stands out as a toffee flavour rather than a vague toffee/caramel mix. I made the worst mess trying to show you how the centres looked, they’re very runny, very sticky, very sweet, very rich but so very delicious!

Marzipan Mini Bites 

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These aren’t something I’d usually go out of my way for but marzipan is much more acceptable at Christmas! Plus, they’re covered in dark chocolate, and they aren’t entirely marzipan either..

Marzipan & Persipan, half coated in dark chocolate. 

Now I won’t lie, I didn’t have a clue what persipan was until Google informed me it’s basically marzipan but made with apricot or peach kernels rather than almonds.

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Inside the bag were lots of weird cakey biscuity type things, M&S chose bites so we’ll go with that. They smelt incredible, a delicious mix between stollen, ameretti and chocolate.

They’re beautifully soft with a decent chocolate layer, which, if eaten with the chocolate placed on your tongue, felt and tasted exactly like an apricot Jaffa Cake.

Eaten with the chocolate facing the roof of your mouth provides a different experience, they have a slightly stronger apricot than almond flavour but they tasted like soft cake versions of ameretti biscuits.

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Maybe I’m playing tricks on myself but the dark chocolate paired with the sweet marzipan tasted just like the chocolate coating on a McVities Jaffa Cake!! I’m sure it’s not but I wouldn’t be surprised if M&S were using them for their own brand products.

Delicious!! I’ll be buying a few more bags before the festive season’s over.

Cinnamon & Hazelnut Mini Stars 

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M&S aren’t content with just tempting us with Christmas chocolate, oh no, they’ve started on the biscuits too. It’s easy to shove a festive pattern on a box of shortbread and call that a ‘new’ Christmas treat, M&S haven’t taken the easy route though and they’ve given us Cinnamon & Hazelnut Mini Stars.

Cinnamon flavoured soft biscuits with hazelnuts topped with icing

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The 90g bag had lots of diddy little biscuits, the above is about half way through the bag, and they smelt gorgeous; deliciously spiced cinnamon with a touch of sweetness calling from the icing.

I loved the texture, as promised a soft biscuit with a slightly chewy grittiness to it – think cookie dough – but just firm enough to acknowledge the difference between a biscuit and a stale cake!

They’re amazing. The cinnamon is lovely and festive with that warm spiced flavour that goes so well at this time of year, but the generous icing counters it just to that extremely addictive sweet and spicy point.

Underlying those two though, is a mouth watering nuttiness. Obviously hazelnut in flavour and at times dominant, I’ll be damned if I could even see a single hazelnut though! Maybe they’re very, very finely chopped  (would explain the grittiness) or maybe they’re added in a paste form, I don’t know. What I do know, is that it’s incredible! Think B&J All Or Nut-ting or Joe Delucci Chocolate & Hazelut ice creams in biscuit form. I love it!

Ratings: 8/10 all round!  

M&S Christmas Club

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I very rarely buy ready made sandwiches but for this I made an exception. This is something special..

Chargrilled roast turkey, applewood smoked bacon & brussels sprout slaw, with cranberry relish on a brioche roll. 

Oh and they’ve stuck a pig in blanket in it too, just for good measure.

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It’s eye wateringly expensive (£4.50) but it is a bit of a beast to be fair and was certainly very filling. The quality of the ingredients used definitely plays a part in the price, don’t expect plasticy thin “turkey” slices, these are chunks as big as if I’d carved the bird and dished it up myself.

I don’t even know where to start with this one..

The brioche roll maybe. It’s soft and buttery and I actually ate this the day after I bought it and despite a stay in my fridge it tasted as fresh as if I’d got one from the bakery.

The star of any traditional Christmas feast next, the turkey. As I said huge chunks and surprisingly moist. White turkey meat isn’t one of my most favourite meats but it had lots of flavour and more than held its own against the other strong flavours.

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The cranberry relish is gorgeous, it’s strong but there’s not so much to overpower all the other ingredients. The coleslaw was amazing too. I usually hate coleslaw and will not buy sandwiches including it but the lure of brussel sprout slaw proved too strong and I loved it! Even weirder is I usually hate brussel sprouts too! The slaw has a clear brussel sprout flavour and although that sounds wrong it just works. It’s creamy and perfect for the overall roll.

It says something when I could take or leave the bacon! It’s smoky bacony goodness polishes off the festive feast but I can’t say I’d have been saying it needed it had it not been included, everything else was that good!

The cheddar cheese, while not normally featuring on my Christmas dinner only added to the explosion of flavour occurring in my mouth and there’s a bit of greenery included in the form of rocket too. It’s not bitter thankfully but it’s pretty pointless.

Finally, the icing on top. The pig in blanket. I always save mine till last as its my favourite and the Christmas Club was no exception. It’s good quality bacon with no stringy chewy bits but it’s a pig in blanket. I know I’ve never had a bad one!!

Freaking delicious and I’d have been happy to pay the £4.50 in a cafe or Subway so why not M&S. Plus 5% goes to Shelter, the homeless charity.

Rating: 9/10