Food Friday: The best mince pies and Christmas cakes you can buy this year
Which are the best buys for your festive feast? Katy McGuinness samples the essential items from Irish supermarkets for parties and the big day
Mince pies: What's Christmas without a mince pie or three?
Aldi Holly Lane Deep-filled Mince Pies, 350g, 89c, 8/10
At the price, our testers thought that these mince pies from Aldi were unbeatable. Good flavour and pastry.
Mr Kipling Merry Mince Pies, 360g, €2, 7/10
Nice crumbly pastry and a pleasant mincemeat filling. Pretty good and widely available.
Dunnes Stores All Butter Mince Pies, 355g, €2.49, 6/10
Lovely pastry but way too much citrus flavour in the filling.
SuperValu Signature Tastes All Butter Pastry Mince Pies, 372g, €4, 5/10
Our testers found the pastry too granular and the filling sharp-tasting with not enough spice.
Marks & Spencer Mince Pies, 323g, €3.80, 5/10
Our testers found the orange flavour over-powering, although they conceded the pastry was pleasant.
Lidl Deluxe Luxury Mince Pies, 396g, €2.49, 4/10
The cinnamon in Lidl's mince pies was just too much for our testers, despite the good pastry.
The essential accompaniment to turkey.
SuperValu Cranberry Sauce, 240g, €1.99, 9/10
Made by Follain in West Cork, this cranberry sauce contains only cranberries sweetened with grape juice, with pectin as a setting agent. Nice and tart.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Handmade Cranberry Sauce, 200g, €2.99, 9/10
Containing just cranberries and sugar, this Irish-made sauce has a great texture and really tastes of cranberries.
Ballymaloe Cranberry Sauce, 310g, €3.25, 8/10
Simple and good, this sauce contains only sugar and cranberries and is well-balanced.
Marks & Spencer Cranberry Sauce, €2.20, 8/10
More runny and slightly less tart than the winning pair, this still has a nice sharpness and proper cranberry flavour.
Lakeshore Cranberry Sauce, 200g, €2.85, 6/10
You can taste apple cider vinegar in the sauce, which the majority of our testers found too sweet.
Chivers Cranberry Sauce, 220g, €2.29, 4/10
This one contains port, but our testers couldn't discern it. Very sweet - "tastes like jam", said one tester.
We valiantly tested puddings that had been matured for six months.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better 6 Month Matured Christmas Pudding, 454g, €7.99, 9/10
Jam-packed with nuts and fruits, tasting of butter and a host of different alcohols, this is a delicious pudding.
Marks & Spencer 6 Month Matured Christmas Pudding, 454g, €4.50, 7/10
Pleasant without being distinctive, this is the safe bet. Flavoured with cider, rum and sherry, it won't offend anyone.
SuperValu Signature tastes 6 Month Matured Pudding, 454g, €8, 6/10
Some of our testers liked this rich pudding, while others were put off by the strong flavour of stout. Divisive.
Tesco Christmas Pudding, 454g, €3, 6/10
Our testers felt that this bland pudding lacked personality, but it would be fine if you just need one for the dinner table.
Aldi Holly Lane 6 Month Matured Christmas Pudding, 454g, €2.99, 5/10
Too orangey for our testers, this Aldi pudding was not a crowd-pleaser.
Lidl Snowy Lodge 6 Month Matured Christmas Pudding, 454g, €3.99, 3/10
Initially bland, but with a strong citrus after-taste that our testers did not like, this was the least popular of the puddings that we tested.
Premium smoked salmon
The classic Christmas Day starter.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Oak Smoked Organic Irish Salmon with Honey & Dill, 80g, €5.99, 8/10
Subtle honey and dill flavouring gave this oak-smoked salmon a distinctive flavour that was not over-powering. Delicious.
Marks & Spencer Twice Smoked Speybay Oak Smoked Salmon, 100g, €7.50, 8/10
If this salmon had been organic, it would have been the winner. We loved the robust smoky flavour, achieved by slow smoking over whiskey cask shavings in brick kilns.
Lidl Deluxe Irish Organic Smoked Salmon, 95g, €3.19, 7/10
This organic salmon from Lidl comes at a great price and has pleasant texture and flavour.
Nolans Sliced Wild Smoked Salmon, 150g, €7, 7/10
Traditional smoked salmon made with wild Alaskan salmon, this has assertive flavour and an attractive appearance.
Aldi Specially Selected Organic Irish Cold Smoked Salmon, 100g, €3.39, 6/10
Our testers felt that this salmon was bland and lacking in flavour, but not unpleasant.
SuperValu Signature Tastes Seaweed & Basil Organic Smoked Irish Salmon, 100g, €5, 3/10
Our testers said they could not discern the flavour of seaweed, but found the basil overly dominant and not a good partner for the salmon.
Iced Christmas cake
Regrettably the ingredient list for each cake was very long, and all contained palm oil.
Aldi Specially Selected Iced Fruit Cake, 1kg, €9.99, 8/10
Dark, spicy and moist, our testers gave the thumbs up to this cake, which has a whiff of brandy and pleasant soft icing.
Lidl Deluxe Luxury All Over Iced Christmas Cake, 1kg, €9.99, 7/10
Lidl's cake has good flavour and texture, but our testers found the icing too hard.
Marks & Spencer Top Iced Holly Christmas Cake, 915g, €9, 6/10
This cake has icing on the top only, which some of our testers considered to be a good thing, and the best marzipan of all the cakes tested. The cake itself was dry and rather bland.
Tesco Fully Iced Christmas Cake, 1kg, €12.50, 6/10
Better flavour than the M&S cake, but too much icing said our testers.
SuperValu Iced Christmas cake, 1.1kg, €11, 4/10
Dry and lacked flavour, and the icing was hard. Not great.
Dunnes Stores Iced Christmas Cake 1.03kg, €12, 3/10
Although this was by far the most appealing looking of the cakes that we tested, it disappointed when it came to taste, with a pronounced orange flavour that our testers did not like.