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Baking is my passion, I love it! I usually bake cakes and it took a while before I was confident enough to try pastry as to be honest it always looked a bit hit or miss and of course you want to avoid that dreaded soggy bottom!
Some bake the pastry filled but I didn't want to take any chances. If you want a crisp pastry you need to blind bake. The first time I blind baked I used dry rice which worked well but you need a lot and it then can't be eaten, however you can store it and reuse for blind baking.
For some reason I always fancied myself some baking beans, it must be the baking obsession in me along with the love of any kitchenware! When my husband bought me these I was over the moon! Sounds over the top but I really was! In fact he said that he had wished he had wrapped them for me for Christmas! I couldn't wait to use them to see the result.
I always chill my pastry well before rolling and lining my tart or pie dish. To help prevent the pastry rising I prick the base well and chill again whilst the oven heats up. I then scrunch up baking paper and place on top of the pastry so there is a barrier between the beans and the pastry (you wouldn't want to bake your beans into the pastry!) I then pour the baking beans into the paper (my three year old likes to help here!) and to help achieve that dry pastry base further I place the dish on a baking tray. Once the pastry is starting to brown I then remove from the oven and remove the paper, beans and all (be careful they're very hot!) I then brush over an egg wash to seal the base and bake for another 5-10 mins. I've never had a soggy bottom since!
You could use dry rice or dry beans to do the same job but I like having the right tools for the job. These baking beans come ready in their own storage tub. I pour them straight from the tub and when they've cooled I pour them straight bake in again.
Baking beans are like ceramic beads (but without the hole) and are used to bake 'blind'. This method is used when making flans or pies (with a base but no top). Basically, what you want is to cook the pastry enough that it gets cooked and you don't end up with a horribly soggy base to your pie or flan.
First, you put your pastry into your pie tin. Then you cover that with foil, and then pour in the baking beans. The aim is to keep the base flat while it is baking. So, you bake it for the time recommended in the recipe (probably about 10 minutes) and then you CAREFULLY pour out the baking beans on to a plate to cool. Pop the pie base back into the oven for 5-10 minutes and then you're ready to add the filling.
Kitchen craft baking beans are great for this purpose. Of course, you can use any dried beans, but I prefer the ceramic ones. They are heavier and flatten the pastry better. They distribute the heat evenly. They cool quickly and - best of all - come in a plastic tub for easy storage so you can use them again and again. I wouldn't be without them!