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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!