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Baking ‘beans’ or ‘beads’?

Isn’t it funny how an everyday conversation can lead to a train of thought which can lead to an astonishing derailment in the kitchen? Or to put it another way, just because you’ve had an original cooking idea, it doesn’t mean it’s a good one.

My latest original cooking idea was sparked by a customer who was examining a pot of ceramic beans and told me she had some aluminium ones at home. Apparently aluminium baking beans were all the rage, back in the day. Yet I had never heard of them, despite the fact that I thought I knew pretty much everything a cookshop owner and self-crowned Quiche Queen/Tart Tsarina needs to know about blind-baking. Something was evidently missing from my repertoire.

So I did what all right-minded people (and raving lunatics) do in the 21st century when discovering a gap in their knowledge: I googled it. And I was disturbed to find that aluminium baking beans aren’t readily available this side of the English Channel, even though – for our nation of pie-loving metal-bashing industrial entrepreneurs – they would clearly be the best tool for the job. 

What I also found on the internet was a semantic discrepancy: are they ‘beans’, or are they ‘beads’? I’ve always assumed that ‘beans’ was the right word, because if you don’t happen to have earthenware marbles rolling about in a drawer, you can use pulses – lentils, dried peas, rice, haricots and suchlike. On the other hand, ‘bead’ is the shape of manufactured ceramic beans. Plus, you can even buy chains of stainless steel baking beans/beads, which is very suggestive of a beaded necklace. (Or a bath plug fitting.)

It was at this precise point that my train of thought chugged off on a branchline. Thus: if you can blind-bake with chunks of metal, or ceramic, or pebbles, or glass, or protein-rich carbohydrates, or anything ovenproof – and call it a ‘bead’ – then why not blind-bake with actual beads? And if your beads are already strung together, how much easier to put in the pastry case and get out again?

Despite what happened next, I maintain that the principle is utterly sound. But I would urge you to apply a little bit of common sense before rummaging around in your dressing-up box and attempting the experiment at home. Here are some suggestions:

1. Make sure the beads are not in fact either plastic or plastic coated (the fumes are surprisingly unpleasant, maybe even toxic).

2. Make sure the string is not nylon (ditto).

3. Do not expect to want to wear the jewellery again, once it has been in the oven. (Certainly not immediately, unless your aim is to tattoo a yoke on yourself.)

4. Do not expect to want to eat the pastry if you have not remembered to line it with parchment beforehand. (Actually, this one is a rule for life, not just jewellery-baking.)

5. Consider bypassing the jewellery box and instead use a handful of nails, screws, nuts and bolts from the husband’s DIY box. (He misuses your kitchen stuff, why not misappropriate his blokey stuff?)

Alternatively: watch this space. I’m on the hunt for made-for-purpose aluminium beans and hope to stock them shortly – even if I have to go to France myself to fetch them.

 

Posted: 21-Jun-12

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