Wow have I had a learning curve on these, four tries to get what I wanted! I had baked beans in childhood but had never made them as an adult until now. On my first try I did not pre-cook the beans before baking them– mistake! My next problem was lima beans. They have a bad rep. I wanted that to be a myth, but two attempts, first with regular lima beans and then with fancy heirloom Christmas Limas, gave me beans that were somehow both tough and mushy at the same time.
On my third try I was taking no chances with the beans. I used yellow eye beans, said to be the bean of choice in northern New England for making baked beans and to be especially tender and thin-skinned. They lived up to their rep: after their overnight soak they were more softened than the usual beans, and the final result was soft with good texture. I went through the 2# bag that I bought and just ordered a larger quantity.
After my first two test batches, both very sweet and tomato-ey, I realized that I wanted something more like my mother’s baked beans and gave her a call. She told me that she had used caramelized onions, mustard, and molasses in hers. I asked whether she used blackstrap molasses. That’s what I’d been using, and my beans were a little harsh.
I’d read on Chowhound that blackstrap molasses was really too strong and a milder dark molasses was the way to go. Mom confirmed that she used a dark molasses that was not blackstrap. It took me a couple of stores to find it, but I got unsulphured sweet molasses for a mere two dollars and change– nice to get a special ingredient and have it be inexpensive.
Well! I was getting somewhere! On the fourth try I got the spicing about where I wanted it: smokey and flavorful, though vegetarian and low in saturated fat. Smoked paprika and liquid smoke give smokiness, and next time I plan to try using smoked salt too. A touch of tomato paste adds just a little tomato flavor and the bourbon, along with the molasses, gives it some really deep notes.
These aren’t hard, but between cooking the beans and baking them they do take time, so they’re for a day you’ll be hanging around at home. Enjoy!
- 1# dry yellow-eyed beans or small white beans
- 1½ cups of bean cooking water or water
- 1 yellow onion, about 10 oz., or 2 cups finely chopped
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup unsulphured sweet molasses
- 2 tsp. liquid smoke
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- ½ tsp. cinnnamon
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. salt
- ¾ tsp. freshly ground pepper (several grinds of)
- ⅓ cup bourbon
- Soak beans in a large, ovenproof pot with ample water overnight (or use quick soak method-- bring to a boil, turn off heat, let sit for an hour).
- Drain, replace water, bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour until soft.
- Chop onions.
- Saute onions about fifteen minutes in olive oil until partly caramelized (clear, softened, and beginning to brown).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix other ingredients in a large bowl.
- Add ingredients and water to the pot of beans.
- Adjust spices to taste.
- Place pot of beans, covered, in oven for 1 hour (pot must be ovenproof).
- After an hour, remove lid from pot. Continue baking until excess water has evaporated and the beans have a dark, caramelized top layer. For me this was about 45 minutes. I did not need to add water during this time, but you may. Check the beans to make sure they don't dry out.