soak, score and slump


There comes a point when, having asked for more advice than you know what to do with, and having followed more recipes than is necessary (some so brief that cooking feels like an abstract painting, all sweeps and suggestion, and others so detailed you feel as if you are caught up in advanced painting by numbers that requires a calculator) you need to stop making pasta e fagioli 

The irony is, that of all the recipes I could have chosen to get lost in for the book, I chose one I was suposedley confident about. Pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans, is something I know how to make, something I like to make, one (almost) instinctive movement following another, a dish that pleases not just me but others. Or do I, does it? Doubt crept in as I began to write, and then before I know it I’m freewheeling ingredients one minute, then measuring them meticulously the next, feeling upright and English (an Italian woman, one with passion, probable curves and an innate sense of q.b, would surely have no such doubts) listening to everyone but myself.

Neat endings are a bit boring, but so it was. Having walked and shaken off the doubt about more than just pasta e fagioli (leaving them flapping in a tree by the river just past Ponte Testaccio) and taking a pinch of advice from both the reckless and the meticulous recipes, I returned to the recipe taught to me by Carmela and then – in her words – made it my own. Borlotti beans soaked for 12 hours then cooked with a couple of bay leaves, celery and onion cooked in lots of olive oil, a little tomato, bean cooking water…….. I could have added a bit more salt, but otherwise I am pretty sure we are there.


If not quite reckless, then slaphappy is probably the best way to describe the way I approached baked apples. No recipe, a vague recollection of my mum stuffing bramley apples from the tree in the garden with butter, sugar and raisins, flimsy ideas about temperature and timing.

In the absence of raisins I used dates, one per apple, although Luca must have eaten at least one while I mashed. The slice of butter looked about 60 g (but I have never been very good at judging butter, even in my most puritanical phases I had a buttercup yellow patch under my chin) I measured the sugar with a scoop I once established held 70 g. I used rennete apples, their russeted, mottled skin and slightly dry flesh with good, sharp flavor ideal for baking.


I don’t remember my mum scoring round the circumference of the apples to stop them splitting, but I think she must have done. All six of my non-scored apples split, two so dramatically so that they looked like they were inside out. It didn’t stop them being delicious though, slumped, split, spilling and wrinkled as they were in a puddle of sweet melted butter. Dates work brilliantly, the tip exposed at the top of the apple darkening into a chewy tap, the rest surrounded by the ever softening apple providing a sweet, thick core. The apples themselves bake into a soft, grainy almost-puree and the skins (with the help of heat, sugar and butter) shrivel into full-flavored jackets . That said, I am sure some people will leave the skin, the same people who leave jacket potato skins maybe?

The key is to wait about ten minutes so some of the copious buttery juices are absorbed back into the fruit. We ate them with very cold, quite-thick unsweetened cream. Soaked and slumped, good things both. Talking of slumped – not that I have ever been slumped – I bet a dose of calvados over the apples before they go into the oven would work well. As is so often the case, the last apple, eaten for breakfast the next day, was the one I enjoyed most. Happy New Year again.


Baked apples with butter and dates

  • 6 medium-sized baking apples (bramley or rennet ideally)
  • 6 medjool dates
  • about 60 g butter plus extra for buttering the dish
  • about 70 g soft brown sugar

Set the oven to 180°

Core the apples and score them around the circumference so they don’t split (I forgot to do this obviously and they didn’t just split but explode)  Remove the stones from the dates and then mash them with the butter and sugar. Lightly butter a ovenproof dish and then arrange the apples in the dish. Fill the hollow cavities with the date, butter and sugar mixture. Bake the apples for 30 – 40 minutes, until they are very soft and surrounded by sticky buttery juices. Allow the apples to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving so some of the juices are absorbed back into the soft fruit. Serve warm with cold cream.




Filed under apples, cream, food, fruit, Puddings, Rachel's Diary, recipes, winter recipes

52 responses to “soak, score and slump

  1. Virginia

    Hi Rachel

    I tried to take a look at your recipie for ‘pasta e fagioli’ as I have never cooked it – but when I click on the link it says ‘content not found’ – I would love to see your recipe

    Best wishes


  2. Oh, yes! Who’d have thought you could teach an Englishwoman a thing or two about baked apples? These sound divine. Dates and Calvados it is then.

    • rachel

      Not the most beautiful pud but so so good with the dates and lots of cold cream. I have more in the oven right now xx

      • I’ll be round! Seriously, we’re coming to Rome mid-March for a few days (too few), and in among all the culture, your Testaccio market sounds wonderful. I like it that it says in the info. I just found that tourists don’t go there. Just lovely locals like you, then 😉

        yay, lets have lunch, let me know dates x

  3. I love baked apples. A real dish of my childhood. I’ve blogged a festive take on it recently.

  4. Fiona

    Delighted to see a new post and quickly scanned it whilst supper was cooking only to see it was about baked apples – of which I had 3 sitting in the oven! It was a last minute thing and something I have not done for years. I read the bit about them exploding, ran to the oven to save mine only to find one just trying to explode in slow motion, whipped them out, scored them and put them back in! Thanks, just in the nick of time. I, of course too lazy, did not core stuff or do anything else with them – but in their simplicity they went down very well with my girls. Now they are looking forward to having them again with butter, sugar and dates!
    THANKS for the inspiration and amazing timing!!!!

  5. laura

    Love the idea of the date! And love baked apples … I’ve got some rennette in the fridge now so that’s a good idea for tomorrow. Thank you.
    And please don’t let your feelings of responsibility towards us (and all future readers of your book) weigh you down any more! Your descriptions and your adjectives communicate the how-tos very very well!

  6. I LOVE baked apples! Last time I did them a while back, I UNDERdid them. I’m going to give them another go. They make the house smell so wonderfully!

    • rachel

      They do, my tiny kitchen smelt like buttered apples until the next morning Timing does depend on the apples, softer ones cooking in 20, harder ones needing 35-40.

  7. We used to eat them in Michigan when I was a kid – such a treat – butter, walnuts and raisins – then cream or vanilla ice cream. You’ve given me a Proustian hit. What a great dish to stave off the cold. Ken
    P.S. Ignore your doubts.

  8. I love baked apples. My old lady used to pair off the skin from the top inch of each apple to prevent splitting and she stuffed them with a crumble mixture of oats butter and sugar. Never thought to try the calvados trick but I could see it working ever so nicely.

  9. Eha

    Love the fact that you are able and willing to do it ‘your way’!! Reach for ingredients naturally and mix and match them a if they had ‘fallen in love’ [which also is illogical!] with such wonderful results!! All the very best for you and the gorgeous Mr Monkey at your feet 🙂 !

    • rachel

      Well, at least that is the plan. He is no longer at my feet having learned to climb…it is all rather dangerous at present. Hope you are well? x

      • Eha

        Oh dear ~ You mean there is a definite need for four pairs of eyes to see exactly where the young master’s imagination has taken him in say roughly the last ten seconds . . . that too will pass, Mom 🙂 !

      • rachel

        reassured (almost)

  10. My mother made baked apples too.. and always with dates.. we all loved dates.. i think golden syrup was involved?.. butter?.. like you I must begin to feel my way through her recipe as she is long dead now. But my taste memories are not. Your baked apples are glorious. I must try to make some soon. Surely my mums were like your mums… c

    • rachel

      Golden syrup too, my mind boggles about how nice that would be… to try. Hope you are well and your new year is off to a good start – sorry not to be visiting as much as I would like. x

  11. Pasta e fagioli is a winter standard for me here in Sydney. If for no other reason than watching a friend’s face change from the “pasta with beans?” to “wow – pasta with beans!” look… Keep the recipes coming – love them all

  12. Sometimes recipes just don’t want to be written down. Just like how exciting putting out the washing seems when something else really should be getting done. I love a baked apple and I eat the skin.

  13. Just lovely. And I especially love the little green glass bowls in that last photo, we have the matching tea cups that have been ever present in my in-laws’ household, passed on down from Marco’s nonna. A nice memory. And prima o poi I have to make your pasta e fagioli.

  14. Carolle

    Happy New Year Rachel & stop doubting yourself, in fact make that your resolution! Everything of yours that I have made has been wonderfully tasty & the recipes easy to follow. One of my resolutions is to eat less meat so pasta e fagioli sounds perfect.

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  17. My mum made her baked apples much the same way when I was growing up although now I think she uses the dreaded microwave. You have me craving them for breakfast tomorrow with a splash of yoghurt to pretend I’m being virtuous.

  18. Oh my, those apples look delicious (and the soup does, too)! It’s amazing how that doubt can creep in, even during the most consistent writing momentum. I was glad to read Virginia Woolf yesterday, and see that even on one of her last books, she went through phases where she believed she had forgotten how to write. She worked out her doubts, and I’m glad you walked yours away. I can’t wait to try that apple recipe.

  19. I’ll take your flimsy ideas over twelve others’ firm ones, any day, any year. (Though I must confess that talk of slumping, calvados, and thick-as-thick cream do sort of bias me, on this count.)

    Happy New Year to you, Rachel. What a year it shall be.


  20. Jane

    the best filling for baked apples is marzipan- core the apple then use the corer to cut marzipan which then fits perfectly into said apple. Best of course with Bramleys? possibly the only thing not available in that wonderful market of yours.

  21. Who leaves the jacket potato skins?? Nutters. xx

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