The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

This tart, like many of the world's great foods has its own mythic beginnings…or several mythic beginnings. Legend has it in 1820 (or was it in the 1860s?) Mrs. Greaves, landlady of The White Horse Inn in Bakewell, Derbyshire (England), asked her cook to produce a pudding for her guests. Either her instructions could have been clearer or he should have paid better attention to what she said because what he made was not what she asked for. The cook spread the jam on top of the frangipane mixture rather than the other way around. Or maybe instead of a sweet rich shortcrust pastry case to hold the jam for a strawberry tart, he made a regular pastry and mixed the eggs and sugar separately and poured that over the jam—it depends upon which legend you follow. Regardless of what the venerable Mrs. Greaves’ cook did or didn’t do, lore has it that her guests loved it and an ensuing pastry-clad industry was born. Bakewell tarts are a classic English dessert, abounding in supermarket baking sections and in ready-made, mass-produced forms, some sporting a thick sugary icing and glazed cherry on top for decorative effect.

I did this challenge at the beginning of the month with the results pictured. I was disappointed in my results and wanted to try another one toward the end of the month, but was unable to due to money, time, and temperatures reaching 103 degrees here. I do hope to try it again, but not sure when.

What didn't I like? Well, I hope that you will take the time to look at some of the posts by other Daring Bakers. My disappointment lies in that I seem to have too much jam and too little frangipane. Most of the others seem to have a much larger frangipane layer on top. Flavorwise, I think it was a little too much almond. Next time I would eliminate or use much less almond extract. But it was still delicious, especially when served with the homemade rosewater/vanilla ice cream I made.


Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in color and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow color.


Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.
There always seems to be kinks to iron out when you do something grand for the first time. Such was the case with today's Great American Food and Music Fest held at Shoreline in Mountain View.

The festival was the idea of Ed Levine, writer of Smart Eats and a few books. The idea was to get some of the best foods from across the country and couple that with music for an all day foodie event. For $40 ($35 in advance) you got admission to the event and your first plate of food from one of the vendors for free.

I'll get to the food and events in a bit, but the biggest faux pas was a food bracelet system that failed. After you entered the venue you were given a wristband that could be 'loaded' with money for making purchases at the vendors without having to have cash at each location. Each band had one meal credit on it already. I arrived when the event opened at noon and used my credit pretty quickly. I chose the best dollar value, the Texas BBQ ($12), before the lines started. Good thing I did. An hour later the whole system had broken down. Management announced that they were going to have to switch to a cash system and everyone would have to go to the wristband booth to have their bands converted to vouchers. What a mess! Lines were huge! My estimate is that it would have taken over an hour to reach the front of the line. People were mad. I wonder if a riot broke out after I left.

The day's schedule included cooking demonstrations, cookbook signings, and bands playing music. Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Anne Burrell, and other food personalities were there. Flay and Fieri were featured late in the day, so I just stuck around to see Burrell's demo of Grilled scallops with pickled watermelon and two different grilled pizettas.

Gene Burns from KGO AM radio interviewed some of the vendors for his Dining Around show. They were broadcasting live. I never heard him before, but I sure was unimpressed when he starting calling his guests Sunnyside BBQ when their name was actually Southside BBQ. Usually a good idea to get the name right.

There were quite a few bands also featured. Above is Jeremy Buck and the Bang. There was also Little Feat, Marshall Crenshaw, and others. I could see enjoying a day of good food and music. One drag was that the place got so crowded you could barely move. It was incredible. Being there early, it had been a slow start. Then I sat down for one band and one demo, stood up, and voila! The place was jammed! I was shocked!

One area that I saw really underutilized was their 'market' section. It was an opportunity for kitchen and food specialty vendors to set up booths and show/sell their products. With so much out there in the world of food, this could have been a huge area filled with booths. Instead, there were about four vendors.

This is Leah Aguayo, a school teacher turned salsa entrepreneur. She had samples of her medium and hot salsas. Here's a local, small business woman who was promoting her salsa at a big food event. Why weren't there more like her? By the way, her salsa was good. Great texture and flavor with lots of cilantro and no raw onion.

I had two wristbands because I had gotten them as media passes. My intent was to use the second free meal plate from the other wristband, but with the meltdown of the system, I decided to forgo the freebie and just pay for my dessert. I wasn't interested in standing in those lines! I went to see about the famous Junior's cheesecake from New York ($5). Unimpressed. It tasted like it was a sour cream cheesecake and it was good, but it wasn't the best cheesecake I ever had. Next to it is a chocolate bouchon from Bouchon's Bakery in Yountville. This tiny morsel was $2! And a sample of a 'best' product? It was essentially a fancy shaped brownie bite.

The Texas BBQ brisket and beef sausage up above was from Southside BBQ from Elgin, Texas. I really liked the sausage and the brisket was well cooked. Where they failed was in their sauces. Boring and thin. But then, Texas BBQ is always more about smoking then about the sauces. And I do tend to favor Memphis or Carolina BBQ over Texan.


This could be a great event. My overall thoughts:

- Work on the whole wristband vs. cash vs. ticket system for paying for your food and drink.
- Bigger venue. If this was the first year and the place was that jammed, you need someplace bigger.
- More and better food specialties from around the country. There were 15 featured places this time around and there's certainly opportunity for another dozen or more.
- Improve the marketplace and try to feature more local, just starting entrepreneurs. What a great opportunity to get their product known!
- Go green! Use paper based products for serving the food, not the plastic.

I'm sure there will be more thoughts I'll come up with later. Will they do it again? I think they saw today that people wanted such an event. It just needs to be bigger, better, and run smoothly.

A couple posts ago I told about my excursion to IFly in Union City for indoor skydiving. But about seven years ago I did do actual skydiving, although in a tandem. Here is my recollection of that experience and then a discussion as to which I preferred.

First of all, I'm afraid of heights. So I had the idea that maybe going skydiving would help with this fear. Then the opportunity arose to do it.

Below is a picture of Cindy, Dawn, and myself. Dawn, at the time, was supervising a unit at work where she had issued a challenge. If they met a quota then she would take "a flying leap". It was agreed upon that anyone else that joined her, the quota would be increased. Since I wanted to do a skydive sometime it seemed like this was the perfect opportunity.

We headed to the Lodi airport where there is a large skydiving group. It costs $100 for a tandem jump. I paid extra to get the DVD and photos. You can see my skydiving video on You Tube HERE.

I will admit that I had an out-of-body experience from the time they opened the plane door at 13,000 feet til the instance I felt my stomach drop after we left the plane. Very wierd. I think it was because I had no control, my tandem diver did. Certainly there was no way I would have willingly walked up to the door and jumped on my own!

The fall wasn't that bad after the stomach drop. What I remember most was trying to smile for the camera. Bad idea. The wind wipes out any bit of moisture in your mouth and you've got the worst cotton mouth imaginable. Keep your mouth closed! The fall is about 30 seconds and then the chute is pulled. The floating down on the shoot was actually worse for me than the fall. I get motion sick and so the floating side to side and turning made me queasy.

Upon landing everyone has the biggest grin possible. You are so happy to be on land! Last summer my dad wanted to do it at the age of 75. He went with Dean since I had no desire to go again.

My overall impression of skydiving was to compare it to childbirth. Think about it. Giving birth naturally is a stressful, painful experience. So much so that, at the time, the woman swears she'll never do it again. After several months or years, the bad memories fade to such an extent that she's willing to go through it again for another child.

That's how I feel about skydiving. I figured it would take several years for me forget the scariness of it to be willing to do it again. I wasn't ready to go with dad last summer, but perhaps I'll be ready to do it again in the future - with the right person(s) or in a really cool location.

So...comparing the indoor versus the real skydiving? I liked the indoor better and not just because you are still on land and in no danger of dying. I liked the freedom of it better. During a tandem skydive you are strapped to an instructor and just fall and float. For the indoor skydiving you have NOTHING attached to you and so you really are floating freely. You can also learn to do tricks in the wind tunnel. Sure you can do tricks with real skydiving, but that requires you to go through the entire skydive training program to get certified (or whatever). Since I have no desire to jump from planes on a regular basis, the indoor version suits me much better.

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A few years ago I tried a tandem skydive and I'll blog about that later. This weekend, though, I went for indoor skydiving at IFly in Union City. This is the type where there is a giant wind tunnel that blows air at about 100 mph so that you lift up.

I went with a Meetup group that consisted of nine people. We were able to get a half hour block for our group alone. The cost for a first timer group rate was $55. We had arrived about an hour early because the drive to the Bay area was pretty smooth. After checking in and signing our waivers, we went upstairs to the observation deck to watch others fly.

At noon our group was called into Jump School. We watched a short instructional video that showed us the hand signals we would need to know for positioning in the tunnel. Then each of us got onto the table to practice form and reading the hand signals from our instructor, Ryan. Here is Marla on the table.

Next stop was the outfitting area where we were each given earplugs, goggles, a helmet, and a jumpsuit. You were required to take off all jewelry and had to have lace up sneakers. Finally it was our turn into the chamber.

They take you through in a rotation. You get a little over a minute your first time where you get your first taste of how to position yourself. Some people are naturals. Others take a lot of help from the instructor who is acting as your spotter.

The second time you get another minute and hopefully get into position quickly and without much help. If you do, then the instructor might help you learn to turn or control going up and down. If you are lucky, he'll hold on to you and you will spin up to the top of the chamber as a a linked couple.

When we had all finished our second rotation Ryan entered the tunnel, the wind was turned up to 150 mph, and he showed off doing all kinds of tricks like spinning and somersaults.

We were told that repeat flyers get discounted rates. You can also buy blocks of time. For instance, a full half hour all to yourself would be $450. Or you could share that block with others, maybe three friends, so that you divide up that half hour and get more minutes each. As you get better they will eventually teach you tricks.

Oh, and you can take children as young as three years old!

What a fun day. I preferred this to my real tandem skydive. I'll write about that next. Meanwhile, consider IFly for a party or special occasion. It's not outrageously priced and it IS fun.

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