We head to the farmer’s market just about every weekend with the intention of hunting down the best local produce for making our regular green juices and veggie dishes. There to foil our plans each week are the delectable show-stoppers from Valerie Confections. Fresh-baked galettes tempt us to their farmstand and, once captured, we’re helpless against the glossy appeal of row after row of ‘Strawberry Vanilla Bean’ and ‘Black and Blue’ preserves! Each bottle is jammed with fresh and local fruits – so, no problem there – but we’ve yet to find a way to spread the sweet stuff on a stalk of kale.
We caught up with Valerie at one of her non-farm stand locations (there are 3 – Silverlake, Echo Park and now, DTLA) to find out what inspires this local artisan to create the sweets that all of LA goes ga-ga for and to pick up a few tips on the perfect summer jam. For the ultimate indulgence, get a hold of Valerie’s famous, vintage-inspired Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake – the pièce de résistance for any and all cozy fall dinner plans.
THE CHALKBOARD MAG: What first inspired you to try your hand at sweets?
Valerie: I started baking when I was 8 years old, and my inspiration has stayed fairly consistent: I like sharing sweets with people, it always elicits an immediate, joyful response.
TCM: Tell us about how you source ingredients and what qualities are important to you?
Valerie: Sourcing the best ingredients is enormously important. More than anything, I look for exceptional flavor and the knowledge that the ingredient was grown or manufactured with care. I stay away from produce that has been treated with pesticides, and I purchase exclusively from local farmers. When purchasing chocolate or other ingredients for baking, I prefer working with smaller distributors and companies instead of large conglomerates.
TCM: Tell us a little bit about the small-batch preserves and how those became such an important part of what you do?
Valerie: In Southern California we are incredibly fortunate to see gorgeous produce almost year round. But even with the agreeable climate, some of my favorite fruits go out of season far too quickly. Making preserves is the best way to enjoy fruits any month of the year. I adore the process of making preserves, from prepping the fruit to stirring a bubbling pot of jam; it is a wholly intimate experience.
TCM: Which is your favorite confection to make?
Valerie: I go through phases. Sometimes it’s truffles or cookies, and other times I find the most fulfillment making pots and pots of jams. Right now I am most excited by pies, with all the summer fruits in season, it’s a thrilling time to play with fruit.
TCM: Your favorite confection to eat?
Valerie: My Durango cookie. It’s a milk chocolate chip cookie with roasted almonds, cocoa nibs and smoked salt – it is sweet, savory, chewy and crunchy and I crave one every day.
TCM: What are your most devoted customers’ favorite items?
Valerie: The Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake is a necessity for many birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. The zucchini bread has a strong hold on the 4-year-old set, and the almond fleur-de-sel toffee has become a perennial Christmas gift for many of our customers.
TCM: Would you share a recipe with us?
Valerie: Of course!
Nectarine and Plum Jam
Makes six 12-ounce jars
2 quarts plums, washed, pitted and thinly sliced (approx. 3 lbs)
2 quarts nectarines, washed, pitted and thinly sliced (approx. 2 lbs)
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
Combine the plums and nectarines with the sugar and set aside in a large bowl, covered, for at least one hour, or overnight in the refrigerator.
Pour the fruit into a large saucepan, add 1/2 cup of water and cook over a high heat, stirring frequently with a large wooden spoon or a heat-proof rubber spatula. Continue stirring the fruit at a consistent pace as it comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. (If the fruit starts to boil near the rim of the pot, lower the heat slightly and continue stirring.)
Place two small ceramic plates into the freezer.
After the major boiling subsides, approximately 10 minutes, you will see the jam start to thicken. Taste the jam. If you want a little more sweetness, increase the sugar in 1/4-cup increments, and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
Check the set of the jam by dipping a teaspoon in the jam, or by placing a small amount of hot jam on a frozen plate. If the hot jam streams off the teaspoon and appears very watery, continue cooking. You want to see the jam cling to the spoon a bit. When testing on a frozen plate, place a dollop of jam on the plate and run a finger through it…did the movement create a straight line? If yes, the jam is ready. If not, continue cooking for a few additional minutes and repeat the cold-plate test.
Pour the jam into clean, dry jars and cool to room temperature. Cover the jars with lids and refrigerate for 2 to 3 weeks.