By Patti Nickel
When noted Polish actress Madame Helena Modjeska arrived at Louisville’s McCauley Theater in 1883 to perform the role of Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s “The Doll House,” (the first staging of an Ibsen play in the U.S.), she came with an impressive list of Shakespearean credits. When she finished her run, she left with a legion of new fans and a Kentucky candy named in her honor.
One of those new fans was French confectioner Anton Busath who had spent years perfecting a recipe for what he called creamy caramel biscuits. After attending Madame Modjeska’s performance, he became instantly enamored, and he had more to offer her than applause. He asked if he could name his candy after her. She agreed and the Modjeska was born. In turn, she gifted Busath with an autographed portrait which he kept on his storeroom wall until his death, after which it mysteriously disappeared.
The Modjeska candy, often described as a ‘caramel pillow’ due to its texture, has been a Kentucky tradition for a century-and-a-half. Bauer’s Candies, in Lawrenceburg, is its most prolific purveyor, producing some 50,000 pieces of candy on average per month. Their Modjeskas have a pillowy marshmallow center dipped in a rich and creamy homemade caramel, and for an additional twist, one version adds a coat of smooth dark chocolate.
Bauer’s Candies has been producing the Modjeskas since 1889 when Frederick Bauer started the company in Louisville. Today, 134 years later, Frederick’s great-granddaughter Anna keeps the tradition alive with her Lawrenceburg factory. Bauer’s has 20 employees – one shipping clerk, one manager, two cooks and 16 line workers – whose precision would make “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s” oompa loompas look like slackers.
Together, they turn out candies that have an audience far beyond the boundaries of the Bluegrass. “Our candies are shipped to every state in the U.S., as well as to Canada, Great Britain, China and New Zealand,” says Anna.
As owner/president for 37 years, Anna is the first female member of her family to run the business. When asked to account for the popularity of the Modjeska, Anna attributes it to the fact “that no shortcuts are ever taken in making it.” That means that the recipe, which hasn’t changed since 1889, uses only the freshest, purest ingredients. “Even with prices for these ingredients skyrocketing, we refuse to compromise on the quality,” says Anna.
In addition, the marshmallows used as the centerpiece for the Modjeska can’t be found in any supermarket. “We make all the marshmallows in house,” she says. “Each piece of candy is hand-dipped, hand-wrapped and hand-packed, and we only make them in small batches for shipping.”
Since Bauer’s Candies doesn’t stock their own product and only sells through special orders, the quality is easier to maintain. In addition to candies sold through Anna’s monthly appearances on the QVC network, they can also be found at Cracker Barrel, Williams-Sonoma and numerous candy stores and specialty shops across the country.
The fame of the Modjeska has been documented on two network television shows, “Food Finds” and “Road Tasted with Jamie and Bobby Deen,” both on the Food Network. Anna herself has been the subject of a documentary on Kentucky Educational Television (KET).
Although the Modjeskas are the centerpiece of the Bauer’s candy line, they do offer a strictly caramel line for those who don’t like marshmallows. “We have specialty flavors seasonally and we even have a bourbon sea salt caramel using a bourbon from Buffalo Trace,” says Anna.
If you’re wondering about the busiest times for Bauer’s Candies, that would be the Kentucky Derby and Christmas, according to Anna. “In preparation for this year’s Derby, we have shipped out some 50,000 to 75,000 pieces and that’s a low estimate,” she says. And Christmas? “That would be more than a million pieces,” she adds.
Bauer’s Candies has been Kentucky Proud for nearly a century-and-a-half, and Anna says that with her two sons, Matt and Mike succeeding her, she expects it to continue this proud tradition. “We stay true to the quality of the product and the heritage of the Bauer family,” she says. “It’s a true labor of love.”
While you’re in town checking out the Bauer’s Candies, you might want to stop in for lunch at nearby Bluegrass Sabor. If it’s comfort food you’re after, this is the place. Whether it’s brisket, a Kentucky Hot Brown or a classic bourbon cocktail with one of three Lawrenceburg bourbons (Wild Turkey, Four Roses or Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company), you’ll find it here. Grab a seat next to the fireplace if you can.
Should you want to stay the night (or better yet, several nights), and are looking for unique accommodation? Book a stay at one of several cozy offerings for a unique Bourbon Trail tour/lodging/candy combination.