In 1883, the Polish actress Helen Modjeska made her American debut at Louisville’s McCauley Theater. Candy maker Anton Busath was so enamored by her performance in “A Doll’s House,” he asked to name his newest candy after her. A caramel-covered marshmallow, simple as it was, would don a jaunty name few can forget or say without a smile: the Modjeska. (Say it over and over, really slowly, like Buddy the Elf.)
This sweet story makes the candy a shoo-in for Valentine’s Day—“if there’s one romantic gesture that’s sure to woo, it’s naming a candy after the object of your affection,” Sarah Baird writes in her book, Kentucky Sweets—but consider it just our excuse to share a recipe for this lovable, two-bite caramel cloud that’s hilariously easy to make.
After all, there wasn’t a fairytale ending for Modjeska and Busath—a signed portrait of Modjeska hung in the Busath factory until it burned down in 1947—but the candy lives on in the hearts and the factories of other Kentucky candy makers. Bauer's Candy is a fourth-generation family-owned business that sells their Modjeskas everywhere from Cracker Barrel to Williams Sonoma to the little Los Angeles shop where I’d snag a Modjeska for a dollar a pop as a kid—way, way back in the late '90s!
Jolly as the candy is to say and eat, though, I find making them the most fun part: Make marshmallows if you’re really trying to impress your Valentine, make caramel, glide marshmallows through the puddle of caramel, scoot them onto a well-greased surface, gaze at them while you wait for them to harden, done.
Have you ever heard of Modjeskas before? I hope so!