Life is sweet for this popular candy guru

Mary Adashek of Cedarburg passes along her passion for candy making to others by teaching classes in the area. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Not long after Mary Adashek got married she learned her husband is fond of a specific confection.

“You know when you’re a newlywed,” she said. “He likes caramels so I have to make him caramels.”

More than three decades later, Adashek is still making sweets for her sweetie, and she’s passing on her passion to others through her business, Sweet Connection Classes.

Adashek lives in Cedarburg and runs classes at five venues in the area on how to make 10 different types of candy.

She started the business in 2018 with encouragement from her sister, who teaches classes on making art from fused glass.

Adashek’s new career came after a decade as a cardiovascular technician and 20 years of direct sales jobs with 100% commission, including Pampered Chef, Bead Retreat and Dove Chocolate Discoveries, a separate company from the well-known chocolate maker.

In the early 2000s, she taught jewelry making when beads were only available at small shops and not big-box stores, and she later ran a fiber arts business for eight years in which she turned used wool and cashmere into pillows, purses and scarves. 

Canceled art shows due to the pandemic led her to the bittersweet decision to stop work. She is selling her inventory.

Thanks to running jewelry classes and educating people about her home-based businesses, teaching how to make candy “wasn’t too hard of a leap,” Adashek said.

She already knew how to bake, which she prefers over cooking. The Cedarburg native, the second-youngest of eight children, grew up helping her mother in the kitchen. Cookies, brownies, cakes and other dishes were homemade.

“My mom was a big baker,” she said.

Her father was a postal carrier for 42 years. Her parents were Cedarburg High School sweethearts, and Adashek is best known because her great-grandfather built the barbershop across the street from what is now the Rivoli Theater in 1886. The shop has had four owners in 135 years.

Adashek began her teaching venture by bringing candy samples to the Milwaukee Public Market and asked to join its lineup.

“I was blessed with tremendous success,” Adashek said, “and then Covid hit.”

Adashek didn’t teach for eight months, then taught virtually for the next eight months in front of a dark computer screen with a timer. She couldn’t even see herself.

She was thrilled to return to live classes in May.

“Oh my gosh, I was in pig heaven,” she said. “You can’t compare teaching in front of a computer to live classes.”

The atmosphere, Adashek said, is second to none.

“Hearing the laughter, just to see smiling faces again,” she said.

People have embraced coming back. Adashek said her classes have been sold out.

Adashek supplies all the equipment so attendees don’t need to bring anything. After the two-hour classes, each member walks out with candies from tried-and-true recipes inside a gift box that looks like it’s from a high-end candy shop.

Students quickly develop camaraderie and share knowledge.

“Oftentimes you’ll hear people in my classes — ‘What if I add this?’ — that’s the fun of it,” Adashek said. “My goal is always to build confidence in their candy-making skills.”

Trial and error is how she “amped up” basic recipes into specialities, such as Irish whiskey caramels, raspberry and amaretto truffles, turtles, terrapins and caramel macchiato bites, hot cinnamon brittle and a trio of sauces — bourbon pecan caramel, merlot fudge and vanilla bean rum.

“You keep adjusting until you find the right recipe,” she said.

Her family members and neighbors like it when Adashek’s creativity strikes. They’re the taste testers.

Last week at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg, Adashek taught how to make brandy old fashioned caramels and caramel sauce.

“It’s Wisconsin and everybody loves a brandy old fashioned,” she said.

Her flavored caramels are spin-offs developed from the “Taste of Home” caramel recipe she used 33 years ago.

For people who want to dig out grandma’s recipe for a sweet treat and take a shot at it themselves, Adashek said, they must use a candy thermometer.

“There’s a science to it,” she said.

Adashek teaches six to eight classes per month and has regular attendees who follow her. Some classes are held at the Milwaukee Public Market, as well as in Waukesha, Brookfield, Greendale and in her hometown.

“I was excited when they contacted me,” she said of the quilt museum. “It’s two minutes from home.”

Her classes’ popularity is somewhat driven by society’s appetite for activities.

“We want to spend our money on experiences versus things,” Adashek said.

In addition, homemade meals have seen increased interest.

“I’m so glad there’s a resurgence in cooking and baking and making your own food instead of processed food,” she said.

Adashek’s family has taken to her passion as well. Her husband Bob sometimes cooks and two of her three adult children like to bake.

She recently took an Italian cooking class with her 19-year-old son.

“It’s exciting when I see my kids become excited and passionate about cooking and enjoying good food,” she said.

At home, Adashek bakes homemade breads, rolls and sweet bakery, and she enjoys cooking comfort foods, such as roasts, chicken pot pie and soups.

She also loves to grow flowers in her garden.

Adashek’s next class at the quilt museum is Dec. 15, when she will teach how to make homemade marshmallows and hot cocoa mix.

She is also teaching how to make white chocolate cranberry orange bark and Christmas mint patties on Dec. 7 at Union House in Cedarburg as a fundraiser for Santa’s Workshop in Cedarburg.

“I’ll keep running it as long as classes are popular,” she said.

For more information, visit Sweet Connection Classes on Facebook and Instagram.



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