Sugar and spice and everything nice


Colleen Callahan photo

The door-chime announces your entrance as aproned women smile from behind glass cases. You return the smile as your senses come to life with the enticing aroma of fresh-baked breads, fried blueberry donuts and glazed cream sticks bursting with custard. You are immediately transported to a gentle memory of Grandma’s kitchen, where love and comfort permeate from the home-baked confections. Welcome to Holmes County where ‘Baked from Scratch’ is the way it’s done.

People travel far and wide to experience bucolic Holmes County and its old-style bakeries. Some are visibly located on state routes, while others are tucked away off the beaten path. Each bakery has its own niche and history — a unique story of how it all began.

In 1967 Sam and Barbara Miller started Miller’s Bakery in their basement providing Guggisberg Cheese with their cakes and egg noodles. Soon thereafter, the Millers started selling baked goods out of their home. According to granddaughter and baker Ada Miller, in 1978 the family relocated the bakery to its current location tucked between Charm and Berlin, a modest building with a jaw-dropping, pastry-filled interior.

“All of our recipes are family recipes that have been passed down through the generations,” Miller said. “We are not into trends, our customers have their favorites and everything is made from scratch.”

Miller’s Bakery is known for its fresh-from-the-oven breads, hand-dipped chocolates and savory pastries, but their most unique item is their fruit-filled cheese tarts, a bite-sized cheesecake confection. “My father and aunt invented the recipe for these tarts, experimenting until they got it right,” Miller said. “They’re a best seller; from the peach-pineapple to the red-raspberry, rarely is there one left by the end of the day.”

Typically, bakers will fire up the ovens at 4 a.m. where they sieve the flour, measure the butter and weigh the sugar. Disparate ingredients are magically transformed into mouth-watering, decadent glazed, and cream-filled temptations.

Ruth Mast, owner of Der Bake Oven Bakery and Cafe in Berlin, believes baking is a “labor of love” passed down through the generations. Mast found herself working the night shift in a bakery upon graduating from the eighth grade. She received her first paycheck and discovered she not only loved baking but also the business of baking. In 1987 she landed a job at Der Bake Oven in Berlin.

Ten years later Mast purchased the business, the land and the building — a modest 1940s gingerbread-style home. She had a great foundation, but expansion was inevitable. “I want people to walk through my door and feel like they’ve arrived into a unique place where historic blends with modern, and urban pairs with industrial.”

If you ask Mast what she is known for, she will reply quite confidently, “my pies.”

In addition to Mast’s unforgettable pastries, breads, pies and cakes she also serves breakfast and lunch and caters private dinner parties. She also has a gourmet coffee bar and makes her own signature ice cream. She works 12-hour days, six days a week. “I can’t be ordinary; I have to be extraordinary.”

Steve and Richard Kauffman, owners of Kauffman’s Country Bakery, are two brothers with an impressive family history in the food industry. In 1992, the brothers joined forces and opened the bakery which is nestled between Heini’s Cheese and U.S. Route 62, between Berlin and Winesburg. Their family owns and operates Heini’s cheese, which dates back to the early 1900s.

“We are so grateful for our family,” Richard said. “We owe a lot to my uncle Pete (Dauwalder) and aunt Nancy, and our parents for getting us started and mentoring us in this business.”

Kauffman’s Country Bakery enjoys its tourist patronage, but it’s the locals who have kept them flourishing.

The brothers work well together. Richard handles the day-to-day business which includes sales, managing and orders. Steve can be found in the kitchen whipping up new recipes — he is renowned for his bread making skills with 20 hearty varieties. “He’s also experimenting with a maple bacon donut recipe,” Richard said. “We are not afraid to try new things, but we will always have the customer favorites: apple fritters, cream sticks and our blueberry donuts.”

Balancing trends with customer favorites can be a tricky business for bakeries, but Donna Hershberger, kitchen bakery manager for the Amish Door Bakery in Wilmot, has had great success with experimenting. “March 14 is ‘Pi Day,’ celebrated by local schools in their math classes,” Hershberger said. “We created the Pie Pop — a mini pie on a stick, and it’s become a huge hit.”

Hershberger was mentored in 1996 by Amish Door baker Ida Mast, who has since retired. “She took me under her wing and it was then I discovered my love of baking,” she said. “Since then, I have worked with some amazing people. Our staff put their heart and soul into everything they do, and we would not be successful without them.”

The Amish Door Bakery is part of a larger village located on the edge of Holmes County on U.S. 62. Owners Milo and Kathryn Miller outgrew a family style 30-seat restaurant (Stucki’s) they purchased in 1977. Today, the Amish Door Village includes an award-winning 400-seat restaurant, banquet and conference center, three specialty shops, and a luxurious hotel.

Marketing coordinator Katy Gill believes it’s important to keep old traditions and at the same time, incorporate new ideas. “We are a ‘made-from-scratch’ bakery that provides the community and tourists with home-style pies, cakes, pastries, cookies and breads,” she said. “We bake an astonishing amount of desserts, especially during the holidays. I’ve seen the bakers put out 300 pumpkin pies in 48 hours, and 800 cutout and hand-iced sugar cookies in 12 hours.”

According to Hershberger, their best sellers are their signature cream sticks bursting with Bavarian cream, and the apple fritters — a pasty masterpiece. They have also perfected the whoopie pie with seasonal flavors including this months red velvet. “We now make smaller versions of our customer favorites,” Hershberger said. “However, it never gets old when you see someone walk through the bakery door, approach the glass case and say: ‘Those cinnamon rolls are huge!’”