April 2013 Issue
Baked to Perfection
The heavenly scent of cinnamon rolls, bread and, of course, fry pies, greets patrons of this popular Amish Country bakery.
It is well before dawn in Amish country.
It will be hours before a pink and yellow parfait-colored sky looms large over rolling hills, farmers’ fields and narrow, winding back roads. Amish buggies, black silhouettes against the sky, have yet to be heard on paved roads. The rhythmic clippety-clop of horses’ hooves is still silent.
But soft light can be seen through the windows of Miller’s Bakery in Millersburg. The faces of three young Amish women are framed in the predawn, glancing downward at the big bowls of ingredients on their worktable. The women arrive hours before the bakery opens to the public at 7 a.m. to ensure customers smell freshly baked cinnamon rolls and generously sized apple fritters.
The owner of Miller’s Bakery, Amish man Jonas Miller, and one of his five daughters, Ada Miller, hustle through the kitchen. They make sure eggs are cracked properly and that there will be enough glazed doughnuts to satisfy early-morning customers. Some are young Amish men on bicycles with flashing red reflectors on their way to work. They announce their presence when they open the bakery’s front door, striking a large brass horse bell suspended on a leather strap.
Miller’s Bakery, in Holmes County, is one of those places in Ohio’s Amish Country that is a favorite destination for many. Even though it is off a main highway and, its exceptional bakery is appreciated by locals and even foreign visitors.
“We had tourists from Australia who said they came just to [see] us. I don’t know if they were pulling my leg, but we talked for an hour. They had lots of questions and I was glad to answer them,” says Jonas Miller, who sat with his visitors at a small wooden table in the center of the retail store. He made the table with log legs and surrounded it with vertical log stools, “so there are no legs to break off.” A pleasantly hissing Coleman lantern, filled with what Miller calls “white gas,” hangs over the table.
Miller’s Bakery was established by Barbara Miller, Jonas’ mother, in 1967 in the basement of the home she shared with her husband, Sam Miller. The small operation created handmade egg noodles in several widths.
“We had all these egg whites left over and my father said we had to do something with them,” recalls Miller, whose family initially supplied their products to Guggisberg Cheese in Charm. “So we started making angel food cake.”
When the cheese store occasionally ran out of the Millers’ products, customers began coming directly to the Miller home. In 1978, Miller’s sister, Mary Miller, opened the bakery and retail store at its present location, part of the original family homestead. Jonas Miller took ownership in 1990.
Mary Miller was determined to set her family’s bakery apart and wanted to create a unique food item. She and her brother experimented with numerous variations until they were satisfied with their signature item, the cheese tart. Each tart is loaded with rich pie filling and baked in muffin tins in gas ovens. (Originally the bakery used previously owned pizza ovens.) Ten varieties are available, including Miller’s favorites, lemon and black raspberry. Others include apple, strawberry, cherry, red raspberry, pineapple, blueberry, pecan and plain.
Last October, the bakery was near breaking its record for the number of cheese tarts it sold in one day. When the total number was getting close, Miller’s son urged a customer to buy a few more than what she initially ordered to help set a new record. The woman bought every tart that was left in the glass case, and the bakery sold 123 dozen that day.
It depends on how busy the small bakery is, but most days baking employees leave about noon. In the mornings, the women, each wearing a red apron over their traditional Amish attire, stand at a narrow table with large stainless steel bowls or big plastic tubs in front of them.
Measuring cups and hand beaters are neatly hung on a wall. Most ingredients for recipes are memorized. But a few recipes written on laminated index cards dangle from a cord nearby if someone wants to check. No computer-filed recipes here. No electronic scales to measure ingredients.
The women painstakingly mix avalanches of flour, mountains of sugar and icebergs of creamy yellow butter primarily with their hands covered in thin plastic gloves or with hand-cranked mixers. According to Miller, only the demanding angel food cake mixture is done with a more commercial mixer to prevent injuring employees’ hands and arms.
“There is a surprise in our bakery items. You may find a few air holes. Our slices of bread aren’t perfect like commercial bread. But that’s what makes us different and gives us that real homemade taste. We mix by hand. And except for the preservatives that come in the flour, we don’t use any. If you leave the bakery out a few days, it will grow hair,” says Miller proudly.
But there is little chance that the pastries would remain uneaten even a few days in anyone’s house. That certainly is true for the 12 kinds of cookies, which include buttermilk, snickerdoodle, raisin-oatmeal, gingersnap, molasses, chocolate chip, peanut butter and date pinwheel. The bakery is capable of making 225 cookies every half hour.
Of course, the bakery also makes Amish country favorites, including fry pies (think peach-pineapple, blueberry and seven other flavors); handmade chocolate candies (go for the peanut clusters), whoopie pies and cream sticks that make you want to hop on an exercise treadmill after you eat just one. And if you have never tasted a snitz pie (with slices of apples or peaches), here is your chance.
And did we mention the fresh-from-the-oven, heavenly smelling bread? It is about a three- to four-hour process to create a batch of white, wheat, cinnamon, raisin, cinnamon-raisin, iced raisin, oatmeal or garden bread with dried vegetables that Miller says is great toasted.
The bakery’s operation is a simple, no-tech process: mix ingredients, pour into baking pans, bake. Some pieces are lavishly topped with icing, chopped walnuts or a sweet red cherry. Very simple, very delicious.
Miller’s Bakery also sells bulk food items such as pumpkin seeds and almonds, as well as jams that include elderberry and quince, “which will pucker you up,” according to Miller. A niece in the family, who lives in Butler, sells canned pickled red beets, bread- and-butter pickles and hot peppers under the Hershbergers Cannery label.
An adjoining craft room offers handmade wooden children’s rockers, toys and pretty, colorful print aprons sewn by Mary Miller, Miller’s wife of 42 years. Sam Miller, 93, also contributes strung-bead jewelry to the craft room.
But the cookies, cheese tarts and other treats are the undisputed reason why a trip to Miller’s Bakery is mandatory. Just ask the three little boys who recently visited the store with their mother. One youngster in a red hooded sweatshirt knelt down and pressed his face against the glass case so he could get a better look at the cream sticks on the bottom shelf.
“Can I have one of each?” he asked his mother.
Miller’s Bakery is located at 4280 Twp. Rd. 356, Millersburg 44654. The store is open Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–5 p.m. For more information, call 330/893-3002.