Dough Joys

Milford Baking Co.’s popular pasties are based on a recipe from a Calumet, Mich., family.
Photographs by Cybelle Codish

Milford’s Main Street, for anyone who hasn’t ventured that far west for a while, retains the look of small-town America.  Its sturdy 1880s vintage buildings house shops with on-site owners selling everything from Native American artifacts and gourmet lettuce cutters to running shoes and toy trucks.

The oldest business on the street is most likely the Milford Baking Co. It has been at 408 N. Main for 117 years, co-proprietor Laura Helwig says with her customary cheeriness. Helwig and her business partner, Elaine Aittama, bought the place 21 years ago, and have been running it ever since, turning out loaves of salt-rising bread, almond tea rings, cherry turnovers, and cookies of every description, which are displayed on the lowest shelf — at toddlers’ eye level. Everything is made on the premises, six days a week.

That traditional approach extends to the business operation of this quaint shop with lace-curtained windows. The women don’t use a computer, nor do they accept credit cards. The payroll for their 12 employees is done by hand, and if a newcomer is caught off guard by the no credit card policy, they’re welcome to leave an IOU. Little slips of pink paper with names and amounts are stuck to the wall behind the counter. Eventually, the IOUs all get paid. Helwig says they’ve never had to take a loss. “It works,” she says. Milford is that kind of town.

The Milford Baking Co. got its 15 minutes of fame when it made a Jimmy Hoffa cupcake during the 2006 FBI dig for the body of the Teamsters president on the grounds of a nearby horse farm. The ghoulish cupcake featured a green plastic hand reaching from the depths of its dark, really dark, chocolate frosting, and they sold hundreds of them.

It was meant good-naturedly, and most people took it that way, although there were a few dissenters, Helwig says. She did receive a call from Hoffa’s daughter, who wasn’t at all happy about the joke.

Creepy cupcakes, however, are not the bakery’s only claim to fame. A much more savory trademark is its every-Wednesday special: Finnish pasties made from an old family recipe contributed by Aittama’s husband, Dave, who hails from Calumet in the Upper Peninsula, where pasties kept copper miners fed while they toiled.

Every week, the bakery turns out 400 of them in three varieties: the original beef, which is the most popular; turkey; and a vegetarian version that features cauliflower and two cheeses, which the miners in Calumet would probably have rejected. The traditional pasty includes potatoes, carrots, onions, and rutabaga encased in a golden-brown crust, and although it might seem like a wintertime dish, it goes over just as well during the other three seasons.

Sometimes, all 400 pasties are snapped up on the first day by customers who have made eating a pasty part of their weekly routine, and who begin arriving at 10 a.m. to shell out $4.25 apiece when the hearty pies are coming out of the oven. Occasionally, the supply might last another day or so.

The cookie and brownie supply, however, never runs out — or at least it hasn’t in 117 years.

Milford Baking Co., 408 N. Main St., Milford; 248-685-2200.