In the Henion Bakery on North Pleasant Street in Amherst, the lights go on at 4 in the morning. Pretty soon early-rising customers are in the bakery for their morning coffee and muffin.
After 17 years in business, the Henion Bakery is a popular feature of street life here; as morning brightens, patrons linger at the little tables in the front, eyeing the exhibited art, which changes monthly, chatting with friends or reading newspapers as they munch on treats, while others line up at the counter for bread or the bakery's signature items like Russian teacake (an elegant variation of babka) and the distinctive sourdough-walnut-raisin bread, a Provence-inspired creation the Henions developed at a customer's suggestion.
A wide range of cakes with complex flavors and perfect textures, and other pastries such as éclairs and fruit tarts, make this bakery a godsend to anyone in need of dessert for a dinner party. Everything is chemical-free and local ingredients such as Mapleline milk, local eggs and Valley-grown fruits are used as much as possible.
The owners, born-to-be-bakers Barbara Kline (pastry chef) and David Henion (bread baker), both trained at the Culinary Institute of America, but at different times. They didn't meet until years later, when both were working at the Black Sheep Deli four blocks away. David is also known locally as a potter, an identity that uses the feel for texture that makes him a fine baker, but in a different way. Raising his muscular fingers and caressing a loaf of bread, he says, "This is a very pretty loaf of bread. It has a temporal life and that's okay. But I like the relative permanence of ceramic art."
The popular lineup of bread, rolls, tarts, cookies and cupcakes is classic and reliable here, but imagination is untrammeled when it comes to custom cakes. In the Would You Believe It column are such past achievements as a cockroach cake for an entomologist and a cake shaped into a stand of Canadian Rocky Mountains with a house among green fir trees. Yet Henion Bakery caters to all, offering a treat affordable even for the very young: 15-cent doughnut holes.