Pittsburgh’s Crust Worthy Makes Weekly Bakery Magic with Sourdough

It’s important for Chloe Newman to include regionally produced organic flours in the 200 loaves of sourdough bread she bakes each week from May through November.

“I also try to promote grain diversity,” says Newman, 32, the owner and head baker of Crust Worthy, a local resource for sourdough breads and baked goods. Along with wheat flour mostly sourced from Frankferd Farms in Saxonburg, or Small Valley Milling in Halifax, she uses whole grains such as buckwheat, rye, barley, and the low-gluten variety kamut (Egyptian for “wheat”) in her loaves and pastries.

“I’m making a loaf with kamut right now,” she says from her garage-turned-fully-certified commercial kitchen. The grain is about 30% of a whole-wheat golden-hued loaf with a “deliciously mildly sweet flavor,” she adds. “A lot of people find it easier to digest,” she says.

Each Saturday morning, Newman packs her Ford Transit van with inventory that will sell out at the Bloomfield Saturday Market. In addition to bread, she loads about 300 to 500 of her homemade pastries: think chocolate chunk sea salt cookies, sourdough cinnamon rolls, and rich, “a-little-goes-a-long-way” brownies.

Most approach her stand, asking for the familiar and all-purpose classic white crusty sourdough bread, but her soft oatmeal-infused oat porridge variety has also become a best seller — anything with a loaf shape is popular for families, she says.

A Carnegie Mellon University 2013 chemistry and fine arts graduate, Newman started experimenting with sourdough in 2017. Encouraged by friends — and friends of friends — who kept asking for more, the Rhode Island native decided to turn her hobby into a full-time career. In 2019, she began frequenting local farmers’ markets. Last summer, she decided to work exclusively at the Bloomfield Saturday Market and to focus on her craft and her business future.

Her 40-hour, four-day workweek begins on Wednesday when she preps pastries and breads and soaks mix-ins like sunflower or pumpkin seeds to prevent them from sucking the dough’s moisture. Or she pre-roasts seeds to add extra flavor and aroma to the final product. She’ll also gather the doughs she uses to add to her starter, a mixture of flour, water, wild yeasts, and microflora that cause the leavening, tangy sourdough flavor, and nutritional benefits. Thursday is devoted to the 36-hour start-to-finish process, first by building the starter. “It has to be fed a continual source of food, meaning more flour and water,” Newman says.

She shapes the loaves, putting them into ovular or rectangular loaf pans, and places them in a cooler overnight to help create more flavor. Friday is spent baking in her three-deck oven, “anywhere from eight to 18 loaves per deck for a minimum of 45 minutes.” Loading her baked goods into her van on Saturday mornings is a strategic “game of Tetris,” she says. “All of the inventory gets organized into these stackable crates. I also have to fit in all of my farmers’ market supplies, like tables,” she says. “I have that down.”

Her investment in her small kitchen with a large oven, mixers, storage space, and master plumber-installed sink fixtures has paid for itself by far, she adds. Moving forward, Newman and three other food professionals with varied baking backgrounds have taken steps to create a cooperative — a brick-and-mortar resource for artisan breads, baked goods, and cakes, along with community workshops — that they are hoping to launch in 2024.

“On the business side, everything will be handled as a worker-owned cooperative with a democratic, sociocratic governing system with certain values and missions, promoting local food and workers’ rights,” she says. “That is something I’m really passionate and excited about.”

In the meantime, in addition to the Bloomfield Saturday Market, her sourdough creations are available at local coffee shops, including Bantha Tea Bar, Caffè d’Amore, and Centred Coffee & Wellness.

Story by Laurie Bailey / Styling by Anna Calabrese / Photography by Dave Bryce

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