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Breaking Bread in the ‘Burgh

By Francesca Dabecco

A version of this story ran on NextPittsburgh.
Malburg’s sourdough bread cooling on a rack, fresh out of the oven. Photo by: Francesca Dabecco

Every Monday at 4 a.m., Nick Malburg rises like the bread he makes to begin an age-old baking style in the kitchen of his Stanton Heights ranch home.

He pulls heaping piles of dough prepared the day before from his refrigerator, cut and shaped into rounded molds, ready to be scored and baked to a crispy crust.

“It is a very wild and natural process from just cultivating yeast from the air,” Malburg, 28, said. “It is really earthen and old, but at the same time, I can make it into my own obsessive science of fermentation and structure.”

But for Malburg, it’s about more than just baking bread. It’s about breaking bread with his neighbors. For the past year or so, he has been sharing his craft with the community, delivering fresh sourdough to monthly subscribers across the city of Pittsburgh.
Malburg stretching his dough, preparing to cut it into sections for baking. Photo by: Francesca Dabecco

“There are people in Highland Park who subscribe, and Morningside, and someone in Shaler,” Malburg said. “Sometimes we propose meeting somewhere so neither of us has to go too far. There’s a customer who I always meet at Trader Joe’s.”

Currently, he has sixteen subscribers who look forward to their brown bag of bread every month, stamped with his newly designed logo, “Wild Science Bread Co.”

Mary Cragun of Ohio Township is one of those customers.

“If you buy one of Nick’s loaves of bread, you can tell he takes an enormous pride in what he does,” Cragun, 25, said.

Cragun works with Malburg, who is a full time music teacher at Glen Montessori School and also teaches private lessons out of his home.

She started buying his bread before he began offering monthly subscriptions.

“He would just come into work and say, ‘Hey, I’m baking bread. Does anyone want to buy some?’” Cragun said.

The first loaf that she bought was in February, while her daughter was fighting a bug. Malburg’s bread was one of the only things that she would eat.
Cragun’s daughter, Marlowe, enjoying Malburg’s bread. Photo submitted by Mary Cragun.

“It’s wholesome food. I know exactly what’s in this bread,” she said. “I feel much better giving this to my kid than any store-bought bread.”

And of course, the flavor speaks for itself, she said.

“It’s the perfect marriage of crispy crust and wonderful lovely insides,” she said. “It satisfies that homemade bread feeling.”

Originally, Malburg didn’t even want to bake sourdough, he admitted.

“I baked whole wheat bread once and thought it was really fun,” he said. “I immediately kind of thought, ‘Oh, how could I do this where I could bake bread every week and always have bread for us or even bread for our neighbors?’”

But after that, he didn’t bake much more. It wasn’t until talking with a friend from Texas who bakes sourdough that he picked up interest again.

“I just decided to give it a go,” Malburg said. “I very randomly made my starter before I went to work one day. I called my wife and told her not to touch the bowl on the counter.”

It was the first day of his “bread fantasy,” as he likes to call it.

“That was on July 17, 2017. I’ve been baking ever since,” he said. “I remember the exact day because I started this book.”

He pulls out a worn, spiral notebook filled with scribbles and scratches. Its pages have stains and some are curled from getting wet.

“It has every single loaf I’ve ever baked,” Malburg said. “Every recipe, every adjustment and every experiment.”

The bread journal has his results too, helping him perfect the process to what he has now.

“I now have 188 loaves worth of info in here.” he said.

Most all of those loaves have been delivered to hungry homes around town, connecting Malburg with people and places he never thought possible.
Malburg lifting the finished product out of the Dutch oven to be cooled. Photo by: Francesca Dabecco

He started selling his loaves after baking batches upon batches that he and his family couldn’t finish themselves. So he posted it on Instagram, offering to sell his fresh loaves to anyone interested in the area. He thought it was mostly going to be his friends who would purchase his bread, but it was much more than that. Strangers discovered his page, and his following grew.

Malburg loves being able to meet people at their homes, getting to know their lives little by little, with every monthly delivery.

“When I started baking like this, I saw it as a really independent endeavor, a solitary pursuit,” he said. “I didn’t really anticipate the communal factor and that has had a really big impact on me.”

His first subscriber was Sonya Silvaggio, 39, from McCandless. He teaches her two daughters private music lessons.

“I didn’t really know her very well, but now I feel like we are very connected,” he said. “I feel much more a part of their lives than I think I ever would have had it not been for my bread.”

Silvaggio agreed, saying that his bread is a special experience for her and her family, including her three and six-year-old.

“We always thank Mr. Nick before we break into his bread,” Silvaggio said. “My kids are super picky eaters but they love his sourdough.”

Sometimes, she said, he even delivers it when it is still warm, fresh out of the oven.

“It is the definition of comfort food,” she said. “I don’t want him to quit his day job, but we really appreciate it.”

This is just one example of Malburg’s motivation to keep serving his community.

“I think that we all have things that are valuable to share. I’m proud to do this directly to other people,” Malburg said. “It’s always going to keep my prices low because it’s not a ‘me vs. them’ kind of thing. It’s rooted much more in sharing. I charge what it is going to cost to make the bread. That’s it.”

At six dollars a loaf, Malburg only makes $24 a week from his deliveries.

“That’s not even taking into account the cost of flour and gas to use my oven,” he said.

But he doesn’t mind.

And when the aroma of fresh bread baking fills their home in the early hours every Monday morning, his wife Sarah doesn’t mind either…and not just because they can have fresh bread anytime they want.

After being together for nearly ten years, seeing Malburg pick up different hobbies and passions along the way, she said, this is the only thing that has lasted this long.

“That’s how you can tell he is really passionate about it.”

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