Pain au levain

Pain au levain

Well, here we are, November.

You and I don’t get along so well. I resent you for stealing my summer warmth. You blithely turn the sun off at 4.15 pm. You freeze the water in the goat’s water buckets every night. You slither your brittle, windy fingers through the walls in this old house. What’s worse, you seem indifferent to my whining.

This month’s Let’s Lunch theme is gratitude. And I admit at first I found little to be grateful for. Because I’m a November grumpy pants.

But even just a few minutes of making a list of all I have to be grateful for yielded an embarrassment of riches (not to mention my embarrassment at not knowing how to spell “embarrassment”).

Health, family, shelter, power, heat, functioning limbs and brain, warm food when I need it, freedom, choice, a light I can switch on when the sun sets, seemingly limitless clean water rushing out of the faucet.

How many people on earth can claim that list? How many people, even on just the east coast of the United States are without warmth and light right now, on this bitter, November-swept day? How many people around the world live in fear, under persecution, without freedom, without adequate food, or healthcare, or clean water?

When I wrote “embarrassment”, I wasn’t joking.

So, in gratitude, I decided to make this simple, unadorned, most basic thing to share for our lunch: a sourdough loaf of bread, from my favorite pain au levain recipe, by James MacGuire.

(Note that the original recipe is a fourteen-page long, wonderful tour through the history of french sourdough breads in issue 83 of The Art of Eating. The recipe I’ve linked to here is a slightly adapted version of that recipe.)

Pain au levain - Starter measured




Flour, water, salt, wild yeast.

Hands, time, heat.

That’s all you need. Plus a little bit of patience.

You don’t even need a mixer, or a spoon.

This is a slow bread, made by mixing the dough with one hand, then “folding” the dough once an hour for four hours.

If you’re at home on a quiet weekend day, you can easily fit it into your schedule: fold for thirty seconds, go back to reading your book in front of the fire, or playing “Careers” with your kids, or raking the lawn. Visit the bread in another hour and see how it’s changed, give it another quick fold. Go back to the laundry, or making soup, or those phone calls you have to make.

You see how it goes.

Gratitude. It can be tangible. And eaten with a slice of perfectly aged goat cheese.

I only wish I could sit down at a table tonight and share it with you.

Pain au levain

Here’s a complete list of the recipes of gratitude made this month by the Let’s Lunch crew (I’ve included my own at the bottom for completeness). Check them out!

Gratitude “Plumb” Cake from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Gratitude Fried Rice from Linda at spicebox travels
Seafood Chowder from Lucy at A Cook and Her Books
Cracked Black Pepper and Blue Cheese Crackers (gluten free) from Charissa at Zest Bakery
A Thanksgiving tablecloth tradition from Lucy at In a Southern Kitchen
Gratitude Soup from Rashda at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Pumpkin Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar (gluten free) from Linda at Free Range Cookies
Pumpkin Roll with Pecans from Annabelle at a Glass of Fancy
5-Minute Wonder Soup from Eleanor at Wok Star
Green Tomato Salad from Renee at My Kitchen and I
Asian-Style Pickled Oyster Mushrooms from Joe at Joe Yonan
Pain au levain from Rebecca at GrongarBlog


  1. lisammcc says:

    What gorgeous photos – I absolutely love this post!!! I wish I could just pop by for a chunk (we would tear it right, rather than slice?) of your incredible looking bread and some of your aged goat cheese. If I leave home now, i should be at your place by Sunday morning?

    1. Rebecca says:

      thank you so much!!

  2. we need to bake bread together…this is beautiful.

    1. Rebecca says:

      that would be great fun, elaine!

  3. Erin says:

    Your bread photograph literally made me gasp. It’s just incredible! Do you have a favorite baking cookbook that you recommend? My bread repertoire includes basic loaves and the no-knead Cooks Illustrated recipe and that’s about it. You, on the other hand, have crafted pure edible art!

    1. Rebecca says:

      you’re so sweet! I can highly recommend Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I baked a lot of bread before I used that book, but working my way through that whole book really transformed my bread baking.

  4. Nicole says:

    I love photographs of bread dough! Wow, this makes me want to bake today.

  5. So beautiful. If I wasn’t eating gluten-free I would surely request a slice, perhaps toasted and slathered with butter. Looks fantastic and I loved the back to basics approach you took. Thank YOU!

  6. Gorgeous! I haven’t used a mixer for bread in a month. And I love it! I do use a Danish dough whisk, but hey!

    1. Rebecca says:

      Making hand by bread is the best therapy I know. Well… that or making chocolate cake 😉

  7. Thank you Ms. November grumpy pants…you made me smile. And there’s nothing so basic, so real and so satisfying as bread.

    1. Rebecca says:

      Bread is the best!

  8. wokstar says:

    I really love your humorous writing, puts a smile on my face! I cannot bake if you paid me so I have much admiration and dough envy for those who can. Grateful I can cook.

    1. Rebecca says:

      Why thank you! Imagine if we all got together, with our various skills — oh the feast we’d have….

  9. Abby says:

    November grumpy pants is my favorite term of the day…and I agree: about the grumpiness of Nov, and about the embarrassing list if things to be grateful for despite our grumpiness. End result = love this post. xo

  10. Lucy says:

    Your bread is almost too pretty to eat! I’m so grateful for #Letslunch today!

  11. If you call this basic, Rebecca, I can’t imagine what your complex loaves look like! Gorgeous! Do you do mail order? 🙂 Thanks for hosting this wonderful #LetLunch theme.

    1. Rebecca says:

      Thanks! It was a really fun theme!

  12. teaandscones says:

    Yes, we do have a lot of things we take for granted that we need to be so thankful for.

    Beautiful bread.and thankful for friends who share their heart.

  13. That’s such a gorgeous loaf of bread, Rebecca! Now I want a banneton. =)

  14. Love these photos. I can almost taste the gratitude. I’ll have some pinot noir with my goat cheese and bread, thank you. 😉

  15. Joe Yonan says:

    Beautiful loaf, Rebecca! And glad you are counting your blessings… It’s a good thing to do from time to time, isn’t it?

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