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Biga (Italian Bread Starter)

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    Posted: 14 August 2010 at 06:09
Biga is an Italian name for a pre-ferment, or starter dough for yeast bread baking. A critical component for the development of complex bread flavor (as opposed to the bland grocery store sliced white bread we know), Biga has many names and variations around the world.
This from WIKI:

Biga is a type of pre-ferment used in Italian baking. Many popular Italian breads, including ciabatta, are made using a biga. Using a biga adds complexity to the bread's flavor and is often used in breads which need a light, open texture with holes. Apart from adding to flavor and texture, a biga also helps to preserve bread by making it less perishable. Biga techniques were developed after the advent of baker's yeast as bakers in Italy moved away from the use of sourdough and needed to recover some of the flavor which was given up in this move.

Bigas are usually dry and thick compared to the French Poolish or a sourdough starter. This thickness is believed to give a Biga its characteristic slightly nutty taste. Biga is usually made fresh every day, using a small amount of baker’s yeast in a thick dough, which varies from 45% to 50% water by total weight or 60% to 100% as a bakers percentage, and is allowed to ferment from 12 to 16 hours to develop its flavor fully.

After fermenting overnight, biga is then added to the bread dough in place of, or in addition to, regular baker's yeast, depending on the recipe, and the bread dough is mixed, kneaded, raised, shaped, proofed, and baked like any other yeast dough.

There are a few bread books whose authors specify a much higher hydration to the biga. Franco Galli, in his "Il Fornaio Baking Book," specifies a biga that is about 100% hydration, which takes it into the level of a French poolish. In general, however, a biga is a preferment of around 60% and the poolish is a pre-ferment of around 100%.

My plan is to make Focaccia today, thus my Biga was started yesterday after work. I took the picture this morning about 14 hours after making it. It has been very warm at night here, so the kitchen was at about 78 degrees this morning.

Here's the recipe:


3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (I used 1 packet)

1/2 cup warm water

3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour

1 1/4 cups cold water


1.    Place the warm water in a small bowl, and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand until yeast has dissolved and is foamy, about 15 minutes.

2.    Measure flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in the yeast mixture and cold water. Use a sturdy spoon to mix it together until sticky and difficult to stir, but nevertheless thoroughly combined. Cover and allow to ferment for 24 hours in the refrigerator before using. NOTE: After covering in plastic wrap, i left mine out on the counter overnight. I plan on using all of it and not storing any.

3.    Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To use, rinse a measuring cup in cool water, scoop out the amount of starter needed, and bring to room temperature.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 August 2010 at 16:04
john - do you think i could use sme of my existing sourdough starter (thickening it up with some flour) to approximate a biga?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 August 2010 at 16:38
I don't know about that, for the following... My kitchen was about 80 F all night long (no central air conditioning), so I left the Biga out, covered in plastic wrap, and ferment it did! Very nicely, bubbly and had a rich gassy smell to it.
A sourdough starter has been out "souring" for some time, and would impart a sour flavour- so typical and desired of sourdoughs- to what should be a nutty, fresh yeasty flavor.
A good sourdough starter is very different from a Biga, and that is due to the age and fermentation. Nothing wrong with that, just different, and not what Biga brings to the dough.
With that said, I will also add.......... why not? Give it a shot. Worse thing you can end up with is a good dough with a hint of sourdough in it....nothing wrong with that!
SInce Biga is so easy to make, cost so little, and all the ingredients you allready have in the house, why don't you try that first? Then try the sourdough, and compare. Heck if you have sourdough going on right now, make some Biga this afternoon, and tomorrow you can make two batches of bread or focaccia and compare them side by side.
Hope this helps you out! 
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