Biga: what it is and how to prepare it at home

Very easy to make, it improves the quality and flavor of the product. Together with poolish it is part of those "tips" used by master bakers since ancient times to improve a product loved for 5000 years: bread.

By Cookist

Biga is an ancient pre-dough method very useful in the world of bread and pizza. Very easy to make, it improves the quality and flavor of the product. Together with poolish it is part of those "tips" used by master bakers since ancient times to improve a product loved for 5000 years: bread.

The explosion of the world of pizza and long leavening products has brought to light many different methods for kneading the dough. Among the most recurring themes there is the use of biga, a pre-dough obtained by mixing water, flour and yeast very easy to make at home.

Although it looks like a modern thing, the doughs with biga are the classic doughs of the Italian bakery tradition. This method is typical of Italy because historically Italian wheat has always been weak and difficult to process: the use of the biga was therefore necessary to facilitate the absorption of water and improve the structure and lightness of the bread.

Today the market offer is very wide and imported flour makes almost “superfluous” this method that has varied its purpose: if before it was used to work better flour, today it is used to improve the aroma, consistency and color of the bread. It takes its name from the ancient Roman bigas because it "drags" the dough towards a better maturation, a bit like it happens with poolish and sourdough starter.

The difference between biga, poolish and sourdough starter


Biga and poolish are "cousins", so to speak: both are fermented pre-doughs which constitute a method of preparing leavened products, called indirect method. The biga presents the dough in a solid state while the poolish presents it as liquid. This is due to different proportions of water and flour.

The function of the two pre-dough is different: the poolish need less fermentation time than the biga and this allows a faster processing, but a longer fermentation gives the biga more quality.

Sourdough starter, also called natural yeast, is not a pre-dough, it is not part of the same "family" of biga and poolish, although many people associate these three products. The reason is simple:

in fact, for biga and poolish, the common brewer’s yeast is used;

the fermentation of the sourdough starter takes place through the yeasts and bacteria that are naturally present in all that surrounds it. In the mixture of water and flour that constitutes the sourdough starter, an autochthonous bacterial microflora develops which works in symbiosis with the yeasts, which will then give the bakery products a distinctive flavor.

What is biga

The biga is nothing more than a pre-dough to be used in breadmaking with an indirect method, obtained with proportions of water, flour and yeast. In recent years, this method has conquered the world of pizza but it has always been used in traditional bakery, as confirmed by old master bakers who say that  the biga is used a lot in breadmaking because it gives the bread a better friability, greater aromas and a longer life. Given the presence of lactic acidity, biga also allows to hinder the creation of two very fearful bacilli that cannot develop with the use of the biga. In addition, the biga allows the bread to retain all the nutrients of the flour even after baking.

How to make the biga for bread


The procedure for making the biga is much more difficult to say than to do it because there are so many numbers: the method is 100-50-1, with a fixed number 55 in mind. It already seems all chaotic here, so let us explain better: On a kilo of flour, we use 50% water and 1% yeast. But it is important to keep in mind the temperature of the water, the type of flour and the final temperature of the dough.

The fermentation of the biga goes from 6 to 20 hours, depending on the time available we must choose the right flour.

For a quick ripening you will need a flour with a low protein value, around 280W.

If you want a slow ripening you will need a strong flour, about 380W.

The longer the fermentation, the better the quality of the final product will be because it activates autolysis, a chemical process in which cells self-destruct. Thanks to the autolysis, we have a very smooth and malleable dough consistency, with a finished product with a higher volume that will give the bread better alveoli and a much softer crumb".

The temperature brings up the number 55: The final temperature of the biga must be around 20° C. The temperature of the water used is the main responsible for the final temperature. To calculate the water temperature, 55 is used as the base number. So the water temperature must be equal to 55 minus the ambient temperature minus the flour temperature.

To better understand, here is a concrete example: let’s say that the flour has a temperature ranging from 18° C to 20° C. If the room temperature is 20° C and the flour temperature 18° C, the water must be at 17° C because it is necessary to calculate 55-20-18 = 17. We should use a thermometer, to be more precise.

Since the temperatures are so important for the biga, the advice is not to knead the product a lot, otherwise it will get too hot.

The recipe for the perfect biga

The main suggestion is to let the biga ferment for 20 hours. To recognize a perfect biga, just see if the volume has doubled, if it releases a pungent acid and alcoholic aroma and if it does not show shiny spots on the surface.

For a simple biga, 300 grams of flour, 150 grams of water and 10 grams of brewer's yeast are sufficient. Knead until lumps are formed and let it rest under a cloth. After 20 hours add the 700 grams of flour to reach one kilo and use all the ingredients we prefer to make our bread.


The biga in the world of pizza

Perhaps biga is famous to the general public mainly because of the world of pizza, but actually this method is still ostracized by traditional pizza makers who often reject the use of the pre-dough.

The professional pizza biga differs slightly from the bread one. The biggest difference lies in the amount of water to be used: it is not recommended to use more than 44% of water because it would cause greater moistness in the dough which would compromise alveoli and the ripening of the pizza.

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