What is Biga?
Biga is to Italians, what Poolish is to the French bakers. It is a type of preferment without the addition of salt. It is usually stiffer than Poolish, due to the lower hydration at 50-60% water absorption. Poolish is usually at a 100% water absorption. It is made with flour, water and yeast only. The yeast level is usually in the 0.08 to 1% range. This can be used in Ciabatta recipes.
Biga originally is a very stiff preferment used by Italian bakers to reinforce the strength of the dough.
How biga works
As with any preferment, this type of starter is used to help the hydration of the flour, and to boost its aroma, with the use of less yeast. It usually requires 8-16 hours of fermentation time.
Due to its stiff consistency, it provides lots of strength to the dough, which is however its original purpose. Bread made with biga has complex flavor due to its long fermentation hours. It is often used in breads which need a light and open structure. Biga helps to preserve bread by making it less perishable due to its low pH.
A traditional biga is prepared using flour, water, and yeast. The quantity of water is around 50-60% based on flour amount. Usually 0.08-1% of fresh commercial yeast is used. The biga is then held at about 60% of hydration for 18 h at 20 oC. The fermentation conditions (time, temperature) could be modulated depending on the baker’s convenience and type of bread being prepared.
Biga is usually stiffer than poolish, due to the lower hydration at 50-60% water absorption. Poolish is usually at a 100% water absorption.
Different fermentation methods can influence textural properties, pH, volume development and inner structure of doughs. Dough made from biga (B dough) was compared with those from straight dough (D dough) and poolish (P dough) in Balestra’s research (2015).1
B dough had the lowest volume but highest storage modulus and resistance to extension. It had a more extensible gluten network. Also, from image analysis for the gas cell features, B dough had the most compact structure compared to D and P dough. D dough is the stickiest dough among all the tested samples. Dough with preferments are more suitable for industrial production.
- Bread flour 100%
- Water 60%
- Yeast 0.2%
Mix all ingredients till a homogenous dough (full dough development is not needed). Cover and leave to ferment for 12-16 hours, at about 21oC (70oF). When ripe, the biga will be domed and just beginning to recede in the center. This can be used in a Ciabatta recipe at around 40% Biga.
- Balestra, Federica, Gian Gaetano Pinnavaia, and Santina Romani. “Evaluation of the Effects of Different Fermentation Methods on Dough Characteristics.” Journal of Texture Studies46.4 (2015): 262-71.
- Hamelman, J. “Bread – a Baker’s book of techniques and recipes” (2004): 105