The Biga, the Better: Baking with Fermented Dough

Andre Padilla
July 21, 2017

Extra effort often leads to better results, and that goes especially for baking. You may be wondering, what extra effort can you put into it? You make the dough, pop it in the oven and cook it how you want to, right? While that may be true, you probably have never heard of biga dough.

What is Biga?

Biga is a type of pre-fermentation used in Italian baking. Italian bakers wanted to find a way to reinforce the strength of their dough. They found that through a simple combination of flour, water, yeast and time you could create a stronger, tastier, and healthier dough for their baking. The recipe for biga dough is quite simple but it takes time to perfect the quantities of the ingredients. Too much water would result in a wetter style of dough like poolish, the French cousin of biga. Using too much yeast would eat up more of the flour than desired and would create an imbalance in the dough. For perfect biga dough, you need a composition of 100% bread flour, 60% water and 1% yeast. To put that into simple metrics, the standard recipe is 500 grams of flour, 300 grams of water and 5 grams of yeast.

Putting the precise amount of the three ingredients is crucial, but after that, it’s up to time. Many bakers have their own preferred time for allowing their dough to rise but the average time is about 12 hours. This is perfect if you want to make a recipe with dough the next day and decide to make a biga dough mix and let it rise overnight. You can play around with the time you take to let your dough rise and see what flavor and size you like best. Just make sure that your dough mixture is at a standard temperature because if it’s too cold, the fermentation process may be halted and you won't get that biga size and taste come morning.

In those 12 hours the flour and water mixes and breaks down the flour's starches into simple sugars which the yeast devours and releases into tiny air bubbles. These air bubbles are packed inside of the dough because of the gluten structure surrounding it and as a result, the dough rises and creates bigger and more open bread. The normal mixture for biga dough will double in volume in that time, resulting in a large, strong dough that you can use in all your recipes!

What are the benefits to Biga?

Compared to store-bought dough and bread, Biga has a lot of benefits. For one, it doesn’t include salt like normal dough recipes and store-bought dough. This is great for those who are concerned about sodium intake and want to focus on healthier alternatives.

The patience of the pre-fermentation process in making biga dough creates bread which has a much better aroma and flavor than normal bread. Using biga adds quality and complexity to the bread’s flavor and is often used in bread that needs a light, open texture with holes. Not only that, but it also lasts longer than normal bread because of its lower pH levels. This gives it a much higher shelf life compared to normal doughs and bread. So you won’t have to worry about your bread perishing early.

The process of biga dough improves the flour hydration and less yeast is needed, resulting in a stronger, better-smelling dough which can be used in plenty of recipes and bread. Due to its low yeast content and its long bulk fermentation, it makes it easier to digest than normal store-bought doughs and bread that contain long glucose chains, or raw flour. All it takes is a little bit of patience but the resulting dough is worthwhile in health, flavor, and conscience.

What can you make with Biga?

The most famous recipe using the biga dough pre-fermentation process is ciabatta bread! Ciabatta bread tends to be short, wide, and long, which makes it ideally suited to sandwiches. You can also pair it with olive oils and other dips to create a tasty snack. It works very well with oils and dips because the crumb is able to absorb them tremendously. It’s usually toasted when served because of this ability, creating a tasty all-purpose snack!

Biga dough can even be used in pizza recipes as well! The strength and flavor of biga dough naturally make it a perfect pairing for these baked cheesy goods and can be used in its natural biga dough form, or as ciabatta bread. Baking a pizza with biga dough would result in a thick, tasty dough while baking with ciabatta bread would result in a crunchy dough for the bottom of your pizza. You can use it either way, depending on your preference, but it will no doubt make a great addition to your homemade pizza recipes.

Dried ciabatta bread can also be turned into excellent croutons that you can use to top your favorite salads. You can slice some ciabatta bread into your desired crouton size, add whatever you'd like and pop them in the oven until they’re toasted and crunchy. I like to add a bit of garlic and parmesan to mine to get some cheesy garlic croutons I can eat in a salad or as a snack on their own!

Tomato Soup with Cheesy Croutons

Chef Savvy
Tomato Soup with Cheesy Croutons by Chef Savvy

Biga dough is unique in flavor, process, and benefits. It’s composed of three easy ingredients, but the hardest part is the precise amount of ingredients and the patience of allowing the dough to ferment. When Italians created biga, they knew they wanted a tastier, stronger dough to use throughout their baking. They were willing to wait for their dough to ferment in order to improve the quality of the bread.

Their achievement in creating biga gives us a healthy alternative to other doughs and bread that to this day many still don’t know about. So spread the word, show people that you can make a stronger, tastier dough right from your home! All it takes is a little patience and the will to think biga!

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