Biga For Bread
This is a bread starter that is used for artisan type breads, including Pugliese bread. This makes enough for two loaves. It must be made well in advance (at least 12 hours and preferably 24 hours) of making bread for best results, and it makes a big difference in the texture and the crust of bread, generating the nice soft and spongy inside with a crusty outside and excellent flavor. When using homemade yeast water instead of the combination of water and dry active yeast, it becomes a wonderful pre-ferment dough. Yeast water from raisins are most common, but yeast water from basil and other sources can add nice flavor notes to the bread through the biga pre-ferment. Pre-ferment dough requires time to rise and activate and then is used with flour and other ingredients to produce a variety of breads, as their source of yeast/leavening. Give this a try, and see how it affects the flavor of your favorite Italian breads.
- 1 cup + 2 Tbsp lukewarm water (or yeast water)
- 1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast (omit if using yeast water)
- 9 oz (approximately 2 cups) whole wheat flour, finely ground, sifted
- Mix water and yeast and let sit a few minutes to activate, unless using yeast water that is already active.
- Stir in flour until well incorporated.
- Cover with plastic wrap.
- Let sit overnight at room temperature.
- Use with bread recipe as instructed.
Pugliese bread is a rustic bread from the south of Italy that uses biga pre-ferment bread starter, which should be made a day before the bread. This bread is most certainly a family favorite. It’s a crusty bread that is light and flavorful inside and wonderful by itself or served with cheese, meals, or even spreads and deli meat. Again, yeast water may be substituted for the water and yeast combination in this recipe, though the rise time may take longer. If you have a good mixer with a dough hook, give this a try. We think it’s well worth the time and effort of having to start on it two days ahead of time and knead a long time. Makes two, wonderful, large oval loaves.
- Biga (see recipe above)
- 5 Tablespoons warm water
- 35 ounces fine, white whole wheat flour
- 26 ounces water
- 1 1/4 teaspoon yeast
- 1 Tablespoon sea salt
- After the biga has rested a day, put 5 Tablespoons of warm water and yeast in a large mixer bowl and add the biga; mix on low for 4-5 minutes with dough hook. (If using yeast water, just add the yeast water to the biga and mix thoroughly.)
- Add remaining 26 ounces of water and half of the flour; mix for 3-4 minutes on low, until smooth.
- Add the rest of the flour and mix for 2 minutes, until dough begins to come together, make sure to scrape down the sides and turn as needed.
- Cover the bowl and let sit for about 25 minutes.
- Add salt and knead with the dough hook on low for about 8 minutes, until completely mixed.
- Divide dough into two approximately equal portions, placing one portion in a container and leaving the other in mixing bowl. Cover both tightly with plastic wrap.
- Let both portions of dough ferment for 3 hours, folding them once after every hour.
- Put a generous amount of flour on a work surface and pour one portion of dough onto the work surface.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and pat the dough flat, to about 1/2 – 3/4″ thickness.
- Roll up dough, pat it flat, and roll it up again. Repeat an additional two times. The dough should de-gas and become springy.
- Draw sides of dough underneath itself and seal the edges very tightly.
- Dust the top of the dough with flour and set it on parchment paper on a baking sheet.
- Repeat with second dough portion.
- Cover both portions with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 hour or so, until double.
- Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450F; 15 minutes before baking, dimple the tops of the dough with your fingers, lightly.
- Place dough into oven and bake at 450F for 25-28 minutes; turn loaves over and bake for an additional 25 minutes, until loves are medium-dark brown.
- Let cool before cutting or serving.
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