Unusual Ingredient of the Week - Biga Starter

For the non-bakers or people that haven’t read the Macrina Bakery and Cafe CookBook - which is highly recommended, though sadly lacking in pictures - a Biga Starter may be a new term (contrary to popular belief, Biga Starter is not a wannabe ‘gangsta’ rapper).
However, once you utilise the Biga in your baking, it will become part of your daily (or at least weekly) bread vocabulary.
The Biga is an Italian starter that only requires a minimum of twelve hours 'prooving' up to a maximum of 48 hours. During this time, the yeasts in the starter go forth and multiply, the gluten matures and the flavours develop.

After this period, it starts to go too sour and will spoil the flavour of the bread. It cultivates a light, loose texture and a slightly fermented scent. However, if you’re thinking that this is of a similar ilk to the over-rated minimalist loaf (and click here for the final word on it, from someone who knows his stuff), you would be wrong. This makes bread over 2-3 days so it is not a quick process. However, the results are worth the effort and if I can do it, so can anyone!
Unlike Sourdough Starters, the Biga does not require daily nurturing and for someone like myself who even managed to kill off a tank of Sea Monkeys, this is a real bonus. If you think of the Biga as an additional ingredient to your bread rather than another time-consuming process, then you will have no trouble at all. In fact, to make a Biga Starter is dead easy. 2 ½ Cups Plain Flour, 2 Teaspoons Dried Yeast and some warm water mixed together. I made mine in my lunch-hour.
Once you have made your Biga, you can then keep it in the fridge for 2 days. Each starter batch makes about 2-3 loaves (I made an Olivetta loaf and two Ciabattas) and lends its fermented flavour to Italian-style bread.
This was my first experimentation with bread making, Paul being the baker of the family, but I thought I would give this unusual method a try and it was completely successful (failing to mention that I had placed my uncooked Ciabatta loaves on greaseproof paper to prove without flouring them first and they stuck like nobodys business. Still, if I make the mistakes first, hopefully you won’t!).
The Olivetta Loaf I made last Thursday as part of a cake swap that Kathryn and I had agreed on. Typical me, but I decided not to make a cake but bread but there is a good reason: I didn’t have any butter. That is a good reason, right?
The Starter had had about 12-15 hours resting time in the fridge. It rises to the top of the bowl magnificently but when you scoop it out onto the scales, it deflates to not much more than a sticky handful.
The Biga is then mixed up with some warm water and more dried yeast (usually about half a teaspoon), then the bulk ingredients (i.e. flour and olive oil) are worked in. It does help to have a hands free mixer. I didn’t have one but I used my electric hand whisk, which, whilst still arm achey, was not as bad as starting the dough off by hand. At this point the dough can be turned out onto a floured surface and then kneaded by hand for 10 to 15 minutes. I had previously disliked the idea of making bread because of this stage of kneading but I actually found it to be really rather therapeutic. A good way to rid yourself of any rage or discontent against work colleagues without actually causing anyone any physical harm.
The Ciabatta is even easier although requires a much longer rising time. There is an initial 10 minute kneading period which you will need to do with a hands free mixer or electric mixer because the mixture is very wet. After this though, you have 3 rising times of 1.5 hours each, doing a bakers turn of the loaf after each rising time. Then you have to leave the thrice risen mixture in the fridge for another 12 hours (or, in my case, 48 hours!) for the yeasty fermented taste to develop. The result though is an authentic tasting Ciabatta that is rich in flavour and full of the air bubbles that is so traditional of this classic Italian loaf. You can then toast the bread and serve it as Bruschetta or just spread it with butter and have it with soup.
Once you have your Biga starter, you can experiment with various textures and flavours of loaves, different herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, seeds, semolina, nuts.
I have listed a recipe for the Seed Biga Starter which is a more robust starter that allows a deeper flavour and texture in your loaf.
SEED BIGA STARTER taken from Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook
(makes 2 1/4 pounds of starter)
2 Cups Filtered Water at room temperature
2 Teaspoons Dried Yeast (one small sachet of Yeast)
4.5 cups Plain Flour
Pour the water into a medium sized bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Leave for 5 minutes. Then stir in 2 CUPS of flour (I used all 4.5 cups at first and had to bin the first lot) until fully amalgamated and leave to stand at room temperature, uncovered, for 2 hours.
Preferably using a hands free mixer, add the rest of the flour and mix well for 7 minutes using the dough hook. The dough will be sticky and a bit stretchy but not resemble true bread dough.
Transfer the starter to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let stand for another 2 hours.
Finally, store in the fridge for at least 12 hours, no longer than 48 hours.
You can now use your starter to make a variety of Italian styled breads! (For fear of writing too long an article, I won't list the bread recipes here, but if anyone is interested, email me at the address on my profile page, and I will happily send you the recipes!)


Randi said...

Thanks for all your great comments. The senior cooking dealie is going ok, exhausting though and I feel like I'm putting in more than the 7.5hrs I get paid for each time.

wheresmymind said...

Oh why do I find that second picture so funny? *grin*

Kathryn said...

I can verify that the bread I was sent was very good indeed!!! Thank you, Freya.
The ciabatta looks yummy too.

Kathryn x

Kristen said...

Ciabatta bread is one of my favorites with dipping oil and spices. Thatnks for sharing this Biga idea!

Susan said...

As a challenged baker, I really appreciate this post. So glad you stopped by my site, 'cause now I found yours.

Susan from Food "Blogga"

Freya said...

Hi Randi, glad the cooking element is going well, not so good that you're getting tired though! You are doing such an admirable job.

Jeff, I really have no idea what you mean (really!), please elaborate....

Kristen, I love Ciabatta served with just oil, it's great with Dukkah too!

Hi Susan, I loved you blog! Glad that you stopped by mine to! We can inspire each other to bake!

Freya x

D-man said...

Ha ha, I'm now lurking amongst the older posts.....

Did you know that one of my sourdough starters is a biga? (I have not quite used it in the fashion you did, with such a glorious rising time, but it is from a wild yeast strain "captured" and cultured from organic grapes)

And really, this could be yet another origin of my name, as I had to wrassle up that varmint, and then keep it alive. Just like my monkey; dependent and uh....kneady