immagine articolo biga e poolish

DO YOU KNOW Biga AND Poolish PRE-FERMENTS?

I bet the temptation to bake some great homemade bread has hit you at least once! And, believe me, there is nothing better than a good freshly baked bread, especially if topped with the satisfaction of having prepared it. The recipe is straightforward: Water, Flour, Yeast, and Salt (not for all the Italian bread); however, 2 terms appear in all recipes and that you need to know well if you want to achieve a great result: Biga and Poolish

BIGA AND POOLISH: WHAT ARE THEY FOR?

Biga and Poolish are preferments used for a particular method of preparing leavened doughs called the Indirect Method. This technique consists of preparing the preferment to subsequently add the other ingredients to complete the recipe. This method’s advantage is that you can obtain much more tasty and fragrant baked products. Moreover, they will be more digestible.

BIGA AND POOLISH ARE SIMILAR, BUT NOT EQUAL

The first difference to remember when talking about Poolish and Biga is that the first is a LIQUID preferment. In contrast, the second is a SOLID dough. This means that the proportions between water and flour are different, but also their function! A liquid dough ferments in a shorter time, with the same amount of yeast, than a solid one. Therefore the advantage of using Poolish is to have a shorter fermentation time than the Biga. Moreover, the use of Poolish in the preparation of homemade bread will result in a higher crispness and smaller but regular alveoli. 

On the contrary, Biga requires a longer time to ripe (about 12/16 hours). Still, you will be repaid for the unmistakable aromatic note you will find in freshly baked bread. Moreover, as opposed to Poolish, Biga’s bread will have bigger and more irregular alveoli and a more remarkable development during baking. The taste will be less “sour,” as opposed to Poolish’s bread.

HOW TO PREPARE A BIGA

Remember that preparing an excellent biga takes time: from 16 to 48 hours. Depending on the fermentation time, you may have a “Short Biga” fermented for 16 / 20 hours or a Long Biga when its fermentation reaches 36 / 48 hours (but requires more control of temperatures).

In general, a classic recipe for making Biga is:

  • Bread Flour (containing 14% to 16% of proteins)
  • Water: 44% of the flour weight
  • Fresh Yeast: 1% of the flour weight
  • Salt: 0.5% of the flour weight, only during warm seasons

The final temperature of the Biga must be around 18°C (64°F) – 20°C (68°F). If the dough is colder, it will take longer to ferment. Vice versa, if it is too hot, it will ferment too fast. It will also develop an excessive (lactic) acidity, which could compromise the recipe (the final dough will be very sticky and difficult to knead).

The secret to making a good biga is to:

  • Use the right type of Flour: Use a BREAD Flour, more suitable for long fermentation than all-purpose flour (the one for cakes).
  • Respect the temperature of the dough, the water, and the fermentation.

WHAT ARE THE KEY FACTORS THAT AFFECT THE TEMPERATURE OF THE BIGA?

WATER TEMPERATURE

People often use too hot water to make the Biga. To get an indication of the correct water temperature, you can refer to this empirical formula:

Water Temp = 55 – Room Temp – Flour Temp

For example, with a Room Temp of 20°C (68°F) and a Flour Temp of 18°C (64°F), the water should be at 55-20-18= 17°C (62°F)

!!! This formula only works with °C. You can apply the formula with °C and covert the result to °F !!!

KNEADING PROCESS

Another factor that influences the quality of the Biga is the kneading process. To make a good Biga, you have to knead the ingredients for the time needed to get a rough dough. In case you over-knead the Biga, the dough will get warmer, and it will ferment much faster. In this case, the Biga won’t develop the characteristic aromas.

FERMENTATION TEMPERATURE

As a general reference, keep in mind that 18°C (64°F) – 19°C (66°F) is the ideal range for fermenting Biga. However, we can distinguish 2 cases:

  • For a SHORT-FERMENTED Biga fermented for 16-20 hours, the ideal temperature is about 18°C (64°F)
  • For a LONG-FERMENTED Biga fermented for 36 to 48 hours, you first have to ferment the Biga in the refrigerator at +4°C (39°F) for about 12/24 hours. Then you can complete the fermentation at 18°C (64°F) for the last 24 hours.

OTHER “SEASONAL” CORRECTIONS

Depending on the season, we can make small corrections to the biga recipe to achieve a perfect result.

In summer (with a room temperature above 25°C, 77°F), we can slow down fermentation by

  • Reducing the fresh yeast to 0.7% of the flour’s weight
  • Adding 0.5% of salt of the flour’s weight 

In winter, on the contrary, we can promote the fermentation by

  • Increasing the amount of water to about 50% of the flour’s weight
  • Increasing the fresh yeast to 1.1% (only if the room temperature falls below 15°C, 59°F)

THE BIGA WITH SOURDOUGH

Why not put the 2 stars of baking together? Unbelievable, but true, but Sourdough and Biga can be an excellent combination. If used together, each will bring its qualities to the finished product. To prepare the Biga with Sourdough, you have first feed the starter (at least 2 refreshments will be necessary) and then prepare the Biga with these proportions.

  • Bread Flour (containing 14% to 16% of proteins) – eg. 1kg
  • Water: 50% of the flour’s weight – e.g., 500gr
  • Ripe Sourdough starter on the second refreshment: 25% of the flour’s weight – eg.250gr

Once ready, you can let the Biga ferment at room temperature (about 20°C, 68°F) for 10 hours, or you can soak it in the cold water (about 18°C, 64°F) for 12 hours. 

With this last method, you will get a less acidic biga.

HOW MUCH BIGA TO USE IN THE DOUGH?

The answer to this question depends on many factors (the recipe, the flour used, etc.). Just think for a moment about the countless variations of the pizza recipe! My suggestion is to start with these proportions, evaluate the result and then revise them accordingly (depending on your personal taste).

 If you use a SHORT Biga with 16 hours of fermentation, you can use it with a proportion between 30% to 50% of the flour’s weight in the recipe. For example, on 1kg of flour in a pizza recipe, you will use 300gr to 500gr to prepare the Biga, and the rest you will add in the final dough. If you prefer to use a LONG Biga (with a longer fermentation), I suggest staying around 20% to 25% of the flour’s weight.

WHAT ABOUT THE POOLISH?

Unlike Biga, Poolish is a liquid preferment in which the proportions of the ingredients are:

  • Bread Flour (containing 14% to 16% of proteins)
  • Water: Same weight as flour
  • Fresh Yeast: Varies according to fermentation time

Depending on the quantity of fresh yeast used, we can have a more or less quick poolish.

For example:

  • Poolish ready in 2 hours >> 3% of fresh yeast on flour’s weight
  • Poolish ready in 4 hours >> we will put 1.5% of fresh yeast on flour’s weight.
  • Poolish ready in 8 hours >> we will put 0.75% of fresh yeast on flour’s weight.
  • Poolish ready in 12 hours >>we will use 0.2% of fresh yeast on flour’s weight.
  • Poolish ready in 18 hours >>we will use 0.1% of fresh yeast on flour’s weight.

The Poolish will be ready when the starter stops to rise (and it has reached its maximum development), and you can notice a slight dip in the middle of the bowl,

Same for the Poolish, the final temperature is critical, and it has to be about 23°C (73°F). Thus, the water’s temperature is one of the primary factors we have to achieve this result.

Water Temp = 70 – Room Temp – Flour Temp

Let’s consider a room temperature of 20°C (68°F), and the flour temperature of 18°C (64°F), the water to use has to be at 70-20-18= 32°C (89°F)

!!! This formula only works with °C. You can apply the formula with °C and covert the result to °F !!!

HOW MUCH POOLISH TO USE IN THE DOUGH?

Depending on the recipe, you can use a percentage of Poolish from 20% to 40% of the total flour’s weight (from 1kg of flour to make bread, you can use 200gr to 400gr for Poolish the rest for the final dough). 

Keep in mind that Poolish will give the bread a typically sour taste (which not everyone likes), so I suggest you do not exceed its quantity. 

For the same reason, the longer the Poolish’s fermentation is, the less quantity will be used in the recipe. Personally, I think that a poolish with 8 hours of fermentation and used at 30% of the flour’s weight is a pretty successful solution… But I let you try!

TO CONCLUDE

Biga and Poolish are very simple preferments, but equally simple factors in their preparation can make the difference between a successful recipe and a big fail. There are many factors to consider, as you’ve seen…And no one says it will be easy, but I think it’s worth a try! I am sure that with these tricks, which I have learned from the chef Master P.Giorilli, you will surely succeed!

If you prefer a more entertaining approach, watch the first episode of BiancoTraining. You will find all the fundamental concepts of this article! And don’t forget to share it!

What about trying some Homemade Bread Recipes now!

I REPLAY YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT BIGA and POOLISH PREFERMENTS

Can Biga replace Fresh yeast in the dough?

When we use Biga in bread or pizza doughs, we should add a small quantity of fresh yeast.

In fact, if you use a traditional biga fermented for 16/18 hours, I recommend adding 0.2% of fresh yeast to the weight of flour used in the final dough.

For example, if you want to use 1kg of flour to make bread (or pizza) with 20% of Biga, then you need to consider:

The flour needed to make the Biga will be: 20% of 1kg= 200gr

In the final dough, I will use the flour left after the Biga: (1kg of flour - 200gr used for the Biga)= 800gr

On this quantity, the quantity of fresh yeast to add to the recipe (in addition to the one already used for the Biga) will be 0.2% of 800gr= 0.2gr (it would be 0.16, but for such small recipes, you can round up)

Even if you want to prepare a 100% recipe, I recommend adding a small amount of yeast during the final dough.

How much Biga can I use to make pizza at home?

The answer is that it depends on many factors, such as temperature and type of flour. Still, you can use these references and test the final result:

If you use a SHORT-FERMENTED BIGA (fermented for 16 hours), you can use it in a percentage ranging from 30% to 50% of the flour's weight.

If instead, you use a LONG-FERMENTED BIGA (fermented for 24 - 48 hours), then you can use a quantity of Biga around 20% - 25% of the weight of flour.

Can I make a dough with 100% of Biga?

Yes, in this case, we will prepare a biga by kneading all the recipes' flour. For this type of preparation, I recommend using a biga that has been fermented at most 18-20 hours.

Once the Biga is ready, you will knead it with the water (added slowly) and the other ingredients in the recipe.

What kind of flour should I use for Biga?

For a good Biga, use a flour rich in proteins like Bread Flour, with a W higher than 300 (if you are in Europe). Obviously, the longer is the fermentation, the stronger the flour should be.

If you only have weak flour available, like all-purpose flour, I suggest opting for a Poolish rather than the Biga.

Can I use wholewheat flour to make a Biga?

Yes, you can make a high-quality wholewheat biga by increasing the water to 50% of the Biga's flour weight (instead of 44%) and decreasing the yeast to about 0.8% of the flour's weight.

These corrections are due to wholewheat flour's ability to absorb more water than refined flour and more significant enzymatic activity, promoting fermentation.

Can I use dry yeast to prepare the Biga?

You can also use dry yeast, but divide the quantity by 3 and let it activate in lukewarm water first (however, follow the product's instructions).

How do I make Biga in summer?

Water temperature is definitely the first parameter to pilot the final temperature of the Biga, which should be between 18°C (64°F) and 20°C (68°F).
You can use this formula to get a reasonably realistic temperature:
Water Temp = 55 - Flour Temp - Room Temp.
!!! This formula only works with °C. You can apply the formula with °C and covert the result to °F !!!

You can also reduce the yeast percentage to 0.7% of the flour's weight.
If the room temperature exceeds 30°C (86°F), add a small quantity of salt equal to 0.5% of the flour weight (5gr of salt for 1kg of flour).

I added too much water in the Biga. What can I do?

A biga that is too soft ferments faster, so it will be important to shorten the fermentation time.

Can I use Malt in the Biga?

In general, it is not necessary to add Malt to the Biga. Of course, you can add it later in the final dough (1% of the weight of the Biga's flour) to enhance the color of the crust and improve the proofing.

However, the malt will accelerate the fermentation of the Biga, losing aroma and flavors.

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