The beginning of my Artisan Bread journey – Biga Italian Loaf

During the last part of 2010, I started toying with the idea of Artisan breads, I kind played around a little, and then proceeded to put it all aside. I have now recently picked up my a few of my bread books along with Bread – A bakers Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffery Hamelman, and together I have been inspired again. I dream of making those beautiful breads you can only find at markets (which in turn we don’t have many of around these parts)

I decided to start all over…at the very beginning…a very good place to start (Thank you Julie Andrews) and explore the world of bread. Taking into consideration its not something you master your first time round…but I am ready for the challenge.

Over December, I successfully managed to grow my own sourdough starter, I cared for it as if it were my own child! There is this beautiful restaurant in Pletternberg Bay called where the owner makes foccacio using a sourdough start which he has carried with him for over 20 years. My all time favorite meal in the USA was from Panini, French Onions Soup, served in a sourdough bread bowl! YUM!!! It is my mission in life to one day, enjoy this meal, having successfully made my own bread bowl.

But more about Sourdough Starters later on…today I played around with Poolish starters and Biga starters. I have to admit, my polish starter was a huge flop (from my calculations, I concluded it was my measurements) my dough did not rise at all, however my dough with the Biga starter doubled in size within an hour. So this post, I will dedicate to my Biga Bread Loaf. Although noy 100% happy with the result, I am still pretty impressed with part of the result.

Wikipedia has the following to say about Biga:

Biga is a type of pre-ferment used in Italian baking. Many popular Italian breads, including ciabatta, are made using a biga. Using a biga adds complexity to the bread’s flavour and is often used in breads which need a light, open texture with holes. Apart from adding to flavour and texture, a biga also helps to preserve bread by making it less perishable. Biga techniques were developed after the advent of baker’s yeast as bakers in Italy moved away from the use of sourdough and needed to recover some of the flavour which was given up in this move

The Biga Starter Dough Recipe I used:

300g Stone Ground Cake Flour
190g Lukewarm Water
16g Instant Yeast

Placed all the above ingredients in a plastic bucket (covered) at room temperature for about 15 hours.

For the bread dough:

All the biga starter dough
3.5 cups flour
1 tsp fine salt
1 Tbsp castor sugar
1 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp Oil (I used walnut oil)
¾ cup tepid milk

Mix the flour and salt thoroughly, add the yeast
Add the biga to the flour mixture
Add olive oil, and mix
Add milk and knead until you have a smooth soft, yet NOT sticky dough/

I mixed the flour and salt and yeast with my kitchen aid, added the biga and olive oil along with the milk until it formed a ball. You want to keep your kitchen aid on a low to medium speed. Once a ball was formed, I proceeded to knead the dough by hand. You want to use your hands as you feel the different textures develop in the dough and you become more comfortable with your dough. People think I am crazy when I say “you need to bond with your food” As a chef, you just know if its right or not, or if something is missing, its your connection with your food you make, I apply the same principle to baking.

Let your dough rest for about 2 hours (covered), you are looking for it to double in size. When you push on it with your finger, you want the imprint to stay in place.

Shape your loaf after the rest period, and place on a well floured baking sheet. Spray with a little water and cover again, leave to rest for a further hour. Once your loaf has once again doubled in size, you are ready to bake.

Place in a preheated oven – 200 ۫C – for 25 – 30 minutes, you get this beautiful crust on it.

My crumb texture didn’t come out as I wanted, but I think that is because I did a straight bake, and not a steam bake, so if you can, steam your baking session by turning your oven to the hottest it will go, placing a pan full of water at the bottom of the oven, closing the oven door, 30 seconds later, spray your oven walls with water, close the door, repeat process three times. After the last spray, lower your oven to 200 ۫C, and bake. All this is done while your loaves are in the oven.


2 thoughts on “The beginning of my Artisan Bread journey – Biga Italian Loaf

  1. Hello! Thanks for posting this! I wanted to share a bit of what I have been learning towards my goal of artisan breads.

    My goal: Homemade Pugliese for gourmet toasted cheese sandwiches. YUM! …and… traditional French Baguettes.

    I push my biga out to about 10 days before re-feeding. A friend manages to push his out for 14 days! It will get very ugly and crusty looking. I scrape that part off then re-feed the active part while maintaining a 60% water to flour ratio. The flavor is very deep and just the slightest bit sour.

    It is only flour water and yeast…

    I am glad you showed the weights. I learned that one MUST weigh in order to get the correct water to flour ratios. Measuring cups will not allow one to get the correct ratios of say 60-68% water for baguette recipes. (or any artisan bread)

    The other thing I found is the technique of minimal handling and gently folding the dough multiple times to re-distribute the yeast / flour relationship within the dough. If this is not done the yeast is more actively out gassing in some areas and not others. Folding and resting a few times really helps to develop that wonderful, silky gluten-web crumb. Otherwise, the texture of the crumb is more spongy like loaf bread.

    Finally, Someone told me that “Rising, Rising and shaping, Final Rising and shaping, while handling minimally.” is an artisans secret.
    I found that this handling (which I am still learning) has made about 90% of the difference in the quality!

    Thanks again!

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