Italian biga is a starter sponge that is used to make so many different types of Italian bread. The biga is not a replacement for yeast in recipes but it does allow you to use less yeast since the starter sponge already contains some.
Biga is essentially a portion of the dough that will be used in the main bread recipe that you are using; it is just aged a little bit first.
Italian biga is made up of yeast, water and flour and is similar to other starter sponges from different countries with the water to flour ratio being just a little different. If you are wondering what the purpose is for a starter like this, it is essentially aged dough that develops slowly (the yeast, water and flour together) so it imparts a beautiful flavor to your dough recipes.
When working with starter sponges like this, it is important to know what the recipe you are using it in calls for in terms of how long to age your biga. Some recipes for bread that use biga call for 24 hour biga (aged for 24 hours) while others might call for 8 or 12 hour biga (aged for 8 or 12 hours).
This is very important to take notice of and follow since the wrong aged biga in a recipe could ultimately devour the new dough you are adding it to.
The recipe I love to use this starter sponge in is ciabatta bread. I use a recipe from Carol Field who is an amazing baker that simplifies everything about baking for all levels of bakers. The ciabatta recipe is no exception.
I did add some of my own additional tips and tricks to the recipe that I find helpful in the baking process. These tips are especially helpful for home cooks who may not have any specialized kitchen equipment like a baking stone.
If you are new to bread making, making a biga is really a great and fun project to start with. It is not as complicated as a sour dough starter that requires lots of time to get the starter going.
I do love a great sour dough bread which requires a sour dough starter but honestly, I usually end of killing the starter because I forget to feed it. Biga does not need to be fed!
Sour Dough Starter vs Italian Biga
- Sour Dough Starter is a small portion of flour that is mixed with water and live sour dough cultures and left alone to grow for a few days and up to an almost infinite amount of time. If you keep it alive by proper feedings the starter will last a long time. I actually know people who have a sour dough starter from the 1970s!
- Biga is a starter for bread recipes as well but it is only aging the dough for a short period of time and no feeding is required before it is added to your bread recipe. Technically aged dough is starting along a fermentation process of sorts but it is not the same as a starter like above.
- Another difference between the two is Biga is made with yeast where as a sour dough starter is made with just flour. water and added cultures.
I hope this helps clarify a little bit about the two and their similarities and differences.
This is very easy to make and you can also use this biga recipe as your recipe for great tasting pizza dough! The best pizza doughs are merely aged dough made with flour, water and yeast.
You can also make extra of the ciabatta bread that I love to make with this starter and freeze them for later to use as the most delicious crostini!
I hope you give this starter a try!
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 3/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons water preferably bottled spring water, at room temperature
- 2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil for the bowl
- Add 1/2 cup of warm water and the yeast into a large bowl and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
- Stir the remaining water into the creamy yeast mixture, and then stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time. If mixing by hand, stir with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes. If mixing with a stand mixer, beat with the paddle at the lowest speed for 2 minutes. If mixing with a food processor, mix just until a sticky dough forms.
- Transfer the biga to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at cool room temperature for 6 to 24 hours, until the starter is triple its original volume but is still wet and sticky.
Refrigerating the biga: use within 5 days. Freezing the biga: let it rest at room temperature for about 3 hours until it is bubbly and active again.) When needed, scoop out the desired amount of biga for your recipe, weigh it and proceed.