How to make Biga at home using a regular refrigerator
Before showing you how to make Biga, I want to give you a brief summary of what you’ll read in this article:
We will see what a Biga is and a solid pre-ferment in general, why it is used, what advantages it provides in your product, and you will find the links to tutorials on how to prepare and manage both a classic Biga, the Giorilli Biga, and a homemade Biga, managed by combining room temperature and the refrigerator.
1. Dough with direct and indirect methods
The direct method is the one that involves adding all the ingredients in a single kneading phase.
When using a Biga or other pre-ferments, the kneading is carried out in two distinct phases:
- In the first phase, the pre-ferment is prepared and allowed to ferment, typically consisting of only water, flour, and yeast.
- In the second phase, the mature pre-ferment will be combined with all the other remaining ingredients.
This type of kneading, divided into two phases, is called the indirect method.
2. What is a pre-ferment?
Pre-ferments are created by fermenting a mixture of flour, water, and yeast in varying quantities depending on the type, and we can divide them into two main categories:
- Liquid pre-ferments are made by combining equal amounts of water and flour, with the addition of yeast. But I’ll be writing a new article about this soon on the Blog.
- Solid pre-ferments, on the other hand, are composed of a mixture of flour and water in varying proportions, ranging from 45% to 60%, and a variable amount of yeast depending on the type of pre-ferment we want to create.
3. The classic Biga or Giorilli Biga.
Let’s provide a definition of the classic Biga or, as it’s often called, the Giorilli Biga.
The Giorilli Biga, named after the master Piergiorgio Giorilli because it is prepared according to the method he codified, is certainly the most widely used and well-known pre-ferment in Italy.
Typically, it is prepared by roughly mixing strong flours, “tipo 0” or “00,” hydrated at 45% (450g of water for every kg of flour) with 1% of yeast, and left to ferment for 18 hours at 18°C using a “ferma biga,” a special refrigerator capable of maintaining that temperature.
As per the instructions of Maestro Giorilli, the water can be increased up to 50% if semolina or less refined flours are used.
4. Why are pre-ferments used?
In an indirect dough, we delegate the entire fermentation process to the pre-ferment, which we would typically try to achieve through a more or less extended bulk fermentation.
This has the advantage of significantly speeding up all the subsequent stages after kneading, achieving higher acidity compared to a direct method dough, and obtaining a significant production of ethyl alcohol.
All of this translates into more work and stress that give the bread open structures, thin and crispy crusts, enriched olfactory and gustatory nuances in the product. Not to forget that alcohol and acidity are natural preservatives which help slow down staling and increase the shelf life.
5. Why are there countless solid pre-ferments?
The classic Biga (in my opinion one of the best if not the best) has the disadvantage of needing to be managed at temperatures that require a proofing cabinet or a “ferma biga.”
In pizzerias and small bakeries, there is often not enough space available, so there’s a need to work with the refrigerators they already have. This explains why in recent years, countless methods for managing solid pre-ferments have emerged.
6. What is the difference between solid and liquid pre-ferments?
The main difference lies in the amount of water used. In a liquid pre-ferment, we have 100% hydration, whereas in a solid (or dry) pre-ferment, hydration ranges from 45% to 60%.
This results in more interesting and pronounced aromas and flavors in liquid pre-ferments at the expense of the explosive and open structure typically found in solid pre-ferments.
Furthermore, as we will see later, a solid pre-ferment can be used in very high percentages, up to 100%, without adding refreshment flour in the final dough, whereas with a liquid pre-ferment, it is very challenging to exceed 30/40%.
7. How are solid pre-ferments prepared? (Tutorial)
Since it’s much easier to show it in a video than describe it in writing, I’ve made a nice video on my YouTube channel where I show you how to prepare two Biga-type pre-ferments:
- The classic Giorilli Biga (18°C for 18 hours).
- A modified Biga that can be managed in your home refrigerator.
8. The quantity of Biga in a dough.
But how is it used, and in what quantity is our Biga incorporated into the dough? The usage is quite simple, actually. Imagine taking your favorite bread or pizza recipe and subtracting from the total of the ingredients those used to prepare the Biga, ensuring that there are no negative values. If that were to happen, you would need to decrease the amount of Biga.
The theory is this; then, of course, all the times and temperatures for managing the dough need to be adjusted, which is a rather complex topic deserving separate discussion. But if you want an example of a complete recipe in which I used the Biga, you can find it here: Ciabatta with Giorilli Biga: the perfect recipe for those who love homemade bread.
N.B.: The percentage of a pre-ferment is always calculated by the ratio of the flour used in the pre-ferment to the total flour in the recipe.
For example, if you prepare the Biga with 300g of flour and add 700g to complete the dough, you will have a dough with 30% of Biga according to the formula: pre-ferment flour/total flour x 100.
9. Pros of Solid Pre-ferments
The first advantage of using a pre-ferment like Biga is definitely convenience and speed. As soon as the pre-ferment is mature, you can knead, and in a few hours, you’ll be ready to bake.
The second is standardization. Once you’ve found the right degree of pre-ferment maturity, there are few variables that can alter the final result.
The third is that the fermentations we achieve with pre-ferments are difficult to obtain with a direct dough, especially if we use pre-ferment percentages above 50%.
10. Cons of Solid Pre-ferments
The first hurdle to overcome is the need to have a proofing cabinet if you want to prepare a classic Biga (although we’ve seen some effective solutions using the refrigerator).
The second challenge lies in the fact that when you change the type of flour used, it’s necessary to completely alter fermentation times and temperatures.
The third issue is that it can be quite difficult to knead if you don’t have high-quality equipment like a stand mixer or a good planetary mixer.
Well, I believe I’ve provided a fairly comprehensive overview of Biga and its close relatives, but there are certainly some parts that need further exploration, and I won’t delay in doing so here on the Blog or on my YouTube channel.
As always, let me know if this article was helpful by commenting on the video tutorial I’ve provided below:
…And now knead, enjoy and taste!