I borrowed this recipe from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker and I mostly followed it , except that I didn’t make the biga out of yeast and that I used more whole wheat than she does.
When I am home, I keep my starter on the kitchen counter and refresh it daily, which means that I have either to use it or throw some away. Since I don’t like to throw any away if I can avoid it, I decided to make a sourdough biga and I actually loved how it smelled and tasted. I fail to see in what way it differs from a regular stiff starter but since it goes into an Italian bread, I’ll still call it biga.
What I find amazing is that, with the addition of more water, the dough understands it is supposed to act Italian and that the end result and the taste are completely different from those of a French bread.
Carol Fields says in her introduction to the recipe that this bread is the classic bread of the Italian peasant.
We had it with dinner last night (a huge salad of mixed greens with creamy Gorgonzola) and it was excellent.
Ingredients (for 2 large or 3 smaller round loaves):
For the biga
- 361 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 255 g mature liquid starter (100% hydration)
- 159 g water
For the final dough
- 400 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 350 g white whole wheat flour
- 560 g water
- 18 g salt
- 3 g instant yeast
Method: This bread is made over two days since the biga needs time to ferment. As the dough is very wet, it is best to use a stand mixer.
- The day before: Mix all the ingredients until a sticky dough is formed. Remove to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight or up to 24 hours at cool room temperature. Refrigerate after that if not using immediately for up to 72 hours (the recipe will not make use of all of the biga, so you can plan to incorporate the leftover into another dough if desired or to freeze it for a later use)
- On the day of the baking: place the biga and 80% of the water in the bowl of the mixer equipped with the paddle attachment and mix until the biga is well broken up
- Mix the yeast with the flours and add to the mixture together with the salt. Switch to the dough hook and mix at medium speed until dough reaches low/medium consistency (when you pinch off a piece of it with wet hands and stretch it, you should see a thin membrane – or “gluten window” – with opaque spots, which means the dough is ready)
- With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the rest of the water (it might take a while as you truly need to add just a trickle at a time)
- Finish kneading the dough by hand on a well-floured surface, sprinkling the top with more flour
- Place in a lightly oiled large bowl or bucket, cover tightly and let rise until tripled and full of air bubbles, about 3 hours. Do not punch down
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and shape into 2 big round flats or 3 smaller ones, making sure to pull tight on the surface of the dough with cupped hands to make it taut
- Place the loaves, rough side up on well-floured parchment paper sheets set on baking sheets (it is very important that the parchment paper be extra well-floured as the dough is extremely sticky and might not detach itself easily later on)
- Place the baking sheets in large clear plastic bags, tightly sealed and let proof about 1 hour
- Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 F/232 C after placing inside a baking stone and a shallow metal pan
- Dimple the top (rough) side of the loaves all over with your fingertips and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes
- Just before baking, sprinkle the baking stone with cornmeal
- Gently invert the loaves over it
- Bake for 45 (small loaves) to 55 minutes (larger ones)
- Let cool on racks.