80% Biga Bread

"What the heck is a biga?" is most likely what you're thinking right now. Simple - a type of preferment for bread. If you've read my basic bread dough recipe, you should know what a preferment is, but if your memory is a little foggy, no worries. A preferment is a portion of water and flour and yeast that are allowed to ferment for 12-18 hours, then more flour and water are added to make the final dough. It improves flavour, acidity, and texture. A great way to improve the taste of your bread with minimal effort, essentially. Usually preferments are a small percentage of the final bread, maybe 20% or so. But it doesn't always have to be, as with this one. 

Before this, I had never made a bread with this much of a preferment. I was a little worried about it, especially since I've never tried this method of bread making before. But I have to say that this is some excellent bread. This is my ideal bread right here. Super crunchy crust, moist interior, lots of fermentation bubbles. I could eat it all day long. And I did.

First off, bread basics. If you haven't already read it, please give my basic bread recipe a read through to get to know the terms and everything. While this recipe is quite different from that one, it is good to know the general process of bread making.

This bread is the ultimate short mix. There is barely any kneading and barely any structure to it. It is a wet and sloppy dough that feels very loose. This is the key to the big flavour and big fermentation bubbles, though, so trust me on this one. Don't go kneading this at all. Just mix it until everything is hydrated and that's it. 

Ken Forkish, the author of this recipe, uses a different method of incorporating ingredients so as not to develop the gluten as much as kneading. He uses the "pincer" method. Using a pincerlike grip with your thumb and forefinger, squeeze big chunks of dough and then tighten your grip to cut through the dough. Do this repeatedly, working through the entire mass of the dough.

He uses another technique that hasn't been mentioned before, "folding", a common practice with wet doughs like ciabatta. Reach underneath the the dough and grab about one-quarter of it, stretch it, then fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. When folding, stretch the segments of dough to the point of resistance, then fold them back across the entire length of the dough mass. Working your way around the dough, repeat with the remaining quarters of the dough. 

In his recipes, Ken says to have a 12-quart plastic tub and a 6-quart plastic tub for mixing doughs, plus two proofing baskets. Unfortunately, I have none of those things. I do have a 10-quart metal sauce pot and two metal bowls. This is not the ideal set up, but if you're like me and you don't have those things and you're not sure if you want to buy them just yet, it'll do. 

For the 12-quart substitution, make sure your replacement container is about 8 inches high and 10 inches in diameter. This may seem ridiculously big, but you'll need the room. For the 6-quart, use a bowl or sauce pot that holds about that much. For the proofing baskets, it's tough. The dough sticks to the metal bowls a little bit and proofing baskets give such a nice pattern and shape on the bread. They're cheap and you'll get your moneys worth out of them. However, if you want to make bread right now and you are flat broke, metal bowls will do. 

This is also gonna be one of those recipes that you need, and I mean need, a digital scale. Cups and tablespoons just won't cut it in the precision department. It's an investment, but worth it. Measuring 1 1/4 cups of butter? Ugh... 283 grams of butter? Easy as pie. See what I mean?

Keep in mind that this bread, from start to finish, will take about 18 hours. It's worth it. Set up a schedule, so you know when to divide, when to put in the oven, etc. Heres an example:
6 p.m. - Mix the biga
8 a.m. - Mix the final dough
11 a.m. - shape the loaves and turn on the oven
12 p.m. - bake the loaves

If you're not a morning person, just modify the schedule. Fit it to your day. 

80% Biga Bread

800 g all-purpose flour
544 g water, at 27 C/ 80 F
0.64 g instant dried yeast

Final Dough
200 g all-purpose flour
206 g water, at 41 C/104 F
22 g fine sea salt
2 g instant dried yeast
1,345 g biga

Put 800 g of flour in a 6-quart (or equivalent) tub. Put 544 g of water at 27 C/80 F in a separate container. Put 0.64 g instant dried yeast in a separate, small container. Add about 3 tablespoons of the 27 C water to the yeast. Let the mixture rest for a few minutes, then stir with your finger. The yeast may not be completely dissolved, that's okay.

Pour the yeast mixture into the tub with the flour. Pour a few more tablespoons of the 27 C water into the yeast container, swirl it around, and dump it into the dough tub, along with the remaining water.

Mix by hand, using the pincer method (see above), alternating with folding the dough (see above), just until all the ingredients are incorporated. Cover and leave out overnight at room temperature (18 to 21 C), 12 to 14 hours. It should be slightly domed, about triple in volume, and have a strong, ripe smell of alcohol.

Measure 200 g of flour into a 12-quart (or equivalent) tub, add the 22 g of salt and 2 g of yeast and mix by hand. Pour in the 206 g of 41 C/104 F water and mix by hand until just incorporated. Add all of the bigs, using your hand to ease it out of the container.

Mix by hand, wetting your working hand before mixing the dough so the dough doesn't stick to you. Using the pincer method alternating with folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients.

This dough needs two or three folds which are best applied during the first hour and a half of fermentation. The total fermentation time is 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

After it has fermented, flour your hand and a work surface. Gently ease the dough out of the tub and onto your work surface. Use a bit of flour to dust the area in the middle where you'll cut the dough, then cut it into 2 equal sized pieces with a dough knife or metal bench scraper.

Dust two proofing baskets (or your substitution) with flour. Shape each piece of dough by folding it, flip it upside down, then cup your hand around the back of the dough ball. Pull the entire dough ball 6 to 8 inches towards you on a dry, unfloured surface, leading with your pinky fingers and apply enough pressure so the dough ball grips your work surface and doesn't just slide across it. This will tighten up the ball and add tension to it. Give the loaf a quarter turn and repeat this tighten step. Repeat again until you've gone all the way around the dough ball two or three times. Repeat with the second loaf of dough. Place the loaves seam-side down in the proofing basket.

Lightly flour the tops of the loaves. Set them side by side (in the bowls) and cover with a kitchen towel. Preheat the oven to 475 F (245 C) and place a dutch oven on the middle rack with the lid on. The proofing time for this bread is about 1 hour, check the proofing with the finger dent test (in my basic bread dough recipe). If you only have one Dutch oven, place one of the loaves, covered, in the fridge 20 minutes before the first loaf goes into the oven.

Be very careful with the extremely hot dutch oven in this next step. Invert the proofed loaf onto a lightly floured countertop, keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will the side that was facing down while it was rising - the seam side. Remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven, remove the lid, and carefully place the loaf in the Dutch oven seam side up. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes, until at least medium dark brown around all the loaf. Check after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.

Remove the Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Place on a wire rack to let it cool, about 20 minutes. Put the Dutch oven back in the oven for 5 minutes to preheat it, then bake the second loaf in the same way.