Our bread baking journey continues with a new challenge—we’ve been dabbling in sourdough bread baking for some time, experimenting with starters and recipes. Our successes have been modest at best, with most of what we make ending up in the garbage. It turns out sourdough is like the Everest of baking. So, we put those experiments on the back burner for now, and proceeded to salvage what was left of our baking egos. We decided to tackle something a little less intimidating. Like biga.
I know, I know, what the hell is biga, you ask? Well, let me tell you a story. A long time ago, people figured out that leaving a dough out in the open made all the yeast spores from the air infuse it with some wonderfulness, resulting in what we today know as sourdough bread. The sourdough has a unique texture, due to the specific characteristics of the wild yeast spores and the way they break down the protein in the flour. It is impossible to get this texture by using commercially manufactured yeast, because the commercially manufactured yeast is much more potent than its wild counterpart, resulting in a more violent process and a different taste and feel to the bread. So when bakers first started using commercial yeast—because it facilitates the whole bread baking process and cuts the time needed considerably—they had to compromise the quality and texture of the bread. Some bakers were not happy, so they tried to find a compromise. They developed a method that wasn’t as time consuming as sourdough bread baking, and yet restored to their bread some of that delicate sourdough flavour. To achieve this, they mixed commercial yeast with flour and water and left the mixture rest for at least twelve hours, allowing the spores to work longer and intermix with the wild yeasts from the air. This starter was subsequently used to make a dough, and this starter’s name is biga. It’s an Italian name, and yes, those unhappy bakers were Italian 😉 One of the more famous breads made with biga is ciabatta. We’ll be giving that a try at some point as well, but today we have a rich red wine biga bread for you.
We start with the biga. We prepared the biga the day before we intended to bake the bread, because it needs to rest for at least twelve hours, as I mentioned earlier.
We just mixed the fresh yeast with the red wine and flour, then covered loosely with cling film and set aside.
On to the dough!
As you can see here, we totally mucked that up 😀 We didn’t read the instructions correctly and thought we’d end up with a dough that we can knead on a floured surface. It turns out the dough is way too liquid at this stage, so we transferred it to a bowl. We learned a couple of lessons here—read instructions and wear old pants, in case the dough decides to attack you!
The dough rose beautifully. One caveat—if you intend to stay in the kitchen while it’s baking, be prepared to inhale a lot of alcohol fumes. After our kitchen filled with the heady red wine aroma, I was almost lulled to sleep and Simeon was inspired to go buy some smelly Italian cheese 😀 We feasted on bread, Gorgonzola and red wine! Ah, la vita!
Red Wine Biga Bread
For the Biga:
- 150ml red wine – something fruity works best
- 5g fresh yeast
- 180g white flour
For the dough:
- 400g white flour
- 1 tsp finely ground seasalt
- 15g fresh yeast
- 200ml lukewarm water
Prepare the Biga:
- Dissolve the yeast in the red wine.
- Add the flour and knead until you have a nice, soft dough.
- Put in a bowl, cover with cling film, and leave at room temperature overnight. It needs at least 12 hours.
- Dissolve the yeast in the water.
- Sift 200g of the flour and add the salt. Make a small volcano and add the yeast mixture to the flour. Knead to a soft dough.
- Add the biga to your dough and keep kneading – now is the time to gradually add the rest of the flour. It may need more than specified in the recipe – this is probably dependent on what type flour you use.
- Put the dough in a bowl, cover with cling film, and let it rise for two hours at room temperature.
- Turn over the dough on a buttered/oiled surface and shape a ball. You’ll need to use a bit of olive oil, so your hands don’t stick to the dough.
- Put you bread on a baking tray, cover it with a kitchen towel, and let it rise for another 50 minutes.
- Preheat your oven at 250°C/480°F. Bake the bread for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C/390°F and bake until red.