Bread + Olive Oil + Fermentation = delicious
Most everyone knows what sourdough is: a bread made from a continuous culture of the deeeelicious Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and your standard Saccharomyces (or yeast). Sourdough starter cultures are best aged (like the “Mother Dough” from Boudin), but they are very time consuming as you have to feed your little colony of delicious bugs to keep them healthy and fermenting. So I was delighted to find an alternative starter type: the Italian Biga.
Biga is extremely easy to make and lasts 2 weeks with hardly any attention from you. As time goes on, the yeast will enter into different stages of fermentation, changing the flavor and complexity of the bread (which is really fun to play with especially for someone that is always thinking about microbe fermentation and respiration)!
Directions w/ a bread machine*: Combine warm water and yeast in the bread machine pan. Lay flour on top gently. Set bread machine to the dough cycle and unplug the machine after it has finished the kneading cycle. Let the biga rise in the bread machine until it has filled the pan (~6 hr). Store in the fridge in a greased large tupperware. Wait for 1-2 days before its first use. Deflate every 24 hours. Stays fresh for 2 weeks. If you can’t use it all w/in 2 weeks, you can freeze 1/2 C (deflated) portions for longer term storage, but make sure you let the flavor develop for 7-10 days before freezing!
*If you don’t have a bread machine, check out how to knead bread by hand here. But beware if you’re a biologist! If you knead bread by hand your yeast fauna increases and might increase the chance of contaminating your experiments!
If you want to upkeep a biga, similar to feeding a sourdough, you can replace the yeast in the recipe above with 0.5 C deflated biga. After a few months, I bet the flavor would develop like crazy.
You can use the biga in almost any bread recipe. To use it, eyeball about 0.5 C of the deflated biga. Tear it up into several pieces and place it at the bottom of the bread machine pan. Then only add 1 t of bread machine yeast to the recipe instead of the full 2 t. There are lots of bread recipes available on AllRecipes.com, but my favorite recipe is a version of Olive Oil Bread.
Directions w/ a bread machine: Tear the biga into several pieces and place at the bottom of the bread pan. Add the warm water, oil, and yeast to the bottom of the pan. Lay the solids on top gently. Set the bread machine to the dough cycle. (Let the dough rise to the top of the pan before removing it.) Deflate on a floured surface. Reshape into whatever loaf style you’d like. Transfer to the bread stone or baking sheet. Let rise until the dough has doubled in size in a warm spot (1-1.5 hr). Preheat over to 450°F. Slice in vents with a sharp knife and quickly put into the oven. (You don’t want to let the bread deflate again!) Bake on the bread stone or cookie sheet at 450°F for 35-45 minutes. Remove immediately from the cookie sheet and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into the bread.
I made a couple loaves of Olive Oil Bread for the open house Joe and I had a couple of weeks ago, and our awesome pal Jacob created a scene worthy of the sword and the stone. (PS – sorry I had to blur your shirt, Jacob!) 🙂