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Italian Biga – Pre-fermentation

I have a batch of whole wheat toasting bread going, which I am using to test how long it takes to do a pre-fermentation* such as a poolish or a biga. Last night, it took about 60 seconds — I timed it. 🙂

  • Biga is the Italian name for a pre-fermentation and is dryer with 57%- 65% hydration. It gives a dough more flavor and strength;
  • Poolish is much wetter and sloppier with 80%-100% hydration and is the French name for this style of pre-fermentation. Both are typically made with commercial yeast.

Most bread books say that you should let a pre-fermentation run for 3-4 hours, then refrigerate. My theory is that you start the biga when you are doing the dishes, just before going to bed, and let it sit all night. You can either finish it in the morning, or put it in the refrigerator at that point and finish it later.


It’s dead simple. Put 2 ½ cups of flour and 1 ½ cups of water, plus ¼ teaspoon of yeast in a mixer. Just toss in the ingredients and mix for less than one minute, or until you get something that looks like pancake batter. (Use the mixing beater, not the dough hook.) That’s it. Mix it, cover it, and just let it sit overnight. Nothing to clean.

This morning, I got up to see a bubbling batter, which I have finished into bread. It is so easy to do and makes much better bread. For the pre-ferment, you don’t have to take the measurements very seriously. Good for late night accuracy.

Give it a try!

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