QUESTION: I am confused about the difference between a biga, a poolish and a pate fermentee – how are they used in baking bread and are they easy for the home cook to try?
ANSWER by Debbie:
This was a very interesting question to research. Thank you for asking. A wide array of methods to help jump-start your bread’s rising (fermentation) process fall under the heading of preferments , something that happens before the first major fermenting (rising) of your bread dough.
Poolish (often attributed to Polish origin) and biga are overnight starters, both utilizing domestic yeast (as well as wild). Poolish is a wet starter, made from flour, water, and a touch of yeast (about 1/16 teaspoon).
A biga- the Italian name for a starter, can be either wet or dry. Like the poolish, it begins with flour, water, and a tiny bit of yeast. It can develop overnight , or for up to three days.
A pate fermentee is fermented relatively slowly, so it has time to develop a complex flavor that comes through in the bread.
Although biga serves the same basic purpose as poolish or pate fermentee, it differs in a couple of important ways from the French-style starters. Flour milled from wheat grown in northern Italy contained less protein and developed less gluten during kneading than French flour. To build doughs that would be able to rise into breads with structural integrity, Italian bakers had to use a very firm, dry starter, biga. Biga ferments for a long time, allowing the protein in the flour to develop as much strength as possible. Italian bakers used to use a high proportion of biga (up to 90 percent) in their dough to give their breads strength and structure as well as to raise them. Poolish or pate fermentee is typically no more than 45 percent of dough recipes.
For the home cook, how do you know which, if any, of these preferments to use? When you’re just getting started, rely on your recipe; if it calls for a particular preferment, use it. Once you’ve become acquainted with the various types, use the one that fits your schedule, and that you feel produces the best flavor and texture in your bread.
The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion 641.815/King
Baking – 350 recipes and techniques, 1500 photographs, one baking education, James Peterson, 641.815/Pete
Local Breads, Daniel Leader, 641.815/Lead
Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson, 641.815/Robe