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Two is better than one

Dear friends of Erre4M today we will talk about the indirect method

18 July 2020

We continue our roundup of bread kneading methods. Today we will deal with bread made using the indirect method. The indirect method is a further evolution of the direct method and it is similar to the semi-direct method in the sense that also in the indirect method a "pre" dough is prepared but it has different characteristics both in the ingredients and in the fermentation compared to the carry-over dough. In the post about the indirect method we have understood how the dough improves, compared to the direct method, the characteristics of taste, aroma, digestibility and shelf life of the bread thanks to the increase of acidity of the dough due to the fermentation of the dough itself. For the indirect method the same principles are valid, but by increasing the fermentation time, the quality of the bread will be more exalted compared to the bread with the semi-direct method.

But then what is the indirect method? If in the semi-direct method we take two direct doughs and put them together after letting one of them ferment for a certain period of time (3-12 hours), in the indirect method we take flour, water and yeast in precise proportions from the ingredients of a recipe with the direct method, we mix them, let them ferment (for many hours even twice as long as the dough) and then we mix them again with the rest of the ingredients of the recipe. The indirect method is to separate a direct dough in order to increase its fermentative, bacterial and enzymatic activities to obtain a bread, certainly longer in the preparation time as we will see, but with a taste, fragrance, lightness, digestibility, crunchiness, softness, durability quite superior.

The definition of theindirect method is: thedivision of the dough into two phases; in the first phase a pre-dough is prepared, in the second phase all the other ingredients are added to the previously fermented pre-dough. There are two types of pre-dough: BIGA or POOLISH; let's see the differences

La Biga

The BIGA is a dry pre-dough that contains 44-50% of water compared to the weight of flour used for its preparation that undergoes a fermentation that varies from 16 to 24 hours (we can increase the fermentation even to 48h of which the first 24 hours in the refrigerator at a temperature of 4 ° C, the next 24 hours at 18-20 ° C).

The biga is prepared with strong flours (i.e. with a high content of gluten proteins, see post "avanti tutta") with a W higher than 300. Bigas kneaded with lower strength flours may not withstand the long fermentation time (at least 16 hours) of the biga because of the persistent enzymatic activity that remains active during this period. The water used in the biga is normally cold to allow slow fermentation of the inserted yeast and its temperature must always be calculated as we will see later. Finally, the yeast is the ingredient that generates the fermentation processes of the pre-dough.

The basic recipe for BIGA is:
500g flour W 3oo (100%),
220g water (44%),
5g yeast (1%).

The low water content in the biga allows a slower fermentation and consequently a higher level of acidity because it takes longer to rise. For this reason the bread produced with biga will have a large and irregular alveolation, a soft and fragrant crumb, a dough with a rounder taste.

La Biga

The preparation of the biga is a bit particular and must be done with care to get a "right" dough and consequently an optimal fermentation. Compared to normal bread doughs, which take about 15 minutes to knead, the time needed to make the biga is very short (2-4 minutes)in order to obtain not a smooth consistency like a normal dough, but a rough and lumpy consistency, i.e. the three ingredients must be just blended and must be kneaded always at a very low speed in order not to heat up the dough. In addition, the time taken to knead the biga is also related to its size, the longer the less time (2 min), the shorter the more time (4 min).

It is of paramount importance to respect the kneading time because:

1. Bigas that have been kneaded too much will mature prematurely because of the thermal heating given off by the machine and the too rapid fermentation by the yeast;
2. Bigas that have been kneaded too little, develop an excessive superficial incrustation due to the reduced kneading time and to a bad water absorption. Often they don't ripen, on the contrary they are close to rottenness because of the lack of cellular multiplication of the yeast;
3. Bigas kneaded with a percentage of water higher than 50% mature earlier than the expected time because of a higher humidity inside, which stimulates more the metabolic process of the yeast "fermentation".

We come, in conclusion, to the last variable (of primary importance by the way) that discriminates the final result of a biga, that is the water temperature. In order to better understand the characteristics and the best maturation of the biga, it is essential to always perform the calculation of the water temperature. Attention, by the way, as you will see in the example I provide below, the temperature of the flour (if stored at room temperature) is always 1 degree Celsius lower than the temperature of the environment in which we store and work it.

Example: Calculation of the water temperature to be used for a summer environment at 25°C

55 (= fixed constant) - (Flour T + room T) = water temperature Therefore: 55 - ( 24 + 25 ) = 6°C

The result obtained is the water temperature to be used to knead the biga that will then be left to mature for 18-22 hours in an environment at a temperature of 25°C. It is obvious that as the room temperature changes, and consequently so does the flour, the temperature of the water varies and the calculation must be repeated.

For the record I have to add that the ideal temperature of maturation of the biga is 18-19°C, in fact the bakeries that work with the biga are equipped with conservatories that maintain unchanged in all periods of the year this optimal temperature, so not having such equipment is good to store the flour and mature the biga in the coolest room of the house in hot weather (ie when the temperature begins to exceed 20-21 ° C).

During the summer, with the heat and humidity, to knead the biga is appropriate to reduce the amount of yeast from 1% to 0.7-0.8%, and water to 40-42% and if that is not enough you should add 2 g of salt per kg of flour kneaded (salt in these doses works as a fermentation inhibitor of yeast). Last advice: if the quantity of biga to prepare is small (up to 750g of flour) it is better to add the water little by little in order to slowly moisten the flour in order to obtain a uniformly hydrated dough.


The POOLISH, compared to the biga, represents its opposite, that is while the biga is a very dry dough the poolish is highly hydrated, in fact the water has the same amount of flour while the dose of yeast remains almost the same varying slightly depending on the fermentation time. Thanks to its high hydration, the poolish produces a dough that is more extensible, with a smaller and more regular alveolation compared to the biga, a crunchier crust and a slightly more acidic taste.

The basic recipe for POOLISH is:
350g W300 flour (100%)
350g water (100%)
8g yeast (2.5%)

As mentioned above the amount of yeast changes according to the fermentation time. The yeast dose/fermentation time ratio is inversely proportional, so the greater the yeast weight, the shorter the fermentation time.

1-2 hours of fermentation = 2.5-3% yeast; 4-5 hours = 1.5%; 7-8 hours = 0.5%; 10-12 hours = 0.2%; 15-18 hours = 0.1%.

Also for the poolish we have to calculate the temperature of the water based on its final temperature (for the calculation see the post "ONE PIECE PER TIME") which must be between 23 and 25°C, while the fermentation temperature should preferably be around 20-22°C.

The mixing time also for the poolish must be short (4-5 min) with a slightly faster speed than for the biga to mix the ingredients correctly, until we obtain an elastic and well united mass that we will cover and let ferment for the suitable time. In conclusion, we understand the right fermentation of the poolish when at its center is created a slight depression and its scent is not too pungent.

And as always to conclude in beauty I leave you the recipes of the post


Biga pre-kneading (16-18 HOURS):
Flour W300 - 250 g
Durum wheat semolina flour - 250 g
Water - 250 g
Levite - 5 g
Biga kneading time: 4 minutes on first speed

Final dough ingredients:
Biga +
Semolina flour 50 g
Water (70% of total flour) 135 g
Levite 1 g
Malt 2.5 g
Salt 11 g
KneADING TIME: 5 minutes first speed + 8 minutes third speed


Prepare the biga and then knead it with the other ingredients except for the salt which will be added at the beginning of the second speed and 20% of the water which will be added drop by drop after the salt.
Let the dough rest in a container greased with oil for about 40 minutes, then gently turn the dough on a well-floured table, divide into pieces of the desired size and place on well-floured boards with the cut side facing upwards.
Cover and leave to rise for 35-40 minutes depending on the temperature of the environment, then gently turn and stretch the pieces slightly. Bake on preheated oven and tray at 240°C for the time required depending on the size of the bread.



Pre-Poolish Dough (4-5 HOURS):
Flour W300 - 160 g
Water - 160 g
Lavening Powder - 2.5 g
Poolish Kneading Time: 4 minutes on second speed

Final Dough Ingredients:
Poolish +
Flour medium strength 260W 640 g
Water 336 g
Levite 11 g
Salt 17 g
Kneading Time: 3 minutes first speed + 8 minutes third speed


Prepare the poolish by dissolving the yeast in the water and then adding the flour, put it to ferment well covered in a suitable environment until it begins to sag in the center. Knead the poolish with the other ingredients except for the salt which will be added half way through the dough and 10% of the water which will be added drop by drop immediately after the salt. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes, divide into 7 pieces of 189 g and give the shape of short loaf, cover and after 25-30 min stretch to 30 cm and put in a lightly floured cloth well covered and let rise for 45-50 min.

Good work!

(blog by Enrico Gumirato, pastry chef and trainer)

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