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5-Day Delayed Cold Frementation Biga Rustic Bread With No Additional Yeast--Second Edit

baltochef's picture

5-Day Delayed Cold Frementation Biga Rustic Bread With No Additional Yeast--Second Edit

As I promised in my two previous threads that touched on this subject I am updating my experiments with fermenting a biga in the refrigerator for periods of time greater than the three days one sees recommended in artisan bread books..My first attempt at this was a fortuitous mistake due to family circumstances, laziness, forgetfulness, and a modicum of luck; which I detailed in the following threads..

The first bread made with methodology was an enriched pain de mie, primarily due to my needing that type of white sandwich bread to feed my family..However, I feel that enriched breads are not going to allow me to benifit nearly as much from the conversion of starches to sugars by the yeast in such a delayed cold fermentation, as will leaner breads..So this second attempt is one in which I took the Pain a l'Ancienne recipe in the Bread Baker's Apprentice, and combined it with the Biga recipe in the same book to come up with the modified recipe detailed below..My goals with this method are to use small amounts of instant yeast in the formation of the biga, which is made using ice cold 40F water..I am hoping that the initial amount of instant yeast in the biga will grow into a sufficient supply of living yeast cells during the delayed cold fermentation that it will be enough to build a final dough, proof the final dough through at least two additional stages, and to execute a good-to-outstanding oven spring when baked under a wetted stainless steel bowl on a 500F plus baking stone..

5-Day Delayed Cold Fermentartion Biga Rustic Bread


12 oz. bread flour

0.055 oz. SAF Gold instant yeast

7.5 oz. water, ice cold, 40F

Final Dough:

19.35 oz. biga, warmed to 70F, covered, on bench

6.5 oz. water, 100F

0.2 oz. table salt

9.5 oz. bread flour

Initial Notes: Due to a close family member entering the hospital early tomorrow morning for major surgery, I had to pull the biga out of the refrigerator early..The total time retarded in the refrigerator was 4 days 15 hours at 44F..The biga entered the refrigerator at 11 PM on 03-28-2009 at a temperature of 67F..I took it out of the fridge to warm up on the bench at 2 PM this afternoon, 04-02-2009..

I kneaded the biga for 6 minutes on medium speed in my DLX mixer..It went into the refrigerator at a weight of 19.6 oz., and came out of the refrigerator at a weight of 19.35 oz., for a loss of 0.25 oz..The first biga, which was a 2X recipe out of the BBA book, lost 1.26 oz. of water during its 4 day retard..This biga lost only 1/3 as much water after a 4 day 15 hour retard at a refrigerated temperature that was 1F higher than the first biga (greater number of times that the door to the fridge was opened and closed this time around??)..

The first biga had a distinct alcoholic smell in the gasses trapped between the dough and the bowl..The delayed, cold fermented biga had no alcoholic smell..The first, warmer, biga had a greater bulge in the plastic wrap covering the bowl when removed from the fridge..The colder biga barely created a bulge in the plastic wrap, although it spent an additional 15 hours in the fridge at a final temperature that was 1F warmer, and most definitely increased in volume by over 50%..

At the end of its retard, the delayed, cold fermented biga had several gas bubble blisters on its upper surface; wheras the first biga had none..The first biga had a small, very evenly spaced, very regularly-sized gas pocket formation on its underside from the gasses created by the yeast fermenting..The cold biga had a very unevenly-sized gas pocket formation on its underside, with several of the gas pockets being the size of a walnut..

The wet, rustic final dough was made with the biga warmed up to 70F, 5F warmer than the first one..During its 60 minute warm up on the bench, the biga grew in sixe to approximately 50%-60% of its original, refrigerated volume, pretty much the same as did the first biga..I kneaded the delayed, cold fermented biga final dough for 6 minutes on medium speed in my DLX mixer, 30 seconds longer than the pain de mie final dough..Its final dough temperature was 81F..

As I type these last lines the final dough is proofing at a room temperature of 80F on the propped open door of our gas oven..It appears that it will need approximately 90 minutes to double in volume for the first proof..If the dough comes out of the DLX's mixing bowl as slack as it went in, then I am most likely going to make ciabattas out of it..I have not attempted a really slack rustic dough in about 4 years..Indeed, I went through a several year period where I baked no breads for myself at all..It looks as if I will bake these as roughly 17.675 oz. ciabattas..I will retard one of the ciabattas as soon as I form it, and bake the other..

I may, or may not be able to update this thread tonight..If I do not, then I will probably update the results of the baking late on Friday night, or sometime on Saturday..

Any comments on any part of this process are gladly welcomed..


Edit: Well, it is 7:45 PM Thursday evening, and the first ciabatta is out of the oven and cooling off..I will allow it to cool off until approximately 9 PM tonight before I slice into it to taste it, and to check out the structure of the crumb..I am hoping for the large, blown out holes, and empty pockets that characterize a well-made ciabatta..I only wish that I had a digital camera with which to photograph my breads, as well as the knowledge and skills to use it..Unfortunately, I have neither the camera, nor the knowledge and skills..

Already, I can state that I got more oven spring with this ciabatta than I did with any of my previous attempts years past..I think a large part of this might be due to my having learned to work with wetter doughs than I did back when I first purchased Pertr Reinhart's book, Crust & Crumb..This dough is most assuredly the wettest wheat dough that I have worked with to date..I made every attempt not to incorporate any more flour than was absolutely necessary into the dough once I started forming the slipper folds..

Hopefully, I will check back in later tonight to update the taste and crumb..

Second Edit: The second ciabatta just came out of the oven at 8:30 PM Thursday evening..I allowed this ciabatta to caramelize to a darker shade of brown than the first one..It baked to virtually the same color as the Pain a l'Ancienne baguettes in the photograph on page 190 of the Bread Baker's Apprentice..We cut the first ciabatta as it was nearly room temperature when the second came out of the oven..The taste is quite good, easily the best tasting ciabatta that I have yet made..The crumb structure is much more open than my previous attempts, with a few large holes that are the size of a walnut in the 2" x 6" piece that I sliced off of one end of the 1 lb. bread..I do believe that the next time I make this dough I will reduce the bread flour in the final dough to an even 9 oz., down from the 9.5 oz. that I used today..Today's final dough, with 9.5 oz. of bread flour in it, pulled easily away from the sides of the DLX's mixing bowl, and barely cleaned itself off of the bottom of the bowl..While remaing fairly sticky..I am thinking that less flour, and a stickier dough, will result in the very open crumb structure that I desire..

One reason I quit making rustic breads years ago was my disappointment with my results..My previous ciabattas had a tight crumb structure with pretty small holes, the result, I am sure, of a dough that was not wet enough..Even though I am a chef, and even though I followed the instructions in the BBA to the letter; the resulting ciabattas were nothing to rave about..

I would like to express my sincerest THANKS to all of those members of TFL that have contributed to my becoming a better artisan bread baker..I would especially like to thank the inventive genius (don't know if that person is a member here--if they are THANK YOU!!!) that figured out how to place an inverted stainless steel mixing bowl that had been sprayed with cold water over hearth breads that were to be baked on a stone in a home oven..This is so much easier and, in my opinion, better than spritzing water into an oven (especially ones with glass in their doors!!) that the results have to be expeerienced to be believed..It is well worth sacrificing one of my largest S.S. mixing bowls to use for this purpose..

Anyway, to recap, I am pleased so far with the results of this methodology..The one greatest thing that I have learned is that I can reduce the amount of instant yeast in a roughly 2 lb.-2.5 lb. bread recipe by 2/3's of the amounts listed in the BBA..This method is producing very good oven spring with only the 1/2 teaspoon of yeast that Reinhart recommends in using to build a 19 plus ounce biga..Most of his recipes call for 16-19 oz. of biga, along with an additional 1-1.5 teaspoons of instant yeast used in the build of the final dough..I have now successfully twice made bread recipes, (1 pain de mie and 1 ciabatta) using far less yeast than the recipes called for..The first time with the pain de mie was a mistake..This second time with the ciabatta was deliberate..I think that this is a significant discovery..I would like to know what others think..


xaipete's picture

Remind me, Bruce, of what you are trying to achieve here. I read your other posts and saw that you had a definitely flavor improvement with you pain de mie, but I'm not sure what your goal is here.


baltochef's picture


My goals with this methodology are thus..First, is to be able to achieve as great of a flavor profile as possible with the least amount of monitored physical work at room temperatures as possible..The delayed cold fermentation process of building a bread has been proven successful for over a decade..Its main claim to fame is to convert more of the starches in flours into sugars, which ultimately leads to a better tasting crumb, as well as a darker, more caramelized crust..The original method for Pain a l'Ancienne, as outlined in the BBA by Peter Reinhart, uses an overnight retard to release the sugars, and build a more flavorable bread..

As I stated in my other threads, this all came about by accident, with no forethought on my part..I am trying to determine the optimum number of days for the retard..Is there, or is there not, any advantage to retarding the biga for more than a single day??..This is not addressed in the BBA, or the other books that I have read on the subject..When these authors write on the subject of firm per-ferments they only mention that the biga can be retarded for up to three days before it is frozen for future use, or immediately used to build a bread..Nothing is mentioned as to the advantages, or disadvantages, of a 1, 2, or 3-day retard in building a biga..

If I can successfully make a biga using ice cold 40F water, a la Pain a l'Ancienne, and immediately put it in my refrigerator to retard at 43F-44F for 4, 5, 6, or more days, and be able to remove it from the refrigerator to use to build a variety of different doughs without needing any additional yeast; then I will have substantially reduced the amount of work to increase the flavors in my breads, as well as significantly widened the window of time in which I can use the biga..If I can build a large batch of biga, let us say enough for three one pound loaves of bread, and use portions of the biga over a 7-day period to build and bake bread over the course of a week; then I will be saving myself considerable time in building my breads..If the biga gets better for each successive day spent retarding at 43F-44F, then so much the better..

Another thing I am attrempting to do is to eliminate the need to freeze a biga..As a chef I am aware that freezing foods at the temperatures that home freezers are able to achieve, always leads to an inferior food compared to the freshly made one..How inferior is a matter of a great many factors, of which there are far too many to go into here in this thread..Foods dehydrate in freezers even when vacumn sealing the food is performed..They just dehydrate far less in a freezer when vacumn sealed, than by any other method of wrapping or sealing..I am trying to eliminate freezing pre-ferments, as well as baked breads..


xaipete's picture

You want to have a lot of biga that has a big flavor potential in doughs in the fridge and you want to be able to keep for quite a few days. So that whenever the urge or necessity to make bread strikes, you be a step ahead and ready to proceed with building whatever final lean dough you require.

Makes sense to me.


pattycakes's picture

Hi Bruce,

Re your comment about hydration levels in the BBA ciabatta, I found that I had to up the water by almost half to get the kind of hydration that I knew worked in a ciabatta.

Jason's Coccodrillo ciabatta is a good example of what the dough should look like, and for me, the recipe works perfectly. Using that as the model proper consistency, I added water to PR's recipe until it cleared the sides but clung to the bottom of the mixing bowl. Of course, it's much easier to add more flour than water...and to tell you the truth, the PR ciabatta was fine, but not as satisfying in that big-hole, crunchy crust way the coccodrillo is.


Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

Hi all,

I need some advice on using a biga.  I'm baking from the Crust and Crumb the multi-grain with the yeasted biga.  The biga consists of 16 oz unbleached white flour (what's wrong with grams!) and 3 and 1/2 cups water and 1 tbsp fresh yeast.  The biga kneaded up beautifully.  I punched it down and put it in the fridge overnight - which I read you could do.  However I won't get back to my baking until tonight now. I am assuming that is ok.  Or should I have punched it down again?  Have I now over-proofed it? I assume I will have but I'm not sure it's of huge consequence?  Any comments on that?

My second question is that the recipe then calls for 2 cups or 8 ounces of biga.   I can't see how two cups can automatically be equivalent to 8 ounces.  The composition of the biga is over 8 ounces and the rising and falling will impact as far as physical measurement goes.   Any advice on determining the right quantity is appreciated.  Should I weigh out 8 ounces and assume that it is 2 cups?  

Lastly an observation - I'm a Canadian and not a young one.  We went to the "metric" system when I was still in grade school.  Since I have found this great resource (TFL) and really taken on yeast and/or leavened baking with enthusiasm, this is without a doubt the first time I have appreciated the conversion.  it is so much easier to work in grams when using a formula.  It just works so efficiently.

Happy baking!