The Fresh Loaf

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Confused about starters, bigas and soakers.

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BKSinAZ's picture
BKSinAZ

Confused about starters, bigas and soakers.

I am reading Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book which is my very first introduction to bread baking techniques. Thats right, I am a newbe to the bread baking world. I have zero knowledge with starters, bigas, poolishes, soakers ect. and I must say I am completley overwelmed and very confused with chapter 3 of Peter's book.


My questions do not pertain to sourdough breads. My interest lay in Italian breads and also breads make from freshly grinded whole wheat berries.


In reading Chapter 3, it describes how to make a starter very well and it also tells how to make a biga and a poolish very well. I am not into sourdough baking so I am confused; In what situation would I use one over the other? In other words, what is the difference in a Starter, biga, and poolish and in what situations would I use one over the others? Is a "Starter" only used in the making of Sourdough breads?


Also, I thought that making a starter or biga was to create a yeast? Right or wrong? If I am correct, then why does Peter use instant yeast on his final dough recipe? (page 82 of chapter 3)


thanks in advance...


Bryan

French Foodie's picture
French Foodie

The big difference between a starter and a biga or poolish is what type of yeast is used.  A starter, as you stated above, is cultured via wild yeasts.  A biga or poolish use commercial yeast (fresh, active dry, instant) and act as a pre-ferment to help develop a more in-depth flavor before being mixed into the main dough.  The main difference between a biga and a poolish is the hydration level.  A biga is much drier, similar to a French bread dough, while a poolish is much more slack.  Both have their advantages, which I'm sure others who are more experienced than me can attest to.


Also, it is possible to use some commercial yeast in a sourdough bread to give it a faster rise.  Such a technique is called spiking the dough.

janij's picture
janij

A starter is wild yeast.  So if it calls for a starter it means wild, sourdough, for the most part.  That said.  A biga vs a poolish.  Both are a preferment made with commercial yeast.  The difference being the hydration of the preferment.  A biga is normally stiffer than a poolish.  Think bread dough vs pancake batter.  When to use a biga vs a poolish?.  Now you are getting into technical that I am not sure.  I read about it in DiMuzio's book.  You will have to have someone else expalin why to use differnt ones.  It has to do with performance.  They each have slightly different outcomes on flavor.


Now as for these things creating yeast.  The answer is yes and no.  For wild yeast starters, yes the object is to get the yeast going enough to raise the bread.  But for bigas and poolish it is more about getting better flavor out of the flour.


There are way more knowledgable people here, but this should give you a start.  You may want to read Bread Baker's Apprentice.  It explains a lot of that more I think.


Oh, and grinding your own flour from your previous post.  You said you were interested in freshly ground flour.  Do you have a mill?  How is that going for you?

BKSinAZ's picture
BKSinAZ

I am grinding my Red Whole Wheat Berries using a Vita-Mix blender which does a great job. www.Vita-Mix.com


I only recently got this blender and I've only made one loaf using the vita-mix recipe so far, which came out ok. I got the blender to make green smoothies and veggie drinks, but another perk is the ability to grind wheat berries. Like I said, it does a good job, however this is the only device I've EVER used to grind wheat so I have nothing to compare it to. It seemed to grind the wheat rather good, but I would not advise to get this device soley to grind wheat.

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

This is very helpful to me. What does the soaker do in all this mix? I was reading online some of the excerpts from PR's book last weekend since I'm ordering it and was fascinated and confused about his "epoxy" method.

sphealey's picture
sphealey

I really enjoy Peter Reinhart's books, and have had some success in making good (or at least interesting) breads from them, but his _Whole Grain Breads_ is perhaps not the place for a new breadmaker to start. 


In WGB Reinhart deliberately set out to create a new way of making dough with the intention of achieving multiple improvements[1] in whole grain breadmaking at one time:  better taste, better crumb, better nutrition, and simpler recipes.  And although he avoided the trap of his previous books in that he did not casually redefine words that had been used by breadbakers for 300 years, of necessity he created some new words and stretched the definitions of others to match his new techniques. 


All this adds up to words that don't mean the same thing as they do in any other bread book[2], recipes that are different from any other you will encouter, and at least in my experience success rates that are rather lower than standard recipes.


I would suggest searching this site for the last 2 or 3 threads on "best bread book for beginners" (my vote in Rose Levy's _Bread Bible_), take one or two of those out of the library, and practice a bit with standard recipes before you try WGB.


Just my 0.02.


sPh


[1] Whether or not his recipes are an "improvement" over classical methods is very arguable.  I personally like some of his WGB recipes a lot, and others not so much.  Other posters here have loved them all, hated them all, and of course been in between.


[2] Not that the words poolish, biga, starter, etc are used consistently in other cookbooks or contexts - they aren't, and that in itself leads to confusion.  But Reinhart tends to be between 87 and 180 degrees off course from every other definition in print.

Caltrain's picture
Caltrain

I wanted to throw my two cents into this. I'm fairly new, but my first book was WGB and I haven't looked back since. A lot of the allure to bread making came from personal fustration of finding good whole wheat bread that was a bit more fanciful than your standard sandwich loaf and did not use additives.


A lot of bread book for beginners hold an aversion to whole grains for good reason. Many books suggest that beginners start with white flour, which completely defeated my goals.  My first loaves were dissapointing until a google search came across a recipe for Reinhart's whole wheat sandwich bread. It sounded intimidating and the unfamiliar terminology certainly didn't help, but I did make a fantastic, light loaf.


As long as I was willing to follow WGB's recipes to a tee, I got consistent, reliable results with only a bit of practice. I also loved that PR took busy schedules into consideration, so I could accumulate experience great in my pockets of free time in a way that traditional methods wouldn't allow.


Now, having that said, the bread you do make from WGB does taste different somehow. Some describe it as "gummy" or "muffin-like". I'd agree to some extent and it seems that many recipes need sweeteners or oils to cover up the subtlely off taste and texture. I personally think PR tried a tad too hard to adapt breads to fit into his biga/soaker framework and many recipes in the book suffer because of it.


In short, from experience I found WGB to be a great first book to use, especially when I was motivated for the nutritional aspects of whole grains. Another alternative, Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, is a fine one as well, but it seems written for someone with infinite time on their hands.

BKSinAZ's picture
BKSinAZ

I'm also attracted to the 100% whole wheat breads for the health aspect.  Ok, so I gather that whole wheat flour, grinded at home from whole wheat berries, is not the best bread to work with or perhaps even to start learning with.


Sorry if this thread might be getting a bit off of subject, but are there alternatives that are equally as healthy as 100% whole wheat sandwich bread? A 50/50 mix?


thanks in advance.


Bryan

janij's picture
janij

Find a good white recipe and start adding whole wheat to it.  Whole wheat acts differently.  So It maybe a good idea to make a standard white sandwich loaf and get the feel for the dough.  I have a recipe that I use all the time for white bead and we love it.  From this recipe you can add all kinds of whole grains and vary the bread.  I think starting out getting the feel is the most important.  But going with 100% whole grain if that is what you want is fine.  Just may have a bigger learning curve.

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Is it not possible to learn bread baking technique using WW and rye? I simply have no interest in white bread and neither doesn my husband. The couple of trials I've done with white have been lovely and have gone uneaten.


I've just started baking and have my successes and failures. I don't mind throwing something out but I'm hearing that it's not possible to learn with whole grains until you learn with white bread.


I started really baking bread about 2 months ago. Before that, I've been a cook and quick bread baker for my entire life. My best success so far has been with a whole wheat honey bread that I made for thanksgiving into rolls and 2 loaves. My other best was a wonderful pizza dough made from rye and whole wheat. No white in either dough.


I'm not the best about following a recipe but I am getting better about it. I'll be much better when my scale shows up. I hate volume measuring as it never seems to work out right.


I'm still getting the hang of not adding too much flour to my dough and how to work with slack doughs. Not a clue how to shape but those rolls were helpful in that area, working with super mini balls over and over.


Is it possible to learn great bread making without ever making white bread? I hope so because I am not going to be using much of my AP flour. I am a determined person and encouraged by my early successes. Where there is a will there is a way!


Besides, I've had 2 years organic, 3 years graduate nutrition classes, medical school, microbiology, all those agriculture classes. I'm sure I can figure this out eventually. Not only that, I actually used to be a rocket launch officer! It's not rocket science is it? Is it????

Caltrain's picture
Caltrain

That kitchen scale will be indispensible. It's difficult to use volume measurements while trying to learn what dough supposed to feel like with different hydration, etc.


Still, I haven't baked a loaf that had any white flour in it. I'm also still learning, but I get that feeling that I've become so accustomed to WW that AP will feel alien and be difficult to work with.


Not that I'm complaining, of course.

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

I have a feeling I'll use up one bag of AP, the rest of my high protein and that will be the end of my white lessons. It just makes me gag. I do find the vital wheat gluten helpful though and will continue to use that until I get the hang of things and try to wean myself off as I learn.


I am going to continue with the first lesson bread. I made it this week but it was middle of the night in the RV. I had no AP flour and for some reason, I guess because it was white I substituted my High protein flour. (66cents on sale so I had some) I also had a clogged sink that night so no sink space. No work space. Hubby sleeping.


Needless to say, not the best of circumstances but turned out a surprisingly nice loaf in my mini oven! Cooked it in my cheap ceramic salad bowl that it proofed in.


I will just start making that same recipe but as one of the other posters said, increase percent of WW each time. (but buying some AP flour today). I will try some of the retardation techniques and also work with some starter that Erik is sending me.  (lost mine in the fire and have had some of my best success with my SD)


I'm like Caltrain. I haven't found it that hard to work with wholegrains but maybe it's because it's the only thing I eat so it doesn't taste bad or dense or odd to me when I don't get the perfect light airy fluffy loaf of bread.