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Biga, name’s origin

The biga (Latin, plural bigae) is the two-horse chariot as used in ancient Rome for sport, transportation, and ceremonies (Wikipedia).
The same name (biga) is used in baking.

biga ancient Rome chariot

What the chariot has to do with baking??
All the idea is in the chariot function. It takes you from point A to point B, driving you to your destination.
That is what the Biga does. It leads the process of fermentation and proofing in baking goods.

Biga is a pre-ferment that adds complexity to the bread’s flavour. It helps to create a nice crumb and increase shelf life.

Italian bakers invented biga to replace the sourdough with an easier and more consistent pre-ferment. The advent of the baker’s yeast made this switch possible.

Biga ingredients

The biga is made out of Strong flour with 45% hydration and 1% yeast.

So, the recipe for 1 Kg of flour is:

Strong flour1000 g
Water 450 g
Fresh yeast10 g
(4 g if dry yeast)

Nowadays, it is common to find recipes that use 50% hydration for the biga. The higher amount of water helps to mix.
I posted the most accredited and classic recipe from the Baker Maestro “Piergiorgio Giorilli.”
However, the mixture is only mixed to form a homogeneous dough; not much gluten structure should be formed.
See the photo below.

biga dough ready to rest overnight at 18 C

You want to mix until no dry flour remains; not 1 second more. It usually takes 3 to 4 minutes, but it depends on the mixer and the flour quantity compared to the bowl size.
The biga then needs to rest, well covered, for about 18 hours at 18 C [64.4 F]. It will be ready when almost triple in volume, and a strong alcoholic smell will come from it.

The most famous Italian bread made with this pre-ferment is Ciabatta bread, it contains 40% of Biga in the final dough.
Ciabatta bread is a high hydrated bread. The hydration level could be between 70 to 90%, depending on the baker preferences.