Italian Biga

A plastic container of homemade Italian biga.

Many of the recipes for classic regional breads, such as this ciabatta recipe, begin with a starter dough made from small amounts of flour, water, and yeast allowed an initial fermentation. The starter, known as biga in Italy, or bighino when in small amounts, not only gives strength to what in Italy are weak flours, it also produces a secondary fermentation from which come the wonderful aroma, natural flavor, and special porosity of the final loaves and wheels of bread.

The important point about a biga is that the breads made with it develop a wonderful taste because their risings are long and bring out the flavor of the grain. Another benefit is that the loaves remain fresher and taste sweeter than those made with large amounts of commercial yeast.

In Italy, bakers use dough from the previous day’s baking to start a new dough. I keep some starter on hand at all times; by having it around, I can decide to make pane pugliese or ciabatta in the morning and have it for dinner that night. Because the first biga must come from somewhere, though, you may make it following the instructions below. It’s remarkable. It freezes very well and needs only about 3 hours at room temperature until it is bubbly and active again, or it can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.–Carol Field

LC Obliged to Biga Note

Behind each and every memorable bite of proper Italian bread we’ve daintily nibbled, hungrily inhaled, or otherwise somehow consumed, we have a biga to thank. So we’re feeling much obliged to Carol Field for this recipe. Nonna not included.

Italian Biga

  • Quick Glance
  • (9)
  • 20 M
  • 6 H, 20 M
  • Makes about 2 1/3 cups
4.8/5 - 9 reviews
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Stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

Stir the remaining water into the creamy yeast mixture, and then stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time. If mixing by hand, stir with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes. If mixing with a stand mixer, beat with the paddle at the lowest speed for 2 minutes. If mixing with a food processor, mix just until a sticky dough forms.

Transfer the biga to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at cool room temperature for 6 to 24 hours, until the starter is triple its original volume but is still wet and sticky. (The bakers I admire most advise 10 to 11 hours for the first rise, but others are very happy with the 24 hours it takes for dough to truly become yesterday’s dough, and if you like sour bread, allow your biga to rest for 24 to 48 hours or even 72 hours.)

Cover and refrigerate or freeze the biga until ready to use. (If refrigerating the biga, use within 5 days. If freezing the biga, let it rest at room temperature for about 3 hours until it is bubbly and active again.) When needed, scoop out the desired amount of biga for your recipe and proceed. I strongly recommend weighing the biga rather than measuring it by volume since it expands at room temperature. If measuring by volume, measure chilled biga; if measuring by weight, the biga may be chilled or at room temperature.

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Recipe Testers' Tips

This is a perfectly suitable starting point for most any bread which uses a starter. I bake bread several times a week and it's nice to have this handy. Sometimes I add this to a bread dough which doesn't call for a starter just for the added flavor.

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  1. I’ll send pictures manana but playing with gluten free as well as regular biga tonight. Used a combo of gluten free AP, oat flour, coconut flour, and white rice flour. Fingers crossed

    1. Do let us know how it turns out, Marc. Looking forward to seeing those pictures.

  2. I doubled the biga recipe for ciabatta. Should I double the recipe for the ciabatta dough and add all the biga? Will that work? OR..???
    Thank you – Rosario

    1. Rosario, I wouldn’t double the ciabatta recipe. That would be a lot of dough. You can freeze the unused portion of biga until you’re ready to make another batch of ciabatta.

    2. I find that when I make biga according to this recipe, I use it all but I need to increase ingredients by about 10%. Therefore extra 50g flour and extra 28.5ml water etc…

      Yesterday I made a batch of 4 biga into 2.2kg flour and it worked well.

  3. Swelled up to about double then shrank. New instant yeast. It was in oven with light on. Could it have been too warm?

    1. Otis, you do want to have it at a cool room temperature so that it can rise slowly, so it’s not necessary to keep it in the oven with the light on. Your biga is probably ok. Just stash it in the fridge and use as directed.

  4. For those who only want 500 grams of biga to use in their ciabatta recipe, I did some math!

    51mL warm water
    169mL regular water
    280g all-purpose flour


    1. What if the recipe calls volume for unit of measuring the biga, let’s say 2 cups of biga are required, is there a way how we convert the biga weigh into volume measurement?

      1. Cris, the recipe will make 2 1/3 cups of biga. If you want a specific amount, you can reduce the ingredients by the same percentage it takes you to get to that volume. Ie. to reduce from 2 1/3 cups to 2 cups, you would need to reduce each ingredient by about 15%.

  5. Hello! I would like to make this biga and the ciabatta and eventually try biga in my own breads. But how is this flour measured? Dip and sweep or fluff and spoon? Or better yet, after all this time, have you guys come to a weight of flour that you use? I imagine that the quantity of flour and thus the hydration of the biga can make a big difference in the final flavors. I would really appreciate this pointer. Thank you so much!

    1. Great question, Maya. We recommend you weigh your ingredients, particularly the flour. Above the ingredient list there is a US/Metric toggle switch, and if you toggle to metric, you’ll see the weights listed beside the ingredients.

  6. Hi. When you say room temperature, what temperature range do you refer to? I live in a tropical climate, it’s always warm here.

    1. Kim, there’s no specific temperature, but in a warm climate you’ll find that your biga is ready much closer to the 6 hour mark as opposed to taking 24 hours.

    1. San, you can swap in rapid rise yeast, but you’ll want to use a little less than the recipe calls for. Perhaps just a scant 1/4 teaspoon.

    1. Sandy, we haven’t tested a biga-based pizza dough, so we can’t say what the right amount would be. Recipes that include biga in pizza dough typically range from 40% biga/60% dough all the way up to 100% biga. Given that there’s some flexibility there, you can play around and see what results in the best flavor and texture for your taste. Do let us know how it works out!

    1. Maude, you can swap in instant yeast for the active dry in the biga recipe. The only change you’ll need to make is in step 1, where you don’t need to let it rest for 10 minutes. Just mix it with the water and proceed directly to step 2.

    1. Jose, we’ve never tried this, but you should be able to use biga in place of yeast in your pizza dough. There are many recipes online for partial biga doughs all the way up to 100% biga pizza doughs, depending on the type of pizza you’d like to make. As for the potato, perhaps use it for topping the pizza?

    1. Great question, Terra. Starter is made with only flour and water, and wild yeasts and bacteria that exist in the air become trapped in the mixture and cause fermentation to occur. If well maintained, you can keep a starter indefinitely. A biga, while also a preferment, is made with flour, water, and commercial yeast. It is typically firmer and drier than a starter, and is usually made a day (or a few days) before making your bread to add flavor and structure to the loaf. You can freeze biga, however, it is not typically maintained over a long period of time like a starter would be. Hope that helps.

  7. Hi, I live in a warm city (room temp average is 35°C). I’m wondering if I can still rest the biga for 11-24 hours in my room? or should I reduce the resting time or rest it in the fridge? Thank you.

    1. Whaan, that’s 95°F. Wow, you can you stand it that hot? That is much too warm for the biga. It needs to be around “room temperature,” but that doesn’t apply to you. Between 24°C and 27°C would be ideal. Your refrigerator is too cold. Is there someplace that you can manage the temperature?

      1. If that is the case, I guess I need to bring the biga to my bedroom and rest it overnight when I have an air condition on. I did making biga and resting it overnight in normal room temp (around 32) once for a ciabatta recipe and my bread turn out tasting ok but the texture is quite gummy/shiny looking. I don’t know if this is because the temp of the room I rest the biga or not. Have you ever experience such texture?

        1. Whaan, I’ve never had a gummy or shiny loaf. I have had loaves without big holes sometimes. The gumminess might be due to your oven. It might not be properly calibrated. All you need is a good oven thermometer.

          1. Thank you for your advice. I will try to check the oven temp with thermometer again. However, I have baked normal yeast bread with no problem. I only experience this gelatinized gummy crumbs texture with the pre-ferment bread dough. So I first thought it might cause by the biga.

            1. Whaan, it’s definitely a wetter and stickier dough, so it requires a longer baking time than traditional yeast breads. Still, your oven may be off. Also, are you weighing the ingredients or are you scooping them, specifically the flour? You could have a “light hand,” which means you’re not getting the full amount of flour. I always suggest using a scale to make sure everything is precise.

    2. I think the main issue I have following this recipe is the wait time that leads to over-proofing and that acid air the blows out of the oven. I have learnt that going earlier is the way to go. More bounce in the oven. The other issue is shaping the dough….I don’t think you need to do it. Just my 5c worth.

  8. I made biga for the first time ever ( stated it Thursday night). I used this recipe and finally on Saturday morning made my first ever ciabatta. What can I say?????
    Absolutely brilliant!!! 10 times better than I expected them to come out and to be honest they were near on perfect (considering I don’t have baking stones or parchment paper, had to make do with tin foil and a metal baking tray 🙈)

    I am now making another biga to use for pizza dough. When you read the recipe it does seem very long and time-consuming but in reality, you probably only spend about 10 minutes in total actually doing something (in my case it was constantly referring back to weights and in which order to do stuff 😂) Make the biga well ahead of time so you don’t feel like you are ‘waiting’ all day or night.

    Thanks for this biga recipe and idea, I’m actually buzzing 👍👍🙌🙌

        1. Thanks for that compliment my head is now bugger than the bubbles in the bread 😄
          I’ve got a biga on the go now and I’m considering using it tomorrow for pizza dough?

          1. Hah! You don’t need it but you have my approval for the pizza dough. Gonna be fantastic! I wish we had a recipe on our site for pizza dough made with biga but we don’t. Shouldn’t let that stop you, though!

    1. Russ, thanks for sharing all of this! And congrats! It’s a gorgeous loaf and I love how you MacGyvered a baking stone. And yes, so true, we include a lot of information to try to make the process easier in the long run, though it can look a touch intimidating. But it’s so easy. You are so very welcome.

  9. I don’t have a lot of bread baking experience, and have never worked with Biga before. I made this for the first time, with the plan to use it for ciabatta. I let it it rise for about 36 hours. It developed a hard, dry crust on the top. I hoped that would dissolve when I started to mix the dough, but that did not happen. I ended up having to pick the hard pieces out with my fingers. I don’t know yet what this will do the end product, as it probably threw the proportions way off. Just wanted to mention it as a warning to other novice bread bakers.

    1. Thanks so much, Claire. Greatly appreciated. I’d like to try to troubleshoot. Did you happen to cover the bowl of biga with plastic wrap? We’ve had other readers mention to us that if they covered the bowl with a towel it formed that same crust but when they covered it tightly with plastic wrap they had no issue…

      1. Hi Renee, thanks for asking. I am past the trouble shooting phase at this point, but thought a heads-up might help others to avoid my mistake. I did not use plastic wrap. I used cloth, which was probably the cause A more experienced baker may have known better, but my husband has a lot of baking experience and he did not anticipate a problem either.

        1. Claire, thanks for letting us know. Yeah, I suspect that was it, as I’ve experienced that myself with other bread recipes. We always appreciate readers helping us troubleshoot recipes to make a smoother experience for others!

  10. I have followed the exact measurements for big but the big mixture is fairly dry after mixing it (like a ball of dough) it is not liquidy. Is this normal. I have covered it and am letting rise. Is this normal?

      1. it was sticky…ish.. I formed it into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to rise. Hope this works.

  11. What do you do with the rest of the biga if say a recipe only calls for half of it? Can you “grow” it again like sourdough or freeze the leftovers?

    1. Hi Lottie, one of or testers recently made a batch of biga and used about half of it to make bread. She then immediately fed it, with 100 grams of flour and 100 ml of water, left it out for another 24 hours and then put it in the fridge. The next time she wanted to make bread, she brought it to room temperature, used a portion then added the same amount of flour and water as before. She let it sit out all day and placed it back in the refrigerator at night. Hope this helps.

  12. This sounds exactly what I want, thank you so much; but where do I find out how much biga to take out when I want to bake (say) a loaf using 500g of flour? I can’t find that information anywhere.

  13. So I’ve made the biga twice. Yesterday I had 90 grams leftover. I wanted to have enough to do another batch of ciabatta today. I didn’t know how to get the requisite 500 grams for today’s batch, so I made more, using the biga recipe, and folded in the leftover 90g.

    I just finished making the dough for today’s batch and had 190 grams leftover. I added equal flour and water. I’m hoping this was right. If so, now what? Do I leave it out for 11 hours and then refrigerate? That’s what I’m planning to do if I don’t hear from anyone. If that works, I’ll have just under 600 g of biga, enough for one batch with 100 g leftover, which won’t be enough to start another round. Can I feed it and then feed it again? Does this work like my sourdough? Or do I take some of the next batch of dough and add that to the leftover biga? Your help would be appreciated!

    1. Hi Nina, I was just speaking with one of our testers the other day about this. She made a batch of biga and used about half of it to make bread. She then immediately fed it, with 100 grams of flour and 100 ml of water, left it out for another 24 hours and then put it in the fridge. The next time she wanted to make bread, she brought it to room temperature, used a portion then added the same amount of flour and water as before. She let it sit out all day and placed it back in the refrigerator at night. Hope this helps.

      1. Now if I wanted to just keep feeding the Biga with Flour and Water and keep it going for long periods of time, how often should I feed it and where should I keep it? Should it be kept in the fridge? I have heard of starters that were started over 100 years ago and just kept fed. Can you help me with some info on this?

        1. Hi Sean, one of our testers recently made a batch of biga and used about half of it to make bread. She then immediately fed it, with 100 grams of flour and 100 ml of water, left it out for another 24 hours and then put it in the fridge. The next time she wanted to make bread, she brought it to room temperature, used a portion then added the same amount of flour and water as before. She let it sit out all day and placed it back in the refrigerator at night. Hope this helps.

  14. I tried making sourdough last year, and failed miserably. I was hesitant to try this, but am SO glad that I did. My husband and I LOVED this Ciabatta bread. I let my biga rest for 24 hours before starting the bread and the flavor was amazing. I will make this again! Thanks for the detailed instructions for both the biga and the bread.

  15. Hi there! Am I able to use instant dry yeast? If so, should I just follow the instructions exactly as noted in the recipe above and for the ciabatta recipe?

    1. Hi Matea, are you using instant or rapid rise yeast? If rapid rise, then probably no as it is not formulated for doughs with a longer proofing time.

  16. This is genius! Thank you very much. It’s like a new world opened to me, a world with fresh tasty bread and endless possibilities.

    1. What temp is ‘warm water’ in this case? And what would you say preferred temp is for the room temperature water?

      1. Emmy, for the water, it should be anywhere between 105°F and 115°F. As to the room temperature, anywhere between 68°F and 75°F. There’s a good amount of wiggle room here.

        1. Thanks! If I only have about 1/4 c. biga left after using it…can I still feed it to make more? and how much water and flour?

  17. Can you keep adding flour to it after you’ve taken some out for your first loaf? I guess my question is–do you just add water and flour at a certain ratio or do you need to add more yeast?

    1. Hi Allison, our tester, Larry, has this advice.

      I would feed it maybe 3/4 cup of unbleached AP flour and 1/2 cup of water every other day or so. First take about half of the starter and either use it or dispose of it. After a week or two, it should nearly double every day and be bubbly. Then, you may want to feed it every day or refrigerate it. If refrigerated, once a week, let it warm up to room temperature, feed it and refrigerate it again.
      Your public library undoubtedly has many resources to, help you with keeping a starter. If you do this, you can share your starter with your friends at any time and you will always have some on hand for yourself!

    1. Linda, that’s a terrific question. We know folks who’ve frozen their biga for 2 to 3 months and everything works out perfectly. Although in our past research on the topic, science indicates the yeast begins to be compromised by ice crystals after 2 weeks. And so we leave you with that information to make your own decision. Kindly let us know how it goes…!

  18. Is Biga also called the mother dough/starter dough or sourdough where you use it to make Panettone? Or it that a different recipe?

    1. Emosewa, yes, biga is a type of starter. It’s similar to a starter used for classic panettone, but the proportions of ingredients are different. They’re not interchangeable.

  19. Preparing to make biga soon and would like clarification regarding the resting period (after the 24 hours at cool room temperature) – do I continue to keep it at room temperature if I let it rest past 24 hours or place in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours? Thanks!

    1. Hi Amber, you can leave the biga to rest longer if you desire more of a sourdough taste. There are some great comments from Larry Noak, one of our baking testers, that explain how to store and feed a starter.

  20. Greetings from the Caribbean, I’d really like to give your recipe a go but I am wondering how the 30-35°C temperature would affect the biga? Would I need to cut down the rise time and by how much would you say? Is it even possible to have the biga done in the refrigerator?

    1. Hi Yanis, greetings from the Caribbean as well! I asked Larry, one of our baking experts about your question. This was his reply, “it may take a bit less time to double or triple in size but 18 or even 24 hours will be fine. The key is to give it enough time for the gasses to be in full production while adding a more complex flavor to the final product. Not allowing the Biga to ferment long enough would be a far greater problem. As long as you use the Biga while it is still full and bubbly,it will be perfect. If you wait too long it will be obvious, with the Biga beginning to collapse.”

  21. My biga is not wet, it formed a ball and is sticky. Is this what it is supposed to look like or did I do something wrong?

    1. Hi Sandra, it will be a sticky dough. What kind of flour did you use and did you weigh the ingredients?

  22. I keep a biga going in the cool corner of our old farmhouse kitchen. Baking almost daily, I use a lot so it’s handy to have it at the ready all the time. It’s somehow also comforting to see it there, knowing it’s ready to make wonderful bread.

  23. My biga has been resting at room temperature for 24 hours and has not risen at all if it is too dry…?.what should I do please

    1. Hi Lyn, two things come to mind. Is your yeast fresh and what is your room temperature? If you have any more yeast, you might try proofing it to confirm its viability. Also, if your room is too chilly, that might impact the rise.

  24. I want to try to make ciabatta bread and your recipe calls for a free-standing mixer. I don’t have one of these and cannot run out to buy it. Please advise of the hand-kneading process so I can go trial and error. Thanks.

    1. Janet, like you, I don’t have a free-standing mixer and so I often adapt recipes for hand kneading. This ciabatta is a little different than most bread doughs, though, so I reached out to our resident bread baking expert and professional baking instructor, Cindi Kruth. Here’s what she has to say…

      The reader asks for advice on hand kneading. The main points are :
      1. It will be wet and sticky. It becomes supple, but never gets to the usual “smooth and elastic” in quite the same way as, say, a white bread dough.
      2. Follow the recipe’s advice and DO NOT add excess flour. The wet dough is what produces the lovely, chewy, hole-y crumb.
      3. Expect that the dough will stick to your kneading surface and use a plastic dough scraper to scrape it up and fold it over. If the dough is sticking to your hands (very likely), scrape as much as possible off with the dough scraper, wash any remaining bits off, and, without drying your hands, continue kneading. Alternatively, dry your hands completely and apply a light coating of olive oil. The water or oil will help to keep the dough from sticking while you knead without the need for additional flour.

      This ciabatta can be a challenge. Especially without a mixer. As the recipe indicates, it can be made in a processor. I have always found very wet doughs such as this make my processor stall, but then my processor is 20 years old so not the strongest of motors. Still, I make lots of dough in it, even my pizza dough which is abut 62% hydration. This ciabatta, at closer to 67 to 68%, is a bit too wet for my machine. That said, since the processing is so short, just 45 seconds, (as it is with all yeast dough made in the processor) it should be doable with a good heavy duty machine. If the machine stalls the dough can be scooped out and finished by hand.

      Clearly this and other wet doughs were made by hand before the advent of our modern machines. The recipe doesn’t encourage making the dough by hand because of the tendency of inexperienced bakers to add too much flour to keep the dough from sticking. Wetting the hands is a better option, but this will be a bit of a chore and a little messy to knead by hand in any case.

  25. What’s the consensus on using a biga with a pizza dough? Kind of intrigued to add some sour to the base. Any reliable recipes?

      1. Hi Richard, I posed your question to one of our bakers, Larry Noak, and this is what he had to say…

        “Yes, I do this all the time. Biga is near the consistency of the final dough so adding the biga to the dough should not cause concern. Biga and starter are not the same. Biga is made daily and only fermented for 12 to 24 hours. The recipe from our site, Jim Lahey’s White Pizza simply uses a dough that ages for 24 hours. The entire dough is essentially a biga. This biga recipe will work very nicely!”

  26. Hello there,
    I’m a bit confused when it comes to this type of starter, hope you can help… how much of the biga should I use per recipe?
    Thank you!

    1. Lola, the exact amount of biga you need will depend on the bread recipe you make. For example, in the ciabatta recipe that we link to at the beginning of this recipe (which you’ll find here) we give you the exact weight and cup measure of biga that you’ll need. Hope this helps and, if not, kindly let us know and we’ll try again!

  27. I’m new to baking. I built a woodfired pizza oven and want to try some bread To use the biga or starter, do I substitute the yeast portion in a bread recipe with the biga?

    1. Hi Dave, a biga is added as a substitute or as an addition to the yeast in a bread recipe. It adds flavor and can increase the longevity of the bread.

  28. Thank you for this wonderful biga recipe. It is going on 13 hours and bubbling beautifully. I am wondering if the same ingredient replacement method applies for the biga as the sourdough starter recipe I use. For example, if I use one cup of biga for a ciabatta recipe do I put back into the biga one cup or 140 grams of AP flour and one cup or 236 grams of water? Also is one cup of biga considered 236-240 grams?

    1. Melissa, lovely to hear your biga is bubbling beautifully! I’ve queried our resident bread baking professional about the replacement and she or I will be back in touch very shortly. Thanks for your patience!

      1. Many thanks…In addition to the question s I already asked you…I have one more for you if that is okay… Do you think that after the biga is ready…like really bubbly and thick, I should go ahead and put it in the fridge at that point? I ask because if I leave it for 24 hours at room temperature, it remains bubbly, but it shrinks in the bowl. I live in Israel and it is very hot in Jerusalem now, even at night. I would appreciate your advice on that. I made the ciabatta using your biga and the Food Network’s bread recipe and it was lovely. Thank you again & kind regards…

        1. Melissa, I heard back from our baking guru and here is what she has to say…

          Yes, go ahead and refrigerate it. It’s hot here now, too, and I leave my starters out for much shorter times when it hits 80°F or higher in my kitchen. Allow it to come to room temperature to use it.

          Regarding the question of replacing the biga: As the reader suggests, to keep any starter going you just feed it. Carol Field’s biga is about 79% hydration; feedings should maintain that ratio. The recipe makes about 590 grams of biga. Ms. Field’s ciabatta recipe uses 500 grams of the biga so there will be about 90 grams left. To maintain the hydration ratio and restore the biga to the original quantity of 590 grams add 220 grams of water and 280 grams of flour.

          Oh yeah, one cup of biga according to Ms. Field’s recipe is about 8.8 ounces or 250 g. Not all biga or starters weigh the same per cup. It depends mainly on hydration and also the flour or flours used. Plus when it was last fed and how much it has been stirred down. Weighing is the better way to measure.

          I gave these amounts by weight because everyone weighs flour a little differently. Our reader uses 140 grams per cup. I generally use 130. Ms. Field, in this recipe, uses 133. Using Ms. Field’s 133, the additions to replenish the biga translate to about 7 1/2 fluid ounces (call it just under 1 cup) of water and 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (call it just over 2 cups) of flour. Most starter recipes that require adding equal parts flour and water mean equal parts by weight.

          1. Hi Renee and thank you for all the information. I made the ciabatta recipe this evening…and it came out amazing. The crust was much crispier and the holes bigger in the crumb then the FN recipe I made a few days ago. It is a bit of work…but really worth it. The only thing I would like to improve upon is the rise. A tad higher, & I’m not quite sure how to achieve that. Maybe next time I will need to work the dough less. Definitely a hit though in the Segal residence.

            1. Melissa, you’re welcome and thank you for letting us know how well the ciabatta turned out! I’m thrilled to hear you had as good an experience as we did with the recipe. And yes, working the dough a touch less should make for a slightly higher rise. I’ll also ask the bakers I know if they have any hints and let you know if I hear anything that could be of help.

          2. I wish this comment was pinned to the top! After making the ciabatta, I scanned through the comments about what to do with the leftover biga. There were comments but nothing specific with weights related to what I had leftover. So I just estimated, trying to make it look like it did at first (though I don’t remember what the volume was). I think I don’t have as much as the original biga started as.

            1. I’m so glad this was helpful to you, TracyKM! Greatly appreciate you taking the time to let us know. Makes sense what you did. And next time you’ll know to weigh it. Keep in mind, you can freeze the biga, too…

  29. Made three biga batches so far, two still in the fridge and one that baked up fine following the ciabatta recipe and which everybody loved as an appetizer to dip in garlicky olive oil. My bigas were/are not very liquid-y either, and all ingredients got weighed carefully in grams. I can reach in and give it a fold without having it stick to my dry hands.

    I add about a tablespoon of a more runny starter I’ve been maintaining for a year, just to give the baby yeasties some adult supervision. The water is tap water (hard well water) and the flour either Safeway Organics AP flour or King Arthur AP flour. Sometimes I add 50 g of whole wheat, and plan to add 50 g rye when I next buy some. I would like to know how to turn this tasty biga into baguettes!

    PS: I live in the high desert at 4700 feet and the daily humidity is in the 15 to 25% range.

    1. Hi Potimarron, I spoke to one of our master bakers and she suggested that rather than adapt this recipe for a baguette, you use a recipe designed for baguettes. Perhaps one of these recipes for bread or baguettes.

  30. I have everything I need to make the recipe but wanted to clarify the ability to refrigerate or freeze it. I see that the picture shows the Biga in a plastic container (like the ones from Chinese Takeout Soups) and there is one mention of double freezer bagging for up to three months. Being disabled freezer bags are luxury item so I was wondering if I could use a glass jar that previously contained sauce or salsa? Thus the size would be volume upward and not outward. Can you let me know if that is okay?
    Thank you,
    Sicilian Casualty

    1. Hi Sicilian Casualty (what a name!), once the biga has risen in an oiled bowl, it should be fine to transfer it to a container for freezing.

  31. I am trying 2 different kinds of biga. I have read all day about ways to make ciabatta. The one from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice calls for making the biga, let double in size then deflate and put in refrigerator. I am letting yours set out at room temp for 24 hours. Will do the cook off tomorrow.
    I did read that if you let it set out for over 8 hours you need to adjust the yeast as it will die.
    You said it can set out for up to 72 hours?

    1. Hi Jelly123, you can leave a biga out for 72 hours. The flavors will develop into that of a sourdough starter. Depending on a number of factors, (strain of yeast, how many are actually active, food source etc.) the yeast may begin to slow down as they run out of food. If you read the comments above, you will see instructions on feeding a starter. Hope this helps.

  32. This started sounds incredible, I’m going to mix some up today to use for the ciabatta later this week! As someone new to the world of bread baking, I have somewhat of an elementary question; At what increments would I add more of this recipe to maintain a steady started in the fridge or freezer? And what would be the best way to do so for a starter of this nature?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Julia, welcome to the world of baking! If you scroll through the comments below, one of our bread bakers, Larry Noak, gives some great advice on maintaining the biga as a starter.

  33. Hi. I made this recipe today and followed the recipe exactly but it doesn’t have liquid consistency. Will it change form by tomorrow ?

  34. Hi David.

    So glad you can assist with my flop! I have tried Carol Field’s Biga recipe but without success. Her recipe indicates 1/4 tsp dry yeast; 2 1/3 cups of flour (330 grams) mixed with 1 cup + 4tsp water (in total). It is is dry I cannot even moisten the flour! The recipe on the Food Network indicates 1 cup water and 1 1/4 cup flour. I haven’t tried that one yet, but I think the quantities make more sense? Can you PLEASE assist. I so badly want to bake a ciabatta bread!! Thank you!

    1. Hi Elsabe, did you mix the yeast with the 1/4 cup water, then add the 3/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons of additional water? I’ve made this recipe many times and have never had this problem. What type of flour are you using?

  35. Question: I have my big bowl of biga but not sure what proportions to use in a recipe as most recipes I’m finding just say to use the entire biga but my portion is larger than theirs (am I making sense at all?). Is there anywhere you know of that gives that kind of proportions like “use one cup of biga” in a ciabatta recipe? (please excuse my rudimentary, elementary baking questions!).

  36. I have failed at bread baking my entire life but have so far succeeded at this biga and am excited to try the ciabatta tomorrow (I like very sour flavor). Thank you for this tutorial…I’m very inspired that I got even the first step to turn out!

  37. Hi, I made the biga this am, and though it is rising slowly, it is absolutely not wet. It looks like a traditional yeast dough rising, before shaping and rising a 2nd time. Will it be ok to proceed with the ciabatta recipe?

    1. Ken Forkish (look him up) makes his biga at 68% hydration. It is a bit on the dry side initially but when you start with his pincer mixing, it quickly comes together (bit sticky but very “stretchy”). This one at 78% should be very loose and quite sticky. It’s only going to be dry when the water is first added. It will thoroughly mix and become sticky quite quickly. When left for the 12-18 hours, it will literally be 3x to 4x the original size and super super bubbly. I can only surmise that you measured the water or the flour incorrectly. I’ve made dozens of the Forkish version (this biga version one is wetter) and after comparing the two recipes, I know this ciabatta biga recipe is correct. The biga does not look like traditional dough after the 12+ hours while it ferments. It is a big, jiggly (literally) bubbly mass of dough. The gluten strings are simply amazing to see.

      I keep my oven temps (where I let it ferment) at a constant 70o F the whole 12+ hours.

    1. Dar, I consulted with our bread baking expert, Cindi Kruth, who is a recipe developer and baking instructor. She has the following to say… “Yes, the biga can be refrigerated for several days. It is, essentially, just a starter made with commercial yeast instead of wild yeast. The recipe even says it can be refrigerated up to 5 days. I usually feed my starters again if it’s been several days, but if the reader is using it in a recipe has additional commercial yeast (such as the ciabatta) that’s not necessary. If there is commercial yeast then the starter is basically being used for flavor and keeping qualities, not for leavening. If there is no other yeast in the recipe then I’d advise feeding the starter once or twice on the day of use until it is active and bubbly again. “So sounds like it’s a go!

  38. Recently began bread making because I found much info about ’18-hour, no-knead bread,’ but found the usual recipes flat on flavor until I found your recipes for Biga/Ciabatta. So made the Biga, rested it for 24 hours, then added it to your Ciabatta dough recipe…. and then let the combined Ciabatta with Biga dough rest for 18 hours. Turned out well, fine taste and texture. Now wondering if I can cut out 1 step: for the 18-hour-rise method, would I just double your Biga recipe and let it rest for 18 hours and bake.. OR — would I combine the Biga and Ciabatta recipes and let that rest for 18 hours. Thanking you in advance.

  39. Shan, if you will be proofing over night ,you probably will not need any more yeast. But a pinch more will be fine, if you so choose. I rarely use more than a quarter teaspoon of dried yeast and make loaves as big as my head!

  40. Looks a great addition to my homemade breads. How much of the biga (%) should i use in a bread recipe ? Thx for your feedback

    1. Hi Shan, if you are making the ciabatta, the recipe specifies the amount of biga. If using it in other bread recipes, my testers recommend using it as you would a sourdough starter.

      1. Hey Beth, so if i get i right: if a bread calls for 15 grams of sourdough I can swap that with the biga and maybe a extra pinch of yeast in the final dough?

        1. Hi Shan, there is a great discussion in the comment section on using the biga as a starter. Have a look at this and if you still have questions, I’ll reach out to Larry Noak and see if he can give you specific advice.

  41. Hi Lori, technically, this is not intended as a traditional sourdough starter but could easily be turned into one. I would feed it maybe 3/4 cup of unbleached AP flour and 1/2 cup of water every other day or so. First take about half of the starter and either use it or dispose of it. After a week or two, it should nearly double every day and be bubbly. Then, you may want to feed it every day or refrigerate it. If refrigerated, once a week, let it warm up to room temperature, feed it and refrigerate it again.
    Your public library undoubtedly has many resources to, help you with keeping a starter. If you do this,you can share your starter with your friends at any time and you will always have some on hand for yourself!

    1. Thank you Larry. I will try a starter this fall. I wanted to use it for ciabatta bread. I have made three of them this last two weeks & they turned out flat. I checked the yeast, temperature & everything I could think of. Not sure what happened. …Lori

      1. It’s possible, TracyKM, but a biga isn’t meant to be continuously fed. You make it and use it or freeze it within a few days, and then make another batch when you need it.

  42. Your cups converted to grams in the biga recipe do not add up! How can 3/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons total 200 grams? when 2 1/3 cups only 330 grams? When it should be apron 500 grams plus! Have I misread something? Thank you, I have adjusted and it works good.

    1. Caj, I can see how on the surface it can look wonky. But you’re comparing water to flour. A cup of water and a cup of flour have different weights. A cup a water weighs about 8 ounces, and a cup of flour weighs between 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 ounces.

  43. Some sympathy for the Australians in the earlier part of this discussion, some problems may be solved by understanding that an American Legal cup = 240 mls compared with Australian 250mls and an Australian tablespoon is 20ml compared to American 15ml. When a recipe has been converted to grams (including teaspoons tablespoons etc) this is a great help to the international audience.

    1. John E, thanks for the reminder. We did include gram weights for this recipe especially because of these kind of issues. We didn’t convert the 1/4 teaspoon of dry yeast because that comes out to .71 grams and most scales aren’t that specific.

      1. Depends on the yeast used, it comes in 7 or 8 gram sachets unless you use bulk yeast. Don’t muck about with .71 grams, 1_gram is close enough for government work.

  44. This is the most comprehensive and yet simple discussion I’ve seen on Biga. Thank you for taking the mystery out of how to make Biga. Our Italian Breads we’ve been making rise nicely and have a good crust, but we are looking for larger holes and more flavor (pretty bland). We’ll be giving the Biga a try tomorrow for final baking on Sunday.

    Question, the bread recipe calls for salt and we thought this would give the bread more flavor. Does salt negatively affect the yeast?

    Also, what would you suggest for a heartier yeast flavored bread? Will the Biga give us the flavor we’re looking for. We’ve been using Bread flour and Red Star Platinum Instant Yeast.

      1. Thank you for your reply – interesting and good information on salt. Very helpful for a reference.

        We have made the biga and it’s resting, probably will let it go for 15 to 18 hours. Will let you know how the Ciabatta turns out.

        Question: If making a bread recipe that doesn’t call for Biga, but I want to add it in the recipe – how do I determine how much to put in as added ingredients. For ex. if it calls for 3 1/2 cups of flour, 12 oz. water, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp of yeast – how much Biga do we put in? Is the Biga a substitution of the dough mixture (i.e. 1 cup of dough for 1 cup of Biga)?

        Thanks very much.

        1. Hi Mary, fingers crossed! We only tested the biga as a starter for the ciabatta but I understand that you can use it as you would a sourdough starter. Hope this helps.

        2. Mary, I just add it to my dough as soon as I am done mixing it (the dough). A cup or so of any starter, biga, or aged dough can do nothing but improve the flavor of your bread….

      2. Hi and thank you for the ciabatta recipe, I have saf instant yeast the red bag, will this yeast work and if yes, any changes to the amount for your recipe?

        Thank you

    1. Salt slows down the fermentation rate of the yeast and helps in development of the flavor. One thing to bear in mind, never let salt come in direct contact with the yeast. I always mix flour, water and yeast and when it comes together let it rest for 20 minutes and then add and mix in the salt.

  45. This is the first time my ciabatta didn’t go directly to the trash! I learned SO much. My husband ate a whole loaf with butter. Good grief! I need to work…I am a potter….but making bread and cooking is so much fun! Thanks for this wonderful blog! I didn’t get a picture of the finished product… was gobbled up! Next time!

    1. Anne, that’s terrific beyond words to hear! Can’t wait to see the photo from next time…and to hear what other recipes you try from the site. Many, many thanks for taking the time to loop back and let us know how it went.

  46. Also…..what modifications do I make for my Zojirushi bread machine. It has a setting to make biga. I am trying for ciabatta. I make lots of bread but I haven’t been able to do any ciabatta!

    1. Hi Anne, we did not test this recipe using a bread machine. I would suggest following the manufacturer’s instructions.

      1. Thanks…love this place! I made the biga in the bread machine last night and I will let you know how it works. I think I will do the ciabatta per your instructions.

  47. Hi, great article! I’m beginner baker and had been using a starter (supposedly biga) 100% whole-wheat flour with 60% room temp water and 0.8% instant yeast. The starter is extremely stiff, and I refrigerate the starter immediately after mixing and use it 24 hours later.

    – am i doing anything wrong?

    1. Hi Ricky, have you tried our biga recipe? It uses unbleached all-purpose flour and is not refrigerated immediately. After resting, it rises into a nice spongy starter.

  48. Hello – I have read that Biga needs to be fed and at the same time, some of the mix thrown away so the yeast has fresh food to eat. Is that needed? I’ve tried store bought biga starter mixes (add water, etc) and they all say to feed and reduce for 7 days. Needless to say mine stopped bubbling after 72 hours and went dormant then was afraid to use it….anyway any input would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Jim, in this particular recipe the bulk of the biga is used in the corresponding ciabatta recipe so there is little left to use as a starter. If you are not going to use the biga within a day or so, I would follow the instructions for freezing it until you are ready to use it.

  49. I would also like to mention that this is a great starter for a lot of breads. I have used this in bagels and other breads that don’t call for a starter as they can benefit from a bit of biga if you happen to think ahead and start it a day or two ahead, or if you have some big left over. I have also been known to add a tablespoon of rye or whole-wheat flour to this biga, just to change the flavor a bit.

  50. I used to add a half cup of unbleached flour and a half cup of water every third day when I kept them refrigerated. If you leave it on your counter you will want to feed it every day. If you do keep a starter you will need to either bake with it when you feed it or dispose of about half each time before you feed it. Now I just make a biga the day before I use it. You don’t need to worry about having someone feed your starter while you are traveling etc. If you wish to learn about keeping a starter there are very good references in your library and on the internet. What you want to look for is a how-to for making your own Sourdough starter.

  51. I’ve been studying your biga and Ciabatta recipes and blogs so I can make these recipes too; they sound amazing. What I’m wondering is, if I want to keep biga on hand how do I do that? What do I add to the the left-over original to keep it going? or am I better off making it new every time? Thank you

  52. Are you supposed to feed it with more flour or do you use it all up before starting more? Thanking you in advance.

    1. Hi Barbara, you will use most of the biga in the ciabatta recipe. I did speak with our baking expert, Cindi, and she said that if you do have a tad leftover, it is fine to feed it and treat it as a starter.

      1. Hi Beth. I have a quick question about feeding the Biga. I did this back in the 90’s and passed a cup of it along to friends. After they made something, they passed it on. Was fun & it was in our group of friends so long we named it Herman. I’ve forgotten how to feed it. Thanks for your info…….Lori

  53. I have a quick question. I live in a very dry climate and I have used this recipe twice now, and the Biga doesn’t seem as wet as it does in the picture. Should I be adding more water? Just how wet does it need to be?

    1. Hi Mahbaker, since the biga is covered with plastic wrap (which is pretty good at sealing in humidity for a short period such as this recipe requires), it is unlikely that a drier climate would make any difference. It might be the amount of flour. Just to be super accurate, I would suggest using a scale for your measurements. The biga and the dough are quite dependent on the proper hydration level for their texture, as is the resultant ciabatta. The technical answer to “Just how wet does it need to be?” is 79%, which a bit difficult for quantify. You might also want to check the protein levels in your flour as sometimes a very high protein flour it could absorb more of the water and appear drier.

      1. Thank you!! I have started having a better success rate and I’m sure it will be perfect in no time.

  54. I have just started baking bread a few months ago, and have been mainly sticking with the ‘no-knead’ method of baking, and this whole time I didn’t realize I was making biga. Curious tho, how long can you freeze it for? Not that I plan to have it in there for more than 2 weeks tops. I’d like to try this with your ciabatta recipe, but I have neither a food mixer nor food processor, and it sounds messy otherwise.

    1. Hi Bobba Ganoosh (love the name, btw) I spoke with Cindi our baker extraordinaire to get some answers for you. This is her advice “There’s a little difference between no-knead and biga in that the biga contains no salt. Yeast dough freezes very well. I don’t do it often because these lean doughs also keep well several days in the refrigerator and that’s easier to me. That is essentially what the whole book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day is about. When I do have too much to use or a change of plans, I oil a freezer bag and slip the dough in, double the bag, flatten it out a little (defrosts faster) and freeze for up to 3 months. I think the dough is best used within a month. It loses a little rise, but for the most part the yeast survives intact and the bread made with it should not be noticeably different.

      Although the recipe for ciabatta recommends against making it by hand there really isn’t any reason not to. After all this bread was made, as well as other classics that we use machines for today such as brioche, successfully long before the invention of modern appliances. True, it’s a very wet dough and can be awfully messy/sticky, so I’d suggest the aid of a dough scraper. A light coating of oil on your hands may help too. Worst case is a little too much flour gets added and the loaf is a bit denser, less full of those gorgeous holes, than traditional ciabatta. Not a big downside risk.

      Hope this helps!

  55. I really want to give this a go but it’s hard to find a cool room temperature nowadays. What happens if it is left out in a warm room? Or can I put this in the refrigerator for the initial 6-24 hours? I don’t want to wait until the fall to eat this! Thanks!

    1. Hi Suzanne, I checked with Cindi (our super duper baker) and this is her advice “When I made this the other day I actually had it at un-airconditioned room temp for about 6 hours then stashed it in the frig overnight. It worked fine. My room temp wasn’t that hot, but definitely there is a difference when this is made in the summer. Doughs ferment differently, not just faster, at higher temperatures, more yeast action less bacterial. If the room is over 80 degrees I’d suggest leaving it only a few hours, then refrigerating overnight. There’s little risk in keeping it at cooler temperatures. Although, frankly, I doubt there’s much problem with even a very warm room temperature (90) for 6 hours for the biga since there’s no added fat or sugar. I proof starters at school in a proof box sometimes (90-95) when I need to get them active quickly since our class isn’t long enough to allow the proper time at room temp. It’s not my preferred method because it doesn’t allow for maximum flavor and texture development, but it doesn’t hurt the yeast. And, as you know, I stash Lex (fyi “Lex” is her beloved sourdough starter) in the refrigerator indefinitely. I don’t think there’s any reason to hesitate just because it’s summer and the kitchen’s warm. Leave it out for the full 24 hours and it may develop a slightly more sourdough flavor, which is not necessarily a negative in any case. I can’t see any harm in a 6 hour rise at summertime room temps.”
      Hope this helps, can’t wait to hear about your summertime version.

      1. I live in the tropics with an average daily temperature of 27 to 34C so my biga is always refrigerated after 4 – 6 hours room temperature fermentation.
        Actually, to be precise, I use poolish (100% hydration) for both ciabatta and Sfilatino.

  56. Do you think it would be possible to make the ciabatta recipe with a sourdough starter instead of a biga? I might give it a try and report back…

    1. Hi Jake, I asked Linda, one of our recipe testers and a great baker, what she thought. This is what she had to say “I believe that you could use a sourdough starter for ciabatta instead of a biga. To give it the character and flavor that you would get from a young biga, I suggest feeding the starter a few hours before you will be mixing the dough and letting it sit at room temperature until it becomes active. You can adjust the thickness of the starter with flour or water depending on how sour you want the bread to be – the thicker the starter, the more sour the taste.) I have not personally tried this method, but I did think about it as an alternative when I was testing the recipe for the website.” Please let us know if you give it a try!

      1. Ok, I’ve tried a couple of things now and can report that you can make a very successful focaccia using sourdough. Unfortunately my partner has a low gluten tolerance, so cooking with proper 00 flour is not an option and I think it’s a bit of a lost cause to try and make a ciabatta with any kind of low gluten flour because you need so much stretch in the dough. Spelt flour makes an amazing focaccia though.

        1. Hi Jake, great news on the sourdough. Cindi Kruth, one of our baking testers, swears by her stash of sourdough. Happy baking!

        2. Jake, I would like to know if you tried both the biga and sourdough with whole-grain spelt. I understand some people who have a gluten intolerance to regular flour can eat spelt. I am using spelt for almost all breads, pizza, etc. due to its higher nutritional value, better taste, and digestibility. I would like to hear your experience. Paul in Santa Monica, CA.

  57. This looks great! Do you know of any recipes where I can use the biga, or any cookbooks? I have made biga before but have never found any recipes that use it. I therefore guesstimate how much to use… It would be nice to see an authentic recipe use it.

      1. This recipe looks amazing! Just wondering, can it be made with bread flour instead of all purpose?

        1. Hi Renee, if you are going to use this in the corresponding ciabatta recipe, I would stick with AP flour. Due to the differences in gluten between AP and bread flour, it might impact your hydration levels.

      2. I love this bread AND would love to have the authentic recipe for the Very Dark Lithuanian Bread that I had as a teen in Nashua, NH, years ago. I remember my Mom bringing home this hot dark round bread with a thick chewy crust and dense but light enough chewy interior with a strong (malty?) Flavor. Great with just butter. It could take the place of a piece of meat with the hearty feel and texture. A full bodied bread that was heavy enough to seem as though it was a complete meal in just one slice of bread. Have not found anything like it over the years since then. They must have started with a biga also?

        1. It’s quite likely, Joanne. Your description is so evocative, I’m craving that sort of bread like crazy right now. Greatly appreciate you taking the time to let us know how well this recipe worked for you!

        2. Laurie Colwin has a recipe for a dark bread that sounds similar to what you describe. Take a look at her books Home Cooking, and More Home Cooking and see if it strikes your fancy. Think it is in More Home Cooking. Delicious writing even if the recipe isn’t on pointe.

    1. I first learned about biga in a book called “The Breadmaker’s Apprentice” It belonged to a chef I worked for, but I wish I’d copied some of the recipes.

  58. Thank you for this! You have just confirmed what I’d discovered (and read) about making bread that tastes like the grain rather than the commercial yeast. Since the first time I made an Italian bread with a biga, and discovered that the no-knead bread was really just a biga, baked, I’ve used the technique almost exclusively with all my breads; sweet doughs as well. It’s so simple and it makes a world of difference in the flavor of the bread. I usually just throw it together the night before and let it do it’s thing until I’m ready to make the bread dough the next afternoon. Nothing could be easier and as a bonus, I get more mileage out of a jar of yeast because I don’t need to use as much in a recipe. Such an outstanding technique!

    1. You know I was wondering about the whole idea of using my no-knead dough as just a biga and now I will. I almost always have a batch of it in my fridge. Thanks for the idea of using it this way, as well as for other types of bread also. I’m going to try it for my cinny rolls now, too, I think.

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