Italian Biga

This Italian biga recipe is the starter used in many Italian loaves. Just flour, yeast, water, and time–and you have an authentic loaf.

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.

☞ Contents

Italian Biga

A plastic container of homemade Italian biga.
An Italian biga is a beautiful thing. It's the basis for so many traditional breads that you'll have no problem using it. The flavor is unbeatable.

Prep 20 minutes
Cook 6 hours
Total 6 hours 20 minutes
2 servings
536 kcal
4.82 / 27 votes
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  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons water preferably bottled spring water, at room temperature
  • 2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil for the bowl


  • Stir the yeast into the 1/4 cup warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir the spring 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.
Print RecipeBuy the The Italian Baker cookbook

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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 536kcal (27%)Carbohydrates: 112g (37%)Protein: 16g (32%)Fat: 2g (3%)Saturated Fat: 1g (6%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 10mgPotassium: 170mg (5%)Fiber: 4g (17%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 3IUVitamin C: 1mg (1%)Calcium: 26mg (3%)Iron: 7mg (39%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

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.

Originally published March 06, 2012


#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. 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.

  2. 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. 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.

    2. Hi Mary, thanks so much for your kind words! Please let us know when you bake the bread if it gives you the hearty flavor that you desire. In the meantime, this is a great link that discusses the role of salt in bread baking.

      1. 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

      2. 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. 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 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.

  3. 5 stars
    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.

  4. 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.

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