So the verdict is in, biga is better. At least on some levels. The bread from the biga has a dark, crunchy crust. The loaf is smooth and dense, yet not so dense that you feel it sitting in your stomach like a rock.
On the other hand, the quick no-knead style bread that The Italian Dish recommended was also very good. The crumb is light and airy, yet the crust is chewier and not quite as crunchy as I might want. You can see how it can be so difficult to choose between the two, especially for a bread lover like myself.
I think the solution is to make the quick no-knead bread during the week. It doesn’t take much time or effort and is cheaper and tastier than most of the breads readily available in our local markets. On the weekend, when I have more time, I’ll continue to make the more involved biga-based bread. I enjoy kneading the dough and watching it rise. It’s a bit of kitchen magic, slowly developing under the towel on my counter.
from the Il Fornaio Baking Book
Makes 1 loaf
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 c. warm water
1 1/2 c. unbleached bread flour
1 c. + 1 Tbsp. semolina flour (I didn’t have semolina flour, so I substituted it with whole wheat flour)
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. cool water
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Biga
extra flour for dusting work surface
1. In small bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Set aside, about 15 minutes.
2. Measure flours into large bowl. Add salt and stir to combine.
3. Form well in center of flour mixture.
4. Add yeast, cool water, olive oil and biga to well.
5. Stir until all combined.
6. Knead dough briefly in bowl and then turn onto lightly floured surface.
7. Knead dough for about 20 minutes, dusting work surface and hands with flour as necessary. The dough will become smooth and silky. During this period rest several times for 1-2 minutes.
8. Shape dough into a ball.
9. Rub large bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl, turning to coat with oil.
10. Cover bowl with towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
11. Punch down dough by folding edges into center. Turn over so top is smooth.
12. Press most of air out of dough.
13. Cover and let rise again, for about 45 minutes.
14. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface.
15. Without overworking the dough, fold the edges in toward the center. Continue in a circular motion folding the edges in towards the center several times.
16. Spread a thick layer of flour on surface.
17. Place dough upside down onto flour so smooth side is face up.
18. Cover with clean towel and let rise until doubled, 50-60 minutes.
19. Preheat oven to 425 F with baking stone or inverted cookie sheet.
20. Mist preheated oven with spray bottle and quickly close oven door to trap the steam.
21. Dust baker’s peel with flour or cornmeal.
22. Transfer loaf to peel. (A really large spatula will work if you don’t have a peel).
23. Use a sharp knife to make slashes across top of bread.
24. Mist loaf generously.
25. Slide loaf into oven and bake for 5 minutes.
26. Mist oven once more and continue to bake bread until golden brown, 40-50 minutes.
27. Cool on wire rack.