Healthy Living, Recipes on March 15, 2013 by

Bread Starters Part Two: Biga and Poolish

I hope everyone was able to try out one of the preferments discussed in the previous post (pâte fermentée or a sponge).  What did you notice about your bread?  Was it taller? Stronger?  Nicer crumb?  Fabulous!  Let’s move on to some preferments that offer a bit more flavor along with the great structural boosts they’re known for.

First up:  biga.  Biga is a traditional Italian preferment that is often used with super soft, highly hydrated doughs like ciabatta and focaccia.  This preferment’s ratio of 2 parts flour to 1 part water make for a very stiff mixture that can be hard to mix by hand.  After the initial mix, a biga will look rather useless.  But, give it a few hours and it will soften and hydrate.  You’ll know your biga is ripe and ready when the dough is domed and just beginning to recede in the center.  The best thing about bigas:  they offer a lot of flavor and many qualities of sours without the time commitment.


Prepare 8 – 24 hours before baking.

  • Flour                30% of total flour from bread recipe
  • Water              equal weight as 15% of total flour
  • Yeast               8 – 10% of total yeast from bread recipe


 Now it’s time for my favorite in the preferment family (shhh, don’t tell the others):  poolish.  Poolish was originally used in Poland (hence the name) and is such a great preferment that it is one of the most widely used in French bakeries.  That’s right, French boulangers ditched their very own pâte fermentée to use a Polish poolish.  Why is it so popular?  Yes, yes, you’ll get great rise, crust and structure but you’ll also get a fabulous moist crumb with chewy texture and amazing flavor.  Oh, the flavor!  Sweet and tangy and just about perfection.

Poolish is the most hydrated preferment (1 part flour to 1 part water) and looks almost soupy.  This high hydration content is what creates the winning crumb and chew.  Ripeness is indicated when the surface is covered with small bubbles.  If the poolish has risen and then begun to recede (called a “high water mark”) its leavening power is shot.  Do over. And if you’re wondering what to make using a poolish, try this Whole Wheat English Muffins recipe.  They were a huge hit here at Bob’s and I ate three of them in about 20 minutes.  Seriously.

Whole Wheat English Muffins


Prepare 4 – 24 hours before baking.

  • Flour                30% of total flour from bread recipe
  • Water              equal weight as 30% total flour
  • Yeast               8 – 10% of total yeast from bread recipe



 A word about measurements

You may have noticed that, so far, all of the formulas are using percentages and reference weight.  Why is that?  Because measuring by weight is far more accurate than measuring by volume.  If you are serious about baking and want to produce consistently excellent products, use a scale.  Treat yourself.  And your eaters.  Baker’s scales for home cooks are incredibly affordable (Bob’s Red Mill sells this one).  And with the ability to measure in American Standard or metric, you can make delicious recipes from those crazy countries that don’t use our ounces and pounds (which is everyone).

Stay tuned….next week we’ll be pulling out the big guns:  naturally cultured sourdough starters.


hamroni says:

need all information about bread starter with biga and poolish with bakery percentage in all bread recipes in gram


hamroni says:

i need part one.of bread starter biga or and poolish.

blegarde says:

Hi there,

Why would a recipe use BOTH a poolish and biga? To my understanding, one would only use one or the other depending on the bread being baked.


Yes, you would only need one or the other. Do you have a recipe calling for both?

P-G says:

You wrote: “Yeast: .08 – 1% of total yeast from bread recipe”.
I read this as zero point zero eight percent to one percent (that is, in fractions, 8/1000 to 10/1000).

That would mean that if the recipe, for example, calls for 7 grams (1/4 oz) of dry yeast, you would have to put 0.06-0.07 grams (1/400 oz) in the biga or polish. This doesn’t seem right, and would in any case be an amount so tiny that would be extremely difficult to measure even with a digital scale (I know of no commercial kitchen scale that goes beyond 0.1 gram, and even those are rare, most stop at 1gram).

Didn’t perhaps you mean .08-1% of the flour weight?

Yes, that appears to be a typo. I will fix it now. It should be .8-1%

P-G says:

Actually, I interpreted it a .8-1% even if it was written as .08-1%. But the problem is % of what, it cannot be % of the yeast, as that would yield the tiny and un-measurable amounts I mentioned. It must be .8-1% of something else, perhaps the flour’s total weight.

Alright! Got it all cleared up for you. 🙂 It should be 8-10% of the total yeast used called for in the original recipe. So it might be a very small amount of yeast, but it is just what the poolish needs. Let me know if you have further questions.

Alan says:

Most of the images on this page are broken!

Thank you for letting us know. We have moved our website to a new platform and some links have gotten lost in the shuffle. I appreciate the heads up.

Lee N says:

“Stay tuned….next week we’ll be pulling out the big guns: naturally cultured sourdough starters.”

Where do I find that discussion?

Dave McKinnon says:

I am attempting to do a poolish for the first time. Miixed up the flour, water and yeast, put it in to high sided container. After 2 hours at room temp, nothing! How long does it take to start seeing some bubbles? BTW, used my usual Red Star yeast, made a loaf a couple of days ago and the yeast worked fine.

Most poolishes are left to ferment overnight. If you think something has gone wrong (such as the water was too warm), now is the time to start over.

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