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A biga is a pre-fermented dough that the French call a pate fermentee. It's started with a tiny bit of yeast, and allowed to work for several hours. The advantage of making a biga is that because it ferments for a long time, it adds flavor and character to the bread you make with it.
Bigas work well in lean doughs, doughs used to make baguettes and country-style breads, but what would it do in apple sticky buns? Here is a recipe that resulted from a little experimentation. We thought it worked very well; try it and see for yourself.
7/8 cup (7 ounces) water
3/4 cup (3 ounces) pumpernickel
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
the biga left in a container previously used, 1/2 ounce (or, if you don't have any leftover biga, 1/4 teaspoon commercial yeast)
All of the biga
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water
1/2 cup (1 ounce) nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups (18 to 19 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
6 apples, peeled and chopped*
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) pecans, chopped
1/2 cup (4 ounces, 1 stick) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
*I used organic American-grown Granny Smiths. They were small, but tart and very tasty; 6 apples weighed about 2 pounds.
The Biga: In a small mixing bowl, combine all of the biga ingredients, cover, and set aside overnight. Or start it in the morning if you want to make the buns in the afternoon.
Manual Method: In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dough ingredients, stirring until the dough becomes cohesive and begins to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it for 4 or 5 minutes, or until the dough begins to smooth out. This is a fairly slack dough, and it contains some rye, so it may have a tendency to be sticky. Don't keep adding flour; just keep the board and your hands well floured, to keep the situation from becoming too sticky. Give the dough a rest while you wash out and clean your bowl. When you come back, knead for a further 3 or 4 minutes. Lightly grease the bowl, place the dough in it, cover, and let it rest/rise for about 45 minutes. Take out the dough, gently deflate it by folding it in onto itself, turn it over, and place it back in the bowl. Let it continue to rise for a further 45 minutes to an hour.
Mixer Method: Combine the ingredients as described above, using a flat paddle or beaters, then switch to the dough hook(s) and knead for 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl (or leave it in the mixer bowl, which you've lightly greased), cover, and let rise as above.
Bread Machine Method: Place all of the ingredients in the bucket of your machine, program for Dough or Manual, and press Start. Keep an eye on the dough; scrape down the sides of the bucket, and add flour and/or water if necessary after about 10 minutes. When the kneading cycle is done, remove the dough and proceed as previously directed for rising.
When the dough has finished rising, take it out of the bowl and place it on lightly floured surface. Roll it out until it's a rectangle of approximately 15 x 22 inches. Take about 3/4 of the stick of butter (6 tablespoons) and smear it gently over the surface of the dough, leaving a good half-inch around the outside edge. Sprinkle a half a cup of brown sugar over the buttered dough, then 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of the nutmeg. Distribute two-thirds of the apples and nuts on top, and gently roll up the dough, starting with a long edge. Pinch the ends and edge tightly together, to seal.
Rub the remaining butter generously onto the bottom and up the sides of a 12 x 12-inch sticky bun pan (or a 9 x 13-inch rectangular pan, if that's what you have). Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar and spices over the butter, then layer in the remaining apples and nuts. Using a bench knife or serrated knife, cut the rolled-up dough into 16 pieces, and place them artfully on top of the apples in the pan. Cover and let rise until they're quite puffy.
Bake the buns in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 45 minutes. When they're done, you can either leave them as is in the pan, or take a baking sheet, upend it over the sticky bun pan, and flip them both over together. The sticky buns will fit just inside the edges of a half-sheet pan. When they've cooled a bit, you might pull the buns apart for serving, as well as to fill the pan more evenly. As this is not an exceedingly rich dough, these are best eaten when fresh, although a few minutes in the oven the next day will bring them back almost to their zenith. The slight "bite" in the flavor of this dough actually worked harmoniously with the tart and sweet filling. Yield: 16 buns.
Nutrition information per serving (1/16 of recipe, 286g): 314 cal, 14g fat, 5g protein, 31g complex carbohydrates, 10g sugar, 3g dietary fiber, 21mg cholesterol, 345mg sodium, 200mg potassium, 87RE vitamin A, 2mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 97mg calcium, 88mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XI, No. 6, Autumn 2000 issue.