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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. It works well in lean doughs, doughs used to make baguettes and country-style breads, but how would it do in a more conventional (American-type) loaf, say a sandwich bread? Here is a recipe that resulted from a little experimentation.
Although pain de mie is not a traditional American bread, it's the French interpretation of an English pan bread, which is the antecedent of our American pan breads. A biga was used to create this version of the Pain de Mie. The "experiment" worked well; try it and see for yourself.
Note: We call for a pain de mie pan; to make "official" pain de mie, you really do need this covered, straight-sided pan. However, you can also bake the loaf in a 10 x 5-inch (best choice) or 9 x 5-inch (last choice) loaf pan, though it won't have pain de mie's signature fine-crumbed texture.
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
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 bread in the afternoon.
Manual Method: In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dough, 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, continue to 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. Shape the dough into a log and place it in a greased 13-inch pain de mie pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and, just before the dough gets to the top edge of the pan, place the pain de mie cover, which has been greased on the bottom side, gently onto the pan.
Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes. The bread is done when its internal temperature registers 190°F on an instant-read thermometer. If you wish, you can take the bread out of the pan 10 minutes before it's done and return it to the oven so the sides and bottom will brown more evenly. Turn the bread out onto a rack and cool it completely. This loaf is the quintessential sandwich and toast bread, the homemade equivalent of those plastic-wrapped, perfectly shaped supermarket loaves -- but with homemade taste and freshness. Yield: 1 loaf.
Nutrition information per serving (1/34 of recipe, 102g): 61cal, .8g fat, 2g protein, 11g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 2mg cholesterol, 160mg sodium, 36mg potassium, 13RE vitamin A, 1mg iron, 37mg calcium, 23mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XI, No. 6, Autumn 2000 issue.