Biga-Based Pizza Dough

June 1, 2011 § 5 Comments

Pizza is one of our fallback meals in the Dainty domicile. And it’s not delivery; not even DiGiorno. It’s made with good ol’ homemade, hand-thrown dough. With a special addition. Let’s call it Dainty Dough.

There are two things that make the Dainty Dough a bit different. First, it’s made with biga, one of many types of dough starters. It’s a yeast-based starter, not a natural sourdough starter—meaning it contains commercial yeast and not yeast found naturally in the environment (have I lost you yet? Hang on for a minute.). The biga ferments—i.e. sits on your counter bubbling away—for 8 to 24 hours or so, all the while developing a richer, chewier flavor. Pizza crust with flavor, not just used as a platform for toppings, imagine that.

The second thing I do is add a dollop or two of my Sourdough Starter, aka Milo the Baby Dough, during the dough-making process. A few months back you may recall I was experimenting with natural yeast and tried creating a real sourdough. Well, after a month or so, Milo is alive and well. I feel like I created a golem, it’s so incredibly cool. It’s totally not necessary to add this sourdough starter, but I’ll explain in a minute why I do it.

Dainty Dough: Step 1

Biga Recipe (from my Basic Baking class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts)

  • 1/4 oz. yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (warm=dip in a finger and it should feel the same temp as your body)
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 3/4 cups flour (I suggest all-purpose flour here. If you want wheat dough you can add wheat flour later)

-Add yeast and 1/4 cup warm water with sugar in a bowl and stir together. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Add remaining water and the flour and mix thoroughly. You’ll end up with a creamy mixture. Cover and either let sit on the counter 8 hours or place in the fridge for 24 hours. It will become creamy and bubbly. The biga will remain
-At this point you can proceed with the next step and make the pizza dough. Or, I suggest weighing out your biga into 4 oz. pieces, reserving one piece for your current pizza and placing the remaining into individual freezer baggies and popping them in the freezer. Label and date your baggies! Otherwise a year from now you’ll excavate your freezer and wonder what the heck that thing is. From this one batch of biga you will get up to 8 4 oz. pieces. And each 4 oz. biga gives you four pizza stone-sized pizzas. Do the math—that’s a lot of pizza!

Dainty Dough: Step 2
Pizza Dough Recipe

  • 4 oz. biga
  • 1/4 tsp. salt (kosher preferred)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • A dollop or two of Milo the Baby Dough sourdough starter (optional)
  • 4 1/2 cup flour (for wheat dough use 2 1/2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)
  • 1 1/2 cup water

-Add biga, salt, oil, sourdough starter and flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn on slow speed, let it mix together for up to a minute then add water slowly. Because I’ve added a bit of the sourdough starter, there is more moisture in the dough and depending on your weather conditions, you may not need all of that water. Yes, baking depends on weather conditions, believe it or not.

-If you’ve added all the water and the dough seems wet and watery, add a tablespoon of all-purpose flour and let it mix in. Keep adding flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough is no longer wet but not bone dry! You’ll likely need no more than four or five tablespoons of flour.

-Keep mixing on medium speed for about five minutes. The dough has a tendency to ride up the dough hook. Stop the mixer when the dough makes it above the hook’s collar and push the dough back down into the bowl. Keep mixing until the dough feels smooth and it’s started to relax a bit; i.e., it shouldn’t feel like a hard tight wad of flour.

-Oil a medium bowl. Roll the dough around in the oil so it’s slightly oily all over. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour. The dough won’t have risen all that much—it’s not rising like bread, we just want it to become elastic.

-Cut the dough into four equally sized pieces—they’ll likely have a triangular shape. Want an oddly shaped pizza? Then place these dough pieces as they are on a baking sheet or on the counter and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Want a perfectly round pizza? Then do this: Holding the dough piece in your hands, pull all the dough from around the piece into a central point. Go around the outside a couple times pulling it all into the center. Now, do your best to pinch that central point closed, then place the dough with that point facing downward. What you will have is a little ball with a perfectly round top, no seams showing anywhere except on the bottom. Cover these with oiled plastic wrap and let sit for about 20 minutes.

So, about adding that dollop or two of sourdough starter to the dough … here’s why I did it. I did, in fact, excavate my freezer recently and found two baggies of 13 month-old biga. Doing a little research I found that the recommended time for biga in the freezer is a max of four months. Oops. I added the sourdough starter as a way to give the dough a kick of fresh yeast. I think it worked. Plus, I noticed the crust did have telltale sourdough bread-like air bubbles. Tasty!

Hmm … turns out I have absolutely no photos of any of this. Bummer. Guess I’ll have to make some biga and dough later today.

By the way, biga can be used for more than just pizza dough. So instead of making 4 oz. balls of biga for the freezer, you can use what you have left for bread baking.

Wait, what? Am I leaving you without actually making a pizza? You bet. That’s for another day, when Jennifer can chime in on her favorite toppings. I make the dough, but she’s the pizza master.


Bread Cracking in the Oven—Solved!

March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last summer I discovered the joys of bread baking. I guess you’d call it my hobby now. And I say hobby because … well, unlike putting a Pop Tart in the toaster and waiting for the ding, there are levels of complexity at every step. There’s practice and skill and problem-solving and continual learning from mistakes. Described that way, it seems more like a sport. And, considering  I currently have three different sourdough ferments tucked snuggly in the warm and draft-free microwave, perhaps I’m also a collector.

Yesterday, I had one of those “Aha!” learning experiences. I made a batch of Country Sourdough from the Amy’s Bread cookbook. It was my first time making this recipe and considering my firm levain wasn’t so firm and I substituted in my sourdough starter, I wasn’t so sure the recipe would work properly.

I made the dough, let it autolyze, formed it into a ball, let it rise, punched it down, let it rise again, separated into two doughs, formed boules and let them rise again – seam side down – in floured baskets. The dough looked and felt great. So far, so good.

Now, in Amy’s instructions, typically once you get to this point in the recipe it’s almost as if they copied and pasted the remainder of the instructions for each and every recipe. At least for the handful of recipes I’ve tackled so far. BUT, this time she had a slightly different twist in the instructions. She said to tip the boule out of the basket onto the prepared parchment paper so the seam was now on top. Hmmm … I had not encountered that in previous recipes. All others were seam side down. Why would you put the seam up?

I had two boules – I thought, “Let’s try one seam side up, one seam side down, and see what happens. I scored both loaves on top, put them in the oven, and let them go.

Here’s what came out of the oven. Can you guess which one was which?

sourdough boule

Seam side up on the left, seam side down on the right.

The one on the right was the seam-side down. Even though I scored the top, the steam escaping the loaf escaped through the seam on the bottom, causing it to tear.

For the boule on the left, the scores through the seam on top let the steam escape. Not having a weak spot—a seam on the bottom—prevented the bottom from bursting.

I tried to seal that seam as tightly as possible, but apparently not enough. This doesn’t happen with all of the breads I’ve made, but I have had this happen before. And now I know why. Problem solved.

Apple Sourdough: Updates

February 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

No, I’m not obsessing over this apple-based sourdough. Not in the least.

But … I did keep an eye on it throughout the day on Tuesday. Good stuff was going on inside that quart container. Liquid pockets continued to build up around the apple chunks. I could see bubbling going on in there – they’d form lines from the base of the pocket going upward. Occasionally some bubbles would burst forth from that area, not unlike some undersea activity where bottom feeders send up the intermittent belch. The surface of the starter was covered with tiny bubbles, too. And, it smelled nicely fermenty. All good signs.

Wednesday, 5:57 a.m.: The layers have separated completely. No bubbles. Flour looks settled. Hmm … this happened to the grape starter, too. So, I move on to the next step, which calls for me to remove the apple chunks and add 36 grams flour. Stir well.

8:06 a.m.: I took a peek—bubbles seem to be appearing again. Bigger bubbles on the surface this time. But fewer. So far. A quick temperature reading says it is 75F. The starter pulls a bit as I bring up the thermometer. Fingers crossed.

Friday, 6:30 a.m. So, I just poured the starter down the drain. Again. Calling it starter is not correct—it was a mass of watery flour, that’s all. No bubbles. No yeasty activity. Nothing.

I don’t understand where I’m going wrong. I look online and I see all sorts of success with wild sourdough starters. Lots of bubbling! Lots of yeasty stuff going on! And me? The starters just … stops.

I will try again! I will. I just won’t blog about it—I’m getting sick of it.

BUT, if anyone out there (is anyone out there? anyone?) has some advice or a wild sourdough recipe or some suggestions of where to look for success, please let me know. Help a girl out, yo.

Obsessing with Sourdough Starter

February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a fine line between baker and mad scientist. And I’m walkin’ that line.

I hate to fail. Hate it. And when the sourdough starter recipe from the Amy’s Bread cookbook failed miserably—TWICE—I was a volcano inside. Watch out, sourdough … I’ll get you yet.

The Amy’s Bread sourdough is, as I envision it, the sourdough the pioneers relied upon. They didn’t have a packet of Fleischmann’s Active Dry tucked into their bonnets. They used yeast, baby … real yeast just floating around in the air or found on … things. Like grapes. This is where I stop envisioning – I don’t want to know what else they used as yeast sources.

The Amy’s Bread sourdough used grapes as the yeast source. Organic grapes. Well … Okay. This is where I admit I went wrong with the recipe. I used conventionally grown grapes, not organic. I went to two or three different Whole Foods! Even the HUGE one in Legacy Place – nada! According to one produce manager, organic grapes are sparse this time of year. Conventional grapes didn’t have that yeasty bloom. What else could explain my lack of bubbling?

What to do …

This is where Dainty the Mad Scientist makes her appearance. Jennifer had related to me a scene from one of Anthony Bourdain’s books. Apparently he had a mad scientist of a baker who worked under him at one point. He was a drug-addled guy, but a baking genius. All sorts of funky smells emerged from his underground yeast lab. He had to be using all sorts of … things … to source his yeast. So, in the middle of the Whole Foods produce department I thought, “What would a drug-addled baker use?”

I didn’t go too crazy in my problem solving. I just looked around and picked what I thought would harbor the most yeast. I chose an organic apple. I figured that, while the smooth part of the apple would have been wiped or polished in some way, the indentations on both ends of the apple would have something native still hangin’ out in there. Now that I think about it, I bet an organic fig would be a good bet, too.

I added 113 grams of 75F-78F water, 72 grams all-purpose flour to a quart container. I chopped the apple into about a 16 pieces and added mostly the end sections to the other ingredients. Stirred vigorously. Put the cover on. Heated some water in the microwave to create a warm environment. Put the container inside at around 3pm on Sunday.

Monday: I checked on the dough periodically throughout the day. Small bubbles started to appear around the apple chunks. Pockets of liquid appeared later on. Lines of bubbles and flour appeared through those pockets. I heated the water about three times during the day to maintain a warmish environment. Hmm … could this possibly be working?

Tuesday, 5:57 a.m. 39 hours later, there’s definitely yeast activity in the container. The bubbles are bigger with the mixture. And there’s small bubbles – like someone took a straw and blew bubbles – on the surface. And, it smells like fermenting apples. Good sign! I stick an instant-read thermometer into the mix and it reads 70.7F. Not bad. Plus, when I pull it out, the substance is a bit gooey and pulls up with it. Yay!!

I move on to the next step – my first refreshment. I add 113 grams of 76F water and 72 grams of flour. Stir vigorously. Close container. Stick in a warmed microwave. Cross fingers.

Sourdough with apples

The sourdough with apples begins to bubble.

Liquid pockets and bubbles appear around the chunks of apple

Starting Starter, Again

February 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Baby Dough is gone. Gone, Baby, gone.

On Friday morning I took Baby Dough out of his snuggly home in the microwave. No signs of life. No bubbles. Nothing. So I ditched him. My strategy of reinvigorating Baby with new yeasty grapes just didn’t work.

My main lesson here – just give the starter a bit more time I guess. See it bubbling away – and give it more time to bubble. It’s more of a fine art than I thought.

The other lesson – don’t name your starter. It makes it that much harder when you pour it down the drain.

Friday, 6:02 a.m. Wrapped 12 room temp grapes in a cheesecloth pouch – a few more than the Amy’s Bread recipe calls for. Smushed then a bit to break the skins. Put them in a 1-qt plastic container. Added 113 grams of 75F water and 72 grams all-purpose flour. Mixed it all together. The temp was about 73F. I screwed the top on the container and put it in the microwave with some boiled water. Remember, the heat dissipating from water warms the surrounding air – which, according to Amy, should be about 75F-78F. Like I said before, who’s house is that warm in February?

Friday, 4:58 p.m. Looking good. A thin thin thin layer of liquid is on top. But not bad. And it’s smelling a bit fermenty. Have boiled that cup of water throughout the day to keep the starter warmish.

Saturday, 9:16 a.m. There’s some bubbles – yay! So, there’s some yeasty activity going on. Smells more fermenty. Good sign. It’s been – let’s see – 27 hours. Recipe says to let it go 12-24 hours until it starts to bubble. I’m going to let it go a few more hours.

Saturday, 2:02 p.m. Hmm … bubbles disappeared. I’m thinking the yeast ran out of food to eat. So, I went on to the next step and added 113 grams 80-ish degree water and 72 grams flour. Gave it a stir. Pushed the grapes down in there. Fingers crossed!

Am I obsessing over my sour starter? Yes. I can’t help it – I can’t stand it when I fail. Can’t. Stand. It.

Sourdough Starter at 32 hours

Rye Bread: Do-Over

February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Thursday, 6:01 a.m. No signs of life in Baby Dough. Sad. So sad.

What did I do? Where did I go wrong? Tuesday morning Baby was full of life! Thick and gooey! Bubbly and giggly! Now … now it’s just some mass of water-soaked flour in a 1-quart container.

But, there’s no odor of death in there. It doesn’t smell toxic. Baby didn’t turn bad on me. There might not be a breathing and burping going on, but I don’t think there’s any rank, poisonous build-up taking place either.

So, I’m keeping Baby and attempting to do a Frankenstein-like operation here. I’m adding more grapes. Yeast – Baby has no more yeast (a good thing for a real child, but as a dough baby, it’s the stuff of life). Thinking back to Tuesday, Baby started going downhill once I removed the grapes. So, I’m adding them back in. Fingers crossed.

I saw a good idea from a YouTube video yesterday. Henrietta Homemaker put her grapes in cheesecloth for easy removal of the grapes. Brilliant idea. In those little grapes went, cheesecloth and all. It’s like Baby Dough has a diaper now.

So, Baby Dough is back in the microwave, tucked in there with some warm water. I’ll check on him tonight. Perk up, Baby.

Rye Bread: Day 3

February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wednesday 7:37 a.m. Checked on Baby Dough. He’s supposed to be bubbly and active 12-24 hours after the last addition of flour, according to Amy’s Bread recipe. But he’s not so active. In fact, a layer of liquid has formed on top and he’s not gooey anymore. He’s runny. Hmm… Not quite sure what to do. Except put on my boots and shovel.

Wednesday 8:45 a.m. I gave him a good stir with a wooden spoon to see if I could incorporate that liquid. Big bubbles popped up right away then settled down a bit. It smells sourish – I guess that’s a good sign? I put him back in the microwave with some hot water. I’ll check back in around noonish.

Wednesday, 12:32 p.m. Baby Dough began to separate again with a layer of liquid on top. No bubbling means no yeasty activity. Hmmm… so I decided to take a leap of faith here and I went ahead and fed Baby Dough with 113 grams of 80F water and 72 grams of flour. I took Baby Dough’s temp around 11:30 and it was 77F, so that’s good. I don’t think he”s not warm enough. I just think he’s hungry. Or … maybe there’s no yeasty goodness left alive in there? Could that be? Let’s see what happens by evening.

Baby Dough at 68 hours

Baby Dough at 68 hours

Wednesday, 5:58 p.m. I did a little YouTubing. This liquidy layer is normal. I think. It was on YouTube, so it must be right, right? And Baby Dough is supposed to be a bit runny. I think. My thought is I don’t have a whole heckuva lot of yeasties in there so it’s not bubbling tons. But it is bubbling.

So, reading over the recipe just now, I see I was supposed to have discarded half of Baby Dough and add the 113 grams water and 72 grams flour. Hmmm… I think tomorrow morning I’ll do a do-over on this step and do it right this time.

Gave Baby Dough a good stirring. Tucked him back in the microwave with some nice warm water. Sleep tight, Baby. Bubble away.

Tiny bubbles

After a good stirring, Baby Dough's blowing some tiny bubbles.

Rye Bread: Day 2

February 1, 2011 § 5 Comments

My friend Amanda’s comment on my Rye Bread: Day 1 post was this: “Amazing how you make this sound time consuming and gross… yet totally tasty and motivating!”

Little does she know what this mass of flour, water and punctured grapes has turned in to …

Here’s a brief journal of my sourdough starter experience. Consider it a journal of Baby’s First Days. And oh boy, if real babies are as slimy as this, I’m so glad I don’t have one.

(I skipped the first few hours. Perhaps I had a bout of postpartum depression.)


Monday. 11:21 a.m. Sourdough starter roughly 19.5 hours old. Microwave trick and dissipating boiled water have warmed the starter to 74F. The best I’m gonna get at this point.

Monday, 5:12 p.m. 25-ish hours old. Sourdough starter has turned into bubbly goodness! It smells like … grapes. Really. Yeasty. Grapes. Alas, work prevents me from tackling Step 2 at the moment.

Monday, 6:49 p.m. Still bubbly goodness, with a pleasant grapey-yeasty aroma. Added 113 grams room temperature water and 72 grams unbleached all-purpose flour. Stirred. Put back in microwave. Crossed fingers. Needs to bubbey away for another 12 to 24 hours.

Baby Dough at 26 hours

Baby Dough at 26 hours

Tuesday, 6:02 a.m. Baby Dough’s big! Must have almost doubled in size overnight. Lots of big bubbles. Hmm… should I move on to the next step?


Baby Dough at about 38 hours

Baby Dough at about 38 hours. Such a big boy!

Tuesday, 8:27 a.m.: I decided to move on to Step 3 after only 14+ hours. It calls for scooping out the grape remnants and a bit of the starter. It’s snot. It looks like snot. It pulls like snot. It’s baby snot. Of course the grapes all settled on the bottom and I had to scrounge around with an iced tea spoon and pull them up through miles of gooey snot. Good thing was there was a layer of liquid on the bottom through which I could see all the grapes. Finding them all wasn’t so hard through the gooey yeasty snot.

Baby Dough at 40 hours

Baby Dough at about 40 hours

Answer me this: Why would anyone EVER think this would be something yummy to add pulverized wheat to and then put in a container to cook over hot coals? That leap of faith from snot to baked goods—if you think about it, that crazy idea created civilization. Goo. Flour. Water. Heat. The wheel. The combustible engine. The Internet.

Added 36 grams flour. Mixed thoroughly. Put back in the microwave. Waiting another 12-24 hours.

Tuesday, 4:24. Baby Dough is 48 hours old – yay! Threw a little party, invite other doughs from the neighborhood. They are so adorable at that age …

Baby Dough’s looking a tad under the weather, a little runny. I snuggled him in the microwave with another cup of boiling water and will check back in later. For now, I’ll let him rest. Perhaps the party was too much.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with sourdough starter at The Dainty Dot.