Direct and Indirect Methods of Bread Baking

The following information is adapted from a Molino SIMA recipe booklet, "Scienza e Technologia della Panificazione" by Giovanni Quaglia, and "Il Pane, Un'arte, Una Technologia", by Pierogiorgio Giorilli and Simona Lauri.,

The Direct Method

The Direct Method is one in which all the ingredients are mixed in a single phase. Ordinarily, the amount of yeast is 3-5% of the total flour.  The quantity of yeast and the rising time vary according to the type of dough.

The Indirect Method

The Indirect Method includes the biga, the poolish, and the crescente. These are methods in which the ingredients are combined and the dough is prepared in more than a single phase


A biga is often imprecisely referred to as a sponge in the US.  It is made up of a mix of water, flour, and yeast, and is normally used as a starter. The biga is a substantial cultivation of yeasts and acids which is very firm to the touch (42-46% of water), cool (64-68 F), and made active by a dose of yeast (1%). The rest  time  of the biga is commonly from 16 to 18 hours.

As a result of the above procedure, the flour achieves three important results:

In practice what is obtained is a strong, active, and mature starter.  Fundamental to the formation of a biga is a flour that has stability and is not too active during the fermentation.  Lacking these values, a rapid decomposition can occur.

In addition to the choice of flour and the proper implementation of the procedure, the following conditions optimize a biga:

a.) The biga should not be mixed intensely for a long time.  Over-mixing the dough weakens the gluten, and causes retention of excessive gas, which causes the dough to swell quickly, and also causes a rapid relapse.

b.) When the mixing of the biga is complete, the temperature of the dough should not exceed 68-72 in winter or 60-64 in summer; otherwise the fermentation is accelerated.

c.) Care should be taken, especially in summer, to leave the biga in a cool, draft-free place.

d.) After the biga has ceased its fermentation process, or after having inverted the mature biga prior to the subsequent phase, do not wait too long before continuing with the succeeding procedures. Otherwise, the biga can turn bitter and spoil quickly.

Classical formula for the Biga

Flour 10 Kg. 100%
Yeast [Note 1] 0.10 Kg. 1.0%
Water 4.5 Kg. 45%
Mixing time 6/8 Minutes Slowly
Temperature Winter 68-72 Summer 60-64
Resting time 16-18 Hours  
Note 1:  Based on the flour contained in the poolish 

A mature biga should have the following characteristics:

A biga may also be allowed to develop for 18-24 hours, or 48 hours. If left to develop for 18-24 hours, the temperature of the dough should not exceed 64-68 F in winter, or 56-60 F in summer. If left to develop for 48 hours, the temperature of the dough should not exceed 40 F during the first 20-24 hours and should not exceed 64-68 F in winter or 56-60 F in summer, during the second 24-hour period.

The following information is translated from the text entitled "Opere di un Maestro d'Arte Bianca" by Nereo Cambrosio, printed in Brescia for Line Edizioni in 1995. 

Nereo Cambrosio indicates that in order to be consistent with artisan tradition, the recipes for raised dough introduced in Opere almost always contain a specific quantity of biga. 

The purpose of the addition of a biga is seen in the three aspects below:   

The biga can be prepared in four ways: 

La biga veloce (quick biga):  1 part water, 8-10% yeast, and 1.8 parts flour relative to the weight of the water. Shape the dough into a ring and soak it in lukewarm water for 20-30 minutes. Turn the ring upside-down for approximately 15 minutes. When it floats, it is ready. This is an ideal biga for a rich dough. 

La pouliche (poolish): 1 part water, 5% yeast, and 1 part flour relative to the weight of the water. The ambient temperature should be about 77 F ( 25 C). The biga matures in 2 hours. The degree of maturity is judged by the intensity of the bubbles that are formed on the surface. This biga is ideal for products that are characteriazed by a thin, crisp crust, elastic crumb and good cell structure. 

La biga corta (short biga): 1 part water, 3-5% yeast, and 1.8-1.9 parts flour relative to the weight of the water  The duration of the fermentation is approximately 3 hours at an ambient temperature of about 77 F (25 C). 

La biga lunga (long biga): 1 part water, 1-1,2% yeast, and 1.9-2.1 parts flour relative to the weight of the water  The duration of the fermentation is from 8 to 14 hours. Depending upon the ambient temperature, the fermentation can last for 18 hours at 42.8 F (6 C). 

For reasons of convenience (preparation at the end of the work day, excellent retaining quality), the author of Opere prefers the long biga, which he usually allows to mature for 12 hours at an ambient temperature of 64.4-68 F (18-20 C). 

For reasons of safety, the biga may be placed in the retarder at 41-42.8 ( 5 or 6 C). In this case, the amount of yeast is doubled and the least amount of flour is used. 

It is also possible to slow down the fermentation of the biga by adding approximately 5 to 7 g of salt per portion. The quantity of salt used in the biga is then subtracted from the amount of salt included in the final mix. 

Nereo Cambrosio suggests the following for those of his colleagues who choose to use their own natural leaven: The biga may be replaced by the natural leaven, but the dose is reduced. For 100 gs of a long biga, 50-60 gs of natural leaven is used, but absolutely not acid!

The Poolish

This method is composed of two phases. The first phase is the preparation of a semi-liquid dough comprised of yeast and an equal quantity of flour and water, which is prepared some hours prior to the preparation of the final dough. The second phase is the preparation of the final dough prior to baking.

The purpose of the preliminary phase is to allow for a rapid multiplication of yeasts, which leads to an increase in the strength and rising ability of the subsequent dough.

The percentage of yeast is based upon the amount of flour in the poolish, and varies according to the time in which the poolish is left to ferment.  The following percentages are recommendations:

The ingredients may be combined using a planetary mixer (5 minutes), or by hand. The use of a planetary mixer is a practical choice, because it is possible to unhook the bowl from the support. However, a hands-on procedure is recommended.

During fermentation, the volume of the sponge should increase more than double, and the surface of the sponge should be concave (sunken or fallen). An excessive fermentation makes the sponge too sticky. The final temperature of the sponge should not exceed 77 F.

In the second phase, the remaining flour, water and salt (1%) is added. If the salt had been added first, it would have had a restraining effect on the fermentation. The final dough is submitted to a second rising of about an hour, molded, and following an additional rest, it is baked.

The Crescente

A preliminary phase in the bread making process is included in many Italian language recipes written for the home baker, but the particular method is rarely referred to by name. The following information is included, because it represents the identification and description(s) of one of these methods, the crescente.

In her book, "Come Fare Il Pane in Casa", published in January of 1997, Anna Bisio describes the preparation of a crescente.   It is a rather soft batter made by mixing an equal amount of flour and water with a little yeast.  The rising time ranges from 2-3 to 8 hours prior to the preparation of the final dough.  In the second edition of her book entitled Come Fare Il Pane, published in June of 1997, Ms. Bisio describes the preparation of the crescente as follows: It is a rather soft batter made up by mixing a certain portion of flour and the correct quantity of water (equal to about 60% of the total weight) with a little yeast. The rising time varies from 2-3 to 8 hours prior to the preparation of the final dough.

Should the discussion of Baker's Percentages seem foreign, or if you would like to learn more about this method of measuring prior to baking, The Artisan has included a discussion of Baker's Percentages in the Commentary section of this site.  Similarly, we have included a Baker's Spreadsheet which allows rapid scaling of recipes.

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Last Updated on: 05/05/06 02:25:24 PM