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I am following Tony Gemignani's recipe for Pizza dough. For making a dough with a starter, he suggests making a Biga (which he calls "Tiga", link follows). Once the mixture is ready, he asks to let it ferment at room temperature for 18 hours. A few questions:

  1. There is a connection between time, amount of yeast, temperature. Given that "room temperature" is not an exact measure, I guess that there should be some other measure of "when the starter is ready" and not specifically that 18 hours have passed.

  2. 18 Hours is really an inconvenient amount of time. If I start the Biga before going to work, that means I have to put it in the fridge in the middle of the night. If I start it later in the evening - I might be at work when it's time to put it in the fridge. So that's a really inconvenient schedule. I would prefer to use my fridge which has a constant temperature and have more control over the process and schedule.

Any ideas?

Thank you so much!

Master dough with starter: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/master-dough-with-starter-51255340

Tiga: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/tiga-51255350

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    You need to include the essential parts of your links here, within your question. Links go dead over time and will make your question unusable. – Rob Oct 23 '19 at 11:42
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    Thanks @Rob. Actually the links are just added value. If you read carefully, you will notice that the question stands by itself. – talsegal Oct 23 '19 at 12:29
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1: Done is when you are happy with the result, less than 18 hours means less fermentation, more means more fermentation, it all depends on how much flavor you want to get out of it. 18 hours is approximate and as you say there are many factors. For a biga I'd use my nose, you will get a feel for when it is ready. Much more than 18 hours might get a bit strong.

2: Refrigerators are great tools for bread baking because they slow down the processes without stopping them or killing anything. You can ferment your biga/starter, or prove your bread in the fridge, it just takes longer. You could leave it out for 10 hours and then 16 in the fridge for example, or start it 2 days early and keep it in the fridge the whole time. A refrigerator is also very consistent in temperature, whereas room temperature varies from day to day

Keep in mind that the starter fermentation is about flavor development, and is an optional step. I always use a starter (a starter is a biga you don't ferment, you use it to get a good, healthy base for the rest of the dough) when making pizza dough but I rarely ferment it and I still get excellent results. Often I will make the dough and then refrigerate it for a day, I get the flavor development later in the process. So if you have 6 hours you can ferment the biga do it for 6 hours, it's not critical.

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  • If you don't ferment your biga, in what way is it a biga? – Sneftel Oct 23 '19 at 12:30
  • That's a good point, I use biga and starter/sponge interchangeably and I shouldn't. I'll edit – GdD Oct 23 '19 at 12:31
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I pretty much agree with most of GdD's answer, but I'll just add that this particular biga formula is already going to be problematic in terms of exactness, due to the fact that it requires 0.14 gram of yeast or 1/24th of a teaspoon. That's a small enough quantity of yeast that even a few more or a few less granules could make a significant difference in how much yeast grows in total over 18 hours, and the freshness of the yeast will come into play at that point too, as well as the type of yeast. All of those factors could be just as significant with this tiny quantity of yeast as a variation in a few degrees of room temperature, etc.

Basically, it's an inexact formula. If 12 hours is more convenient, try that. If 24 hours is more convenient, try that. Perhaps use a tiny bit more or a tiny bit less of this miniscule amount of yeast when you make the variations, if you want. If it's hot in your kitchen, ferment it for a shorter amount of time; if it's cold, do longer. Since the final dough linked in the question adds a bunch of yeast, the actual final count of yeast in the biga doesn't matter much. What you're really doing is letting the dough sit at room temperature not only for yeast growth, but also for enzymes to work within the dough for flavor development, etc. This particular biga formula appears to be mostly about flavor, not about affecting the final rise of your bread.

Given the tiny amount of yeast, I personally wouldn't recommend trying to do the entire biga fermentation in the fridge, as you likely won't get much yeast growth at all. You'll still get some enzymes (and some other things growing in a dough, like lactic bacteria after 18+ hours, which can also give flavor), but the point of the biga at room temperature seems to give some "yeasty" notes, which will only happen if you let this tiny amount of yeast multiply at least a bit. But as long as you're fermenting it for several hours before refrigeration, it will still provide a lot of the flavor you're likely looking for.

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