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Both poolish and biga are pre-ferments. Poolish is a French name, biga an Italian term. What other differences are there between the two?

Just to give some direction: are there differences in making them? Can you both keep them as long? How does the dough feel with it? What difference does it make in the end result? Is there a difference in flavour/colour/texture?

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I had to consult my copy of Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart to be sure, but here is a quote:

There are two types of firm, or dry, pre-ferments and two types of wet pre-ferments. The firm pre-ferments are known as pâte fermentée and biga. The wet pre-ferments are called poolish and levain levure.

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Biga, an italian style of firm pre-ferment, differs from pâte fermentée in that it doesn't have any salt in it. Also, rather than cutting off a piece of finished bread dough to hold back as an improver, a biga is made specifically to be used as a pre-ferment.

So, it seems the main difference lies in the hydration of the dough, where a poolish is made with a ratio of equal water and flour. There also seems to be a few other differences. A biga apparently uses .5 percent yeast to flour, while a poolish uses .25 percent.

Mr Reinhart does not say anything about a concrete difference in final result between these methods - just that a 'wet' pre-ferment is faster. Faster in the sense that in the same time-frame a poolish will develop more flavor and character than a dry pre-ferment.

Sadly I've personally only used a wet pre-ferment, since it is easier to handle. Just whisk it prior to bed time with a wire whisk and mix in the rest of the ingredients the next day. Having a full blown dough makes it more difficult to incorporate the rest of the ingredients.

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    Do you know anything about the difference in end results, particularly if the final dough has the same hydration either way?
    – Cascabel
    Mar 15, 2012 at 19:56
  • @Jefromi I've added a little note about this in my answer, but the key note is that I'm not aware of any big difference.
    – Max
    Mar 15, 2012 at 21:08
  • For a given hydration, % pre ferment, enzyme development, technique, there should be no difference in color/taste. But many people swear by their favorite, probably because it works best for them. Aug 8, 2013 at 8:28

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