These are my gorgeous, tangy flatbreads but they do take some commitment as they are fully sourdough, with a pre-ferment stage.
I’ve been making sourdough since 2001… I was already making bread by hand for many, many years before this, but started as my twin baby sons began weaning. I was a little obsessed with making everything as naturally as possible for them; as they had been very premature I was trying to do my best nutritionally. I don’t often post sourdough recipes, despite how long I’ve been making bread with wild yeast starters. This is because there are plenty of resources out there and there are a few ‘formulas’ for sourdough that can be learnt and used repeatedly and then adapted at home, why add another to confuse people!? Where I have added a sourdough recipe it’s typically for something very unusual that I’ve started from scratch to create the end result I wanted, such as the sourdough pan d’oro I posted about four years ago. There is also my article on looking after and maintaining your starter: Sourdough for starters (or growing your own pet yeast) (which was written in early 2016).
What’s in a name?
If you are scratching your head at all the terms used for the different stages in sourdough making, don’t worry as you’re not alone! There are various terms for the different stages, yet most names appear interchangeable and it’s not clear if there is indeed any differentiation.
For instance, the wild yeast starter – that bubbling mix produced by nurturing just flour and water and naturally occurring yeast present in the air and the flour – has many names. It can be referred to as a starter, mother, chief, chef, head or leaven (and there’s possibly more), though starter and mother seem to be most common.
When making a sourdough bread, it’s typical to take part of that starter and, mixing it with a little flour and water, create an early fermentation stage before you go on to add the remaining full ingredients to make the bread dough ‘proper’ and let it ferment and prove (the wild yeast takes longer to make the bread rise and it’s also this length of time which creates the sour taste). See my article on The science of bread making: how yeast works.
This particular stage has confusing names – is it a biga, a sponge, a pre-ferment, a poolish, a pouliche? Have you come across any other terms in a recipe? They all mean this particular stage and are roughly interchangeable. Some places cite that a biga is firmer (ie with less liquid) than a poolish, but I’ve also read recipes where the hydration for a biga is quite wet and some dry for a poolish. Confuzzled? I’m not surprised.
Modernist Cuisine looked into this and found too that there “seemed to be no universally accepted hydration levels for each variety”. It conducted some experiments about whether it made a difference to have a wetter or dryer pre-ferment stage and concluded it really makes no difference – or any difference was very subtle. Please read the interesting Modernist Cuisine article “Are biga, Poolish and Sponge Interchangeable” here.
An easy conclusion to make then, is that these names are regional – certainly, biga is Italian and poolish is a French nod to immigrant Polish bakers, but again this isn’t a cut and dried answer. Before commercial yeast became available, it appears in the UK that this stage was ‘sponge’ (most commonly) but confusingly now a sponge seems to generally refer to this stage but only when commercial yeast (blocks of live yeast or dried yeast) is used, not a wild yeast starter.
I think then, what does it matter what it’s called? I don’t name my stages when I’m making my sourdough breads at home – I just get on with it the process of bread making. I’ve used “biga” here just because this recipe owes more to Italian cuisine through the use of olive oil and the accompaniments I ended up serving it with. Follow any sourdough recipe, enjoy the process and the delicious results and don’t waste any thinking time on what’s in a name in that particular recipe 🙂
To make this within a 24 hour period/same day in order to eat fresh with an evening meal, my suggested timings are:
Mix the biga about 6:00 [or do this the night before, leaving it in the fridge until the next stage]
Mix the dough ingredients into the biga and autolyze at 11:00 and then knead
Leave to ferment and rise until 17:00
At 17:00, divide and roll out the dough into flatbread rounds
At 18:00 fry off the flatbreads
- Medium bowl (for the biga) plus something to cover it with (a shower cap, cling film or tea towel etc)
- Large bowl and a cover
- A dough hook or large fork if you want to use one (or just your hands)
- A bench scraper or heavy knife
- Frying pan or cast iron skillet
- Spatula or tongs for turning the flatbreads whilst cooking
For the biga:
- 70g of a lively sourdough mother/starter
- 70g strong white bread flour
- 70g lukewarm water
- Mix together the starter, flour and water
- Cover and leave for about five hours or overnight in the fridge
For the dough (results in 75% hydration):
- 220g strong white bread flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 165g warm water
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- Extra olive oil for the bowl and frying
- Handful of fresh parsley (or mixed herbs), finely chopped
- Mix and autolyze for 20 minutes
- Knead for 10 minutes – it is a wet dough but will come together eventually. Only add a little more flour to your hands (not the table) if you are absolutely sure you need to
- Smooth the dough into a ball using your hands and a bench scraper
- Wipe a little olive oil into your bowl before placing your dough in and cover the bowl
- Rest for four to five hours somewhere warm, but not very warm (flatbreads don’t need to rise that much so the dough does not need to be rested fully overnight). Alternatively if you want a very sour sourdough, leave up to eight hours
- Take the dough and chop into eight equal pieces
- Flour the surface you’re working on and your rolling pin
- Take one of the pieces of dough and start to roll out, flipping it over as you need to
- The dough will be able to be rolled out to about 16-18cm in diameter
- When it’s rolled out, sprinkle over some of the chopped herbs, flip it over and sprinkle more on the other side. Pat down or lightly roll
- Move this dough to the side (on a floured area, on a linen cloth/couche or a piece of greaseproof paper) and finish rolling out the other seven pieces of dough
- Once they’re rolled out you can chill in the fridge, but you can cook these immediately
- Heat some olive oil in a large frying or griddle pan over a medium to high heat
- Once hot, lift up a flatbread carefully and place in the pan
- It will sizzle – keeping an eye on it, leave it for about four to five minutes on one side. It will bubble up immensely. Lift up an edge and see if the flatbread has browned nicely – if so, flip over
- Cook the flatbread for four to five minutes on the other side and then transfer to a plate or board and cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm (alternatively pop on a plate in a very low oven)
- Cook the remaining flatbreads as above
- They’re best eaten warm and soft, but get a nice crunch to them when they are fully cold
- If you want to use them as wraps after they have cooled, say the day after, just pop them in a microwave for a few seconds or warm up in a oven and they’ll soften again
I would welcome your comments, feedback and likes on this recipe (as with all my recipes). Did you make it? What did you pair it with? Did you use different herbs? Did the photography help you? Have you a question in regards to the recipe?
Thank you, Lynn