Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread — Using a Biga

Source: Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads book

  • Prep
    30 minutes
  • Total Time
    2 days
  • Yields
    1 large loaf


"Delicious whole wheat bread using a biga."



  • 1-3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soy milk or rice milk


  • 1-3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
  • 3/4 c. filtered water at room temperature

Final Dough

  • Use all soaker
  • Use all biga
  • 7 tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 5/8 tsp. salt
  • 2-1/4 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil


Day 1: Soaker

  1. 1. Mix all soaker ingredients together. Cover and let soak overnight at room temperature.

Day 1: Biga

  1. 1. Mix all biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough. Using wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to be sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead with wet hands for 1 minute. The dough will become smoother but still be tacky.
  2. 2. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Day 2

  1. 1. About 2 hours before mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator to take off the chill. It will have risen slightly but need not have risen significantly in order to use it in the final dough.
  2. 2. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the soaker and the biga into 12 smaller pieces each (sprinkle some of the extra flour over the pre-doughs to keep the pieces from sticking back to each other).
  3. 3. Using a stand mixer, put the pre-dough pieces and all of the other ingredients except the extra flour into the mixer with the paddle attachment (preferable) or dough hook. Mix on slow speed for 1 minute to bring the ingredients together into a ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, occasionally scraping down the bowl, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pre-doughs become cohesive and assimilated into each other. Add more flour or water as needed until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.
  4. 4. Dust a work surface with flour, then toss the dough in the flour to coat. Knead by hand for 3 to 4 minutes, incorporating only as much extra flour as needed, until the dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl.
  5. 5. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute to strengthen the gluten and make any final flour or water adjustments. The dough should have strength, yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes until it is about 1.5 times its original size.
  6. 6. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into either a loaf pan shape or a freestanding batard. For loaf pan bread, place the dough in a greased 4" x 8.5" bread pan. For a batard, place it on a proofing cloth or on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and, if you like, dusted with flour. Mist the top fo the dough with pan spray (optional), cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes until it is about 1.5 times its original size.
  7. 7. Preheat the oven to 425℉, and, if baking a freestanding loaf, prepare the oven for hearth baking, including a steam pan (optional for sandwich loaf). When the dough is ready to bake, place it in the oven, pour 1 c. of hot water into the steam pan, lower the temperature to 350℉ and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf 180° and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 195℉ in the center.
  8. 8. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Author's Notes

We used half spelt and half Kamut flour, but any hard wheat flour will work. The original recipe includes 'by hand' mixing instructions, but these instructions work well with any PHG mixer.