Focaccia is an Italian bread similar to pizza but with a lighter interior texture. While very gratifying served hot from the oven as an alternative to garlic bread or as a dipping bread for culinary oil, it's also great for making grilled paninos. As an added bonus, focaccia serves as pizza in its own right with either ingredients baked into the bread or with toppings heaped on top -- or both. In northern Italy, however, a sweet, more cake-like variation called focaccia dolce is popular, which typically consists of butter, sugar, honey and raisins instead of olive oil and salt.
Notes: Baking in cake pans is preferred for sandwich bread. Also, if using fresh herbs in this recipe, double the amounts.
1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
Coarse salt for finishing
Combine yeast and 1/4 cup of the water in a large mixing bowl and let rest for 10 minutes to "proof." Add the remaining water, olive oil, salt and herbs, storring to mix.
Stir in 1/2 cup at a time of the remaining flour and mix just until dough holds together and forms a soft ball.
Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot free of drafts to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk
Lightly grease two 8-inch cake pans. Gently press each portion of dough to an even thickness in a prepared pan, stretching the dough as much as possible toward the edges. Cover with tea towels and let rise again until almost doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Dimple each dough portion a few times with fingertips, leaving impressions about 1/2 inch deep. Cover pans again and let rise for another 20 minutes. While dough is on its final rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
Place pans in oven and bake until golden brown, anywhere from 15-18 minutes. Remove breads from the oven and brush tops with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Serve immediately or at room temperature.