Fresh rosemary and garlic give this classic Italian bread its robust flavor and aroma. Crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside, focaccia makes any sandwich delizioso! Our version allows budding bakers to do a bit of kneading, dimpling, and drizzling before they bake it. Hot out of the oven, the flat loaf turns an ordinary lunch into an event.
Pour the water into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and set it aside for 5 minutes to dissolve. Note: If the yeast doesn't begin to bubble within 5 minutes, repeat the process with fresh ingredients.
Add the salt, 3 cups of the flour, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the yeast mixture and beat the ingredients with a wooden spoon for 100 strokes. Set the dough mixture aside for 10 minutes.
Add the remaining flour about 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough is too stiff to be stirred, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Using floured hands, knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes, using more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
Pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into the bottom of a large mixing bowl, roll the dough around in the oil to coat it, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set the dough aside in a warm spot until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and turn it out onto a floured surface. Knead it for 1 minute, then cut the dough in half and knead each half into a rectangle. Flatten each one and set them aside on a floured surface to rest for 10 minutes.
While the dough is resting, lightly oil a large baking sheet, then sprinkle on a light coating of cornmeal.
Transfer the dough to the baking sheet. Press and stretch it into oblong shapes, about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick, leaving 2 inches between the loaves. Brush the tops of the loaves with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Set the dough aside to rise for 15 minutes. Heat the oven to 400° F.
In a measuring cup, combine the 1/3 cup of olive oil with the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and stir.
Dimple the loaves with your fingertips, then spoon the oil-and-herb mixture over them, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle the loaves lightly with coarse salt, if you like.
Bake the focaccia on the center oven rack until the tops are golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer the loaves to a wire rack. To slice them for sandwiches, cut each loaf into quarters, then slice the pieces horizontally. Makes enough bread for 8 sandwiches.
Tip for foolproof proofing: Proofing, or getting dough to rise, happens best when the dough is left in a warm (80° to 90° F), humid, draft-free spot. To use your oven for this purpose, set it to "proof" or heat it at 200° F for 4 to 5 minutes, then shut it off. Place the plastic-covered bowl of dough on the center rack and close the door. To use a microwave for proofing, boil a cup of water in it, then place the dough inside as well and close the door, leaving the microwave off.