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FOCACCIA
Makes 3

2 1/4 cups tepid water (abt.100F) -- (2 1/4 to 2 1/2)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons salt

olive oil
Chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary and/or thyme (2 to 3 tablespoons)
coarse sea salt

Whisk 1/2 cup of the water and the yeast together in the bowl of
a mixer. Set the mixture aside for 5 minutes until the yeast
dissolves and turns creamy.

Meanwhile pour 1 3/4 cups warm water into a large measuring cup.
add the olive oil. and whisk to blend; set aside. Whisk the flour
and salt together in a large bowl and set this aside as well.

Pour the water-oil mixture over the yeast and stir with the whisk
to blend. Add about half of the flour and stir with a rubber spatula
just to mix. Attach the dough hook, add the remaining flour. and
mix on low speed for about 3 minutes. or until the dough just starts
to come together. If the dough appears dry and a little stiff, add
a few drops of warm water, scraping the bowl and hook if necessary
to incorporate the water and create a soft dough. Increase the
mixer speed to medium-high and continue to mix for about 10 minutes,
scraping, down the hook and sides of the bowl as needed until you
have a soft. slightly moist, extremely elastic dough that cleans
the sides Of the bowl. You will know that the dough is properly
mixed when a piece can be stretched, without tearing, to create a
"window", an almost transparent patch of dough.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and form it into a ball. Place
the dough in an oiled bowl, turn it around to cover it with oil,
and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to
rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Fold the dough down on itself to deflate it and let it rise again
until doubled in bulk 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Fold the dough over on itself again to deflate it (as you do this,
youu can hear the bubbles squeak and pop) and turn it out onto a
work surface. Using a metal dough scraper or a knife. cut the dough
into 3 equal pieces. shape each piece into a ball.

The dough needs to be refrigerated for between 24 and 36 hours.
(it is this long refrigerated rest that gives the focaccia its
characteristic chewv texture and surface bubbles.) Place each ball
in an oiled gallon-size lock-top plastic bag and refrigerate.

About 1 1/2 hours before you plan to bake, remove the dough from
the refrigerator and gently take the balls out of the oiled bags.
(If you have a problem cut the bags open with scissors to release
the dough.) Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, dust the
tops of the balls with flour, and cover looselv but completely with
plastic (to avoid having the tops go crusty). Let rest for 1 hour,
until the dough reaches a cool room temperature and feels spongy
when prodded.

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat
the oven to 450F if you have a baking stone, place it in the oven
and preheat it too, dust a peel with cornmeal. or line two baking
sheets with parchment paper and dust the paper with cornmeal; set
the baking sheets aside. Fill a spray bottle with water and set it
aside as well.

Use your palm to press down gently on each piece of dough causing
bubbles to appear on the sides, then slit the bubbles with a
single-edge razor blade to release the gases. Gently pull and
stretch each piece of dough into a square about 10 inches across,
taking care not to overwork the dough or handle it too roughly -
you don't want to knock out the bubbles you've worked so hard to
create. Let the dough relax, covered, for about 10 minutes, then
tidy up the edges with your hands.

Transfer the foccacias to the cornmeal-dusted peel or the parchment
lined baking sheets. Use a single-edge razor blade to slash each
square, cutting a tic-tac-toe pattern, or making 3 slashes in the
center of the dough and enclosing them in 4 slashes to form a square
with open corners. Brush the foccacias with olive oil. sprinkle
with fresh herbs and coarse sea salt, and put them into the oven.

Bake the breads for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden with
a heavy speckling Of small surface bubbles spraying the oven with
water three times during the first 8 minutes of baking. As soon as
vou remove the focaccias from the oven, brush them with a
little.additional olive oil and transfer them to a rack to cool
before serving.

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