For focaccia, although using unbleached all purpose flour is perfectly fine, I prefer to use OO flour for the lightest texture in focaccia (available in Italian markets). There’s also a very similar product, sold by the name “Italian Style” flour, which is very good. I also like OO flour for grissini. I often use a combo. If making pizza and wanting to make focaccia or grissini the next day, I suggest either using all “all purpose” flour or a combination.
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Brush the interior of a 5-quart mixing bowl generously with some of the oil and sprinkle the interior with freshly ground black pepper, if desired. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water with a pinch of sugar and allow it to become visibly bubbly, about 3 minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups warm water, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, and a few more grinds of black pepper, if desired. Add the dissolved yeast. Gradually stir in only enough flour, 1 cup at a time, to create a shaggy mass, that’s no longer easily stirred.
Use a sturdy rubber spatula to scrape the mass out onto a floured surface and knead it until you’ve created a dough that’s smooth and elastic, adding only as much additional flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Place the dough into the greased bowl and turn it over to coat the exterior with the flavored oil. Cover the bowl with greased plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. (If time is an issue, you can immediately go to the following step without allowing the dough to rise.)
Here (above) one half of the chilled dough is placed onto a sheet of unbleached parchment paper (that’s sitting on a wooden pizza peel—or you can use a flat baking sheet). The paper should first be generously sprayed with olive oil and then sprinkled with a mixture of cornmeal, black pepper and even sesame seeds (optional). As soon as the dough goes onto the parchment, the oven gets preheated to 450ºF with a pizza stone on the center shelf and, on the rack beneath it, a heavy pan (cast iron or a heavy baking sheet). If you need to omit the pan beneath the stone, this is fine—but the stone is something I highly suggest for the best texture.
After correcting the round shape of the dough, you’ll brush the top and sides with a fresh-herb-garlic-oil (olive oil, minced garlic, black pepper, red pepper flakes and an assortment of herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage (not basil which turns black) and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours, uncovered, for a well-chilled pizza dough. The oven should be well preheated. After rising for 30 minutes, instead of poking the dough (to give a focaccia a traditional dimpled look), you’ll plant halved heirloom cherry tomatoes (cut sides up) and I also added pitted olives, fresh mozzarella cheese and some sliced cherry peppers. This is all about having fun—working with what you have and “playing” with the design. Brush the embellishments with the garlic oil, then let the dough continue to rise, uncovered until very billowy (1 ½ hours should be enough). Brush once more with the oil, give the top a light application of Kosher salt and black pepper and then slide the dough onto a hot pizza stone (with steam) –meaning add a cup of ice cubes with a small amount of water into the pan that sits beneath the pizza stone)—then add the dough on the parchment—and bake for 18 to 20 minutes (18 is best if using a convection mode). Then, I opened the oven and carefully sprinkled the top with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and baked for another 3 or 5 minutes (3 is best with convection).
Remove the focaccia to a wire rack and immediately brush the top and sides with more of the garlic-herb-oil. Allow the bread to cool to just warm before cutting into wedges and enjoying.