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In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Add the water. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a loose, sticky dough. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and [choose your schedule]:Quickest rise: Set aside in a warmish spot for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.Overnight in fridge: Set inside your refrigerator overnight, about 8 to 10 hours.Overnight at room temperature: For this method, you will need to use only cold, no lukewarm, water. Leave the bowl on your counter at room temperature for 10 hours.
When you’re ready to make your focaccia: Pour 3 tablespoons oil onto a rimmed sheet pan (can use a 13×18, or half-sheet pan, but if you have something more 11×17-ish, as I use here, will make for slightly thicker loaf; you can line it first with parchment paper for maximum nonstick security).
Heat oven to 425°F.
Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl in quarter turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball. Use the forks to lift the dough onto the prepared sheet pan. Roll the dough ball in the oil to coat it all over.
Let dough rest for 20 minutes (for Quickest rise or Overnight at room temperature) or 1 hour (if you used the Overnight in the fridge rise, so it warms up) without touching it. Then, drizzle last 1 tablespoon of olive oil over and use your fingertips to stretch and press the dough to the edges, leaving it intentionally dimply. If your dough resists being stretched all the way, get it as stretched as you can, wait 5 minutes, and return to stretch it the rest of the way, repeating this rest if needed.
Sprinkle with flaky sea salt all over and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, checking in on the earlier end, until lightly puffed on top and golden and crisp underneath. Remove from oven and let cool completely (this will go faster if you transfer the bread to a cooling rack) before assembling sandwiches.
To make sandwiches: If you’d like, you can trim off the very outer edges — this exposes the crumb and makes it a little easier to halve. (I didn’t do this because I like to make things hard, also I like edges.) Stafford recommends you begin the halving process by cutting through each corner, then running the serrated knife through the short end until you get to the midway point, then starting from the other short end until I get to the midway point. A sharp, serrated knife is helpful. Try to keep your knife as parallel to the bread as possible. She says she finds if she hugs the top layer as opposed to aiming for the center, she gets a more even cut.
Some ideas for sandwich fillings:Avocado + Crispy Kale [Shown]: First, crisp your kale. I used a 5-ounce clamshell of curly kale leaves, tearing out and discarding any thick ribs. Rub/toss them with 1 tablespoon olive oil, spread them on a large baking sheet in one layer, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and baked them at 375°F for 10 to 15 minutes, until crispy and just barely brown at the edges (keep an eye on it). Then, scoop out and slice 4 avocados, fan the slices across the bread and mash/spread them smooth. Coat with olive oil, lemon juice, flaky salt, and red pepper flakes (like we do here). Spread crispy kale over avocado.Hummus + Cucumber + Pickled Carrots [Shown]: First, coarsely grate 1 pound of carrots. Pour 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup cold water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) of granulated sugar over it and stir to combine. (You could also add mustard or dill seeds or fresh chile peppers here.) Chill in the fridge for as long as you have — 30 minutes, an hour, and up to a few days. Carrots will get more pickled the longer it soaks. To make your sandwiches, schmear the bottom half of the bread with about 1 1/2 cups hummus (storebought or homemade). Squeeze out little handfuls of pickled carrot and sprinkle this on as your next layer. For you final layer, use a y-peeler to shave long ribbons off 1 large (1/2 to 3/4 pound) seedless cucumber. Tousel these on top; season them with salt and pepper.Walnut pesto + grilled zucchini ribbons (skip the parmesan in the pesto to make it vegan)This grilled pepper and torn mozzarella panzanella, minus the croutonsThis crunchy asparagus and egg saladPickled vegetable sandwich slaw + anything else you love on sandwichesThis salsa verde + any grilled or roasted vegetablesThis zucchini carpaccio salad, as a sandwich fillingAny of the sandwiches from the archivesMany of the salads from the archives, such as this egg salad, this chicken salad (not vegetarian, of course), that chicken salad, or even (I love this as a sandwich) this chicken caesar, with the dressing spread on both sides of the bread, the chicken thinly sliced, and the romaine cut into thin ribbons. I wouldn’t be sad to have a broccoli or cauliflower slaw between bread, either.Or, of course, endless slices of peak-season tomatoes + mayo + salt, or the same plus sliced mozzarella + basil pesto