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First make the starter dough – mix the yeast with 100ml hand-hot water in a small bowl. Leave for 5 mins until bubbling. Add the flour to a large bowl, and pour in the yeast mix and another 250ml hand-hot water. Beat vigorously with your hand for a few mins. (The dough will be really wet but don’t worry, you’ll be adding more flour later.) Scrape all the dough from your hands and the sides of the bowl. Cover tightly with cling film and leave to ferment in the fridge for at least 12 hrs, overnight if possible.
Meanwhile, make the herb oil. Set aside 2-3 sprigs each of rosemary and thyme, plus a few bay leaves. Bash the rest using a pestle and mortar (or use a rolling pin) to release the flavours, then stuff into a large sterilised bottle or Kilner jar, or a few jam jars (see tip, right). Heat the oil in a saucepan until just warm, then carefully pour into the bottle using a funnel. Leave to cool before securing with a lid.
Take the starter dough out of the fridge about 1 hr before you want to make your focaccia – it should have risen considerably. To finish the dough, mix in the additional flour, the sea salt and herb oil until it’s soft yet slightly sticky. Knead the dough with extra oil for 5 mins until smooth and springy. Return to a clean, warm bowl and leave to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hr.
Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Turn the risen dough onto a deep oiled baking tray (about 20 x 30cm) and press to a rectangle about 2cm thick. Break the reserved herbs into smaller bits and push them into the dough. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size.
Once risen, press lots of holes into the dough with your fingers. Brush the top with a little more herb oil and sprinkle over some rough sea salt. Fill a shallow tray with some water and put in the bottom of the oven, with the bread on a shelf above. Bake for 25 mins until golden, reducing the temperature to 200C/180C fan/gas 6 if the bread starts to brown too much. Remove from the oven, scatter over the reserved herbs and bake for another 10-15 mins until cooked through. Cool on a wire rack until ready to eat. Tear into chunks and dip in more herb oil, if you like.