Pour the water into a large mixer bowl and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved.
Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water.
Allow the yeast and water mixture to stand undisturbed for about 20 minutes until the yeast is bubbly and foamy.
Add 4 cups of flour and stir, adding the first half cup of olive oil as well. The dough should be rather sticky at this point but should start looking more like bread dough.
Add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time, stirring well.
Once the dough begins to stick together to form a dough ball, it’s time to knead the dough. This process incorporates the flour and begins to develop the gluten, a stretchy protein in the bread dough that traps the yeasty bubbles.
You can knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface or use a mixer with a dough hook.
You should knead for 5 to 10 minutes or until the dough becomes shiny, smooth, and elastic.
Coat the dough and the mixer bowl with a little oil, cover it with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise until doubled for about an hour.
After the dough has risen, take a jelly roll pan and pour a half cup of olive oil on it. A half-cup is not excessive because it takes a lot of oil to develop that distinctive crust and delicious flavor.
Remove the dough from the bowl and put it in the pan, first rolling it around in the olive oil puddle and then stretching and pressing it to reach the outer corners of the pan.
Poke holes all over the surface of the dough with your fingers, penetrating the dough, to give it the distinctive dimpled appearance.
Here’s where you can get creative. At this point, you can sprinkle on herbs, cheese, or simply sea salt to flavor your dough.
One tablespoon of basil, rosemary, or thyme adds great flavor, or you can use 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of Parmesan cheese. Otherwise, just shake on a liberal sprinkling of coarse kosher salt if you want a simple, basic bread.
Set the bread pan uncovered in a warm corner of the kitchen for about an hour or until doubled.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
After the bread has risen, place the pan in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the surface of the bread is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting it into squares for serving.
Store your bread tightly wrapped for several days or, you can freeze this bread in sealed zip-top freezer bags to enjoy the flavor of fresh focaccia for up to a month.