Georgian cuisine may not have had its moment in the sun yet, but the country’s signature bread is starting to make its rounds on social media, spotlighting the cuisine and culture of the former Soviet Socialist Republic.
It’s perhaps that silver hit of runny, bright orange yolks mixed with a pool of cheese, that has promoted one of the most addictive and unique bread variations of recent years. [social media] Memory. But there’s more to the khachapuri story than what you see in these envy-inducing photos.
Khachapuri is a combination of two Georgian words: khachoi.e. cheese curds, and pure, meaning bread. Each region of Georgia has its own iteration of khachapuri, and the Adjaruli version is gaining popularity in American food cities like Los Angeles where there is a large population of Georgia’s neighboring country, Armenia. The Adjaruli originates from the Black Sea region of Adjara and is shaped like a boat considering the maritime culture. Bread is served as a prelude to any meal except dinner.
Elmira Avetian, trainer at The League of Kitchens – a collective of immigrant cooks in New York and Los Angeles – was born in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and lived in Armenia before moving to Los Angeles. Elmira visited the Los Angeles campus of the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and shared khachapuri with students, saying the cheese bread is the centerpiece of Georgian gatherings as it is usually served to greet friends and family at home.
ICE students making khachapuri. (Image courtesy of the Institute of Culinary Education)
After baking the raw cheese wrapped in batter in a steam-filled oven, it’s a real crowd pleaser with its theatrics of cracked eggs on top of the cheese. Then the bread is put back in the oven for a few minutes to harden while still being runny. Then cold butter is added and stirred very quickly with a fork to create an ocean of gooey cheese mixture. The boat-shaped bread is cut into small pieces around the perimeter for pulling and dipping – khachapuri is best eaten with the hands.
Make this Georgian staple at home to wow whoever you’re breaking bread with.
Recipe: Adjaruli Khachapuri (Georgian boat-shaped cheese bread)
Courtesy of Elmira Avetian and the Kitchen League
For the dough:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon quick rise yeast
- 3/4 cup lukewarm water
- 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
For the filling:
- 8 ounces sulguni or mozzarella cheese (see cook’s note)
- 8 ounces of feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the dough:
- Place the sifted flour in a bowl and add the salt, sugar and baking powder. Mix with your hands to combine.
- Slowly pour in the warm water and stir with a spoon until a shaggy dough forms, about 5 minutes.
- Scrape the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the dough aside in a warm place, like on the stove top, to rise for 15 minutes.
- Uncover and drizzle with oil. Mix the oil into the batter with your hands, folding it over to coat all sides. The dough should be smooth and have a shiny appearance.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place. Leave to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, kneading twice at 15 minute intervals. The dough has finished rising when it has doubled in size.
For the filling:
- Use the large holes of a grater to grate the sulguni* cheese into a bowl, you should have 2 cups of grated cheese.
- Do the same with the feta.
- Sprinkle the flour over the cheese and mix with your hands to distribute evenly.
- Pour in the milk and mix with your hands, pressing the cheese together. The cheese should have the appearance and consistency of ricotta.
To shape and cook:
- Sprinkle a work surface or cutting board with flour. Unwrap the dough, place it on your floured work surface and dust the top with flour. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand, turning it over and folding it over several times to flatten it. Slightly twist the dough, fold it in half and rock it again with the heels of your hands. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
- Preheat the oven to 465˚F. Pour 1 cup of hot water into a small baking dish and place it on the oven floor – this will create a moist oven environment.
- Line a nonstick baking dish with parchment paper.
- Cut the dough into two equal pieces about 8 ounces each. Working one piece at a time, roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin into an oblong shape 9 inches long by 7 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. You can also pull and stretch the dough with your hands.
- Gently transfer the piece of dough to the prepared baking sheet.
- Spoon half of the cheese mixture on top of the dough, keeping a half-inch border all around. Spread the cheese evenly with the back of a tablespoon.
- Roll from the bottom up to enclose some of the filling and create a wall. Do the same on top, rolling the dough towards the center. Gently pinch and twist the left and right ends together to seal and pull slightly outward to create a boat shape. Repeat with remaining piece of dough and cheese.
- Beat 1 egg and brush it over the dough.
- Place the khachapuri in the oven and bake until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove the khachapuri and the pot of water from the oven. Use a fork or spoon to make a small well in the center of each boat and crack an egg into each.
- Return the khachapuri to the oven and bake until the eggs have set, an additional 4-5 minutes. Lightly rub 1 tablespoon butter over and around the dough, then spoon the rest into the melted cheese mixture.
- It’s traditional to tear pieces off the ends of the bread and mix in the runny egg and melted cheese for guests to dip the crust into the gooey mixture.
Sulguni is a mild, semi-firm Georgian cheese that resembles mozzarella with a slightly saltier and more sour flavor. It is sold in round discs and is not only a key ingredient in khachapuri, but also commonly eaten as a table cheese in a Georgian meal. Sulguni is available online and in grocery stores across Eastern Europe. Whole milk mozzarella can be substituted, however, avoid using fresh mozzarella packed in water as it makes the dough soggy.
By Kiri Tannenbaum, Institute of Culinary Education