The pursuit for the ultimate comfort food is an endeavor mankind has engaged in since the dawn of cooking. The archetypal dish should be delectably savory, overwhelmingly filling, and most importantly - simple. As a food fanatic growing up in a culinary-crazed family, I've been exceptionally fortunate to sink my teeth into a vast variety of different comfort foods from around the globe. However, it wasn't until my recent adventures in Georgia and Armenia that I came across a dish that satisfies every possible requirement for providing complete gluttonous satisfaction. Having only vaguely heard the name in cuisine and culture circles back at home, my travels through the Caucasus eventually brought me face-to-face with the omnipresent khachapuri, in all its different regional forms and flavors. Literally meaning "cheese bread" in the Georgian language, khachapuris are the amalgamation of everything amazing a dish could possibly contain - soft fluffy dough, melted cheese, butter, and sometimes even a runny egg. Even better, those are essentially the only major ingredients actually needed in its preparation. Of the many types of khachapuri, the most famous - and even an unofficial national dish for Georgians - is none other than the Acharuli or Adjarian Khachapuri (აჭარული ხაჭაპური). In essence, a pudgy little gondola of creamy cheesy awesomeness.
My visiting Italian friend, Luca, decided to come over the other day to take up my offer of helping tackle this new foreign recipe. Having once before made Tuscan pizza together, we felt that this new doughy and cheesy creation would be something similar and worth adding to our growing repertoire of international eats. While our first batch came out wonderfully, the second slightly tweaked batch came out even better. And while neither of us are expert bakers, this recipe proved to be so simple and fun that virtually anyone can do it (even kitchen-challenged college students)!
Disclaimer: The authentic Georgian version is typically prepared using both Sulguni and Imeruli cheeses, two ingredients that unfortunately cannot be found here. However, based on general consensus, I've adjusted this recipe to make use of two close substitutes. The types of cheeses used are entirely up to you, however, aim to use one salty cheese and one milky/creamy cheese.
THE INGREDIENTS (for about 3 khachapuris):
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- a pinch of salt
- a splash of oil
- bowl of crumbled Bulgarian feta
- bowl of finely sliced/grated mozzarella
- 3 eggs
- a splash of milk
- a little melted butter to brush.
- Activate the yeast as per the instructions on the packet. This usually means dissolving 1 tsp of the dry yeast and 1 tsp of sugar in about 1/4 cup of warm water and allowing it to sit for 5 minutes. You should start to see it slightly bubble to indicate activity.
- Add the yeast solution to the 3 cups of flour, 1.5 cups of water, and a pinch of salt. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed throughout. The dough should be smooth and moist, but not too sticky. Add either a little more water or flour to control the moisture level.
- Splash a little oil over the dough, knead until mixed, and then return the ball to the bowl. Cover with a slightly damp cloth and set aside in a warm area to rise for a minimum of 2 hours. It should roughly double in size.
Cheese Mixture -
- Crumble the feta and grate the mozzarella cheeses. Combine the two into a mixture that is roughly 50/50 in proportion. Try to break apart any clumps to facilitate melting.
- Add a little splash of milk to help make the mixture more creamy.
- An optional idea at this point would be to grate a couple cloves of garlic into this mixture.
- After a minimum of 2 hours, take the risen dough and divide into thirds. For each smaller ball of dough, flatten into an elliptical shape about a foot in length. Twice roll in the sides length-wise, leaving space in the middle. Pinch the ends together to create a rough "boat" shape.
- Take the cheese mixture and fill the center of the "boat" with a good amount, careful not to let it overflow. The sides of the "boat" will rise while baking to help contain the mixture once it has melted.
- Place the khachapuris on a foiled baking sheet in the oven at 475 F for 10-12 minutes, or until 5 minutes before the bread is fully cooked.
- Near the end of the baking time, remove the khachapuris from the oven. Carefully push aside some of the melted cheese filling from the center. Crack an egg directly into the middle. Take a little melted butter and lightly brush the dough.
- Return to the oven for the final 5 minutes, or until the egg white has cooked but the yolk is still runny.
The proper way of eating the khachapuri is to take a fork and mix the runny egg with the melted cheese until nicely blended. Then gradually cut chunks from the fluffy bread "boat" and dip into the creamy mixture. Enjoy!