Once upon a youthful time, the phrase “cheesy bread” brought me thoughts of Little Caesar saying, “Pizza! Pizza!” But when I began my first job as a bread baker, those days were long gone. Suddenly, my world was filled instead with onion rye rolls sprinkled with sharp cheddar, paneer-stuffed naan, and crusty sourdough studded with pockets of melty asiago. As if my individual, deep loves of cheese and bread alone weren’t enough, I managed to discover exactly how awesome these two are combined. Every corner of the world seems to have something to offer in this department (open call for your favorites in the comments below). I have half a mind to leave it all behind, buy an AirStream and drive it around as a cheesy bread food truck. And the star of my menu would always be: khachapuri.
Khachapuri hails from the country of Georgia. It’s made from a soft yeasted dough that’s shaped in an oval, leaving a crater in the center. And what could possibly fill that crater? You guessed it, cheese (and lots of it). Then, you tear off pieces of the surrounding dough and dip it into that melty goodness. Often, you throw an egg or two on top, nestled right inside said cheese and the yolk stays runny and adds to the dipping bonanza. If you’re feeling creative and non-traditional, you can start going crazy and adding anything you want. I have three favorite versions (one classic, two curveballs). Read on for all the details.
Here’s what you need to know:
Shaping part one.
Shaping part two.
Khachapuri is made from a highly enriched dough, meaning in addition to the classic bread ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, water), you’re likely to find things like milk, butter, and a little bit of a sugar. These enrichments keep the finished dough soft (perfect for dipping), but they also help it brown beautifully—this is one of those perfect doughs that gets evenly golden brown all over.
The dough is mixed to pretty full gluten development (about 4 minutes on low speed and another 2-3 on high speed). This makes it nice and stretchy, but also strong enough to hold up to plenty of filling. It’s easy to work with and shape, and, in general, I just can’t say enough great things about it. Even if you’re not a big bread baker, give khachapuri a try.
It’s important to remember that enriched doughs often take longer to rise— these enrichments really up the ante in the flavor and color department, but they can seriously slow yeast activity. That said, it’s important not to rush and allow the appropriate amount of rise time, which will take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours after mixing, and another 30 minutes to 1 hour after shaping. This fermentation is responsible for the lovely yeasty flavor of the dough, as well as the light and soft final texture of the dough. Allow yourself plenty of time, and remember that enriched doughs don’t always physically rise as high as lean doughs (baguette, ciabatta, pizza dough, etc.) so the dough may not double in size, though it will increase noticeably.
Shaping part one.
Khachapuri dough is pretty forgiving and very easy to handle, so it’s pretty simple to get it into its signature oval/boat shape. Divide the dough into even pieces. You can divide the dough into whatever size you want, depending on your desired end result. Dividing it in two will create two large, sharing-size khachapuri. Dividing the dough in quarters will make four smaller, individual-size khachapuri. Divide the dough as desired, then lightly flour your work surface. Start by pressing the dough into an oval shape with your hands. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out, maintaining the oval shape. This is super easy if you start with the rolling pin in the center of the dough, and apply gentle, even pressure as you move upwards. Then, return the rolling pin to the center and repeat the process, this time applying gentle, even pressure as you move downwards (towards yourself).
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Continue this process until the dough is about 1/3-inch thick. This is thicker than making pies, tarts, or thin crust pizza—you want it thick enough that it’s a pretty sturdy base, and it will rise a bit more after you shape it! When the dough is about 1/3-inch thick, lift it from the ends and gently transfer it to a parchment-lined baking sheet. I like to gently stretch the dough a bit from the ends as I do this to help exaggerate the oval shape.
Goat cheese and cubed mozzarella for the win.Photo by James Ransom
Traditionally, Khachapuri is filled with a Georgian brined cheese called sulgani. This cheese has a relatively light flavor, save for the tanginess and sourness imparted by the brine. The texture is extremely elastic and it melts into a gorgeous, oozy mass of deliciousness. I totally recommend using sulgani if you can find it, but if you can’t, a blend of goat cheese (for the tanginess) and fresh mozzarella (for the elasticity and meltiness) works well. I crumble the goat cheese onto the base of the dough, then top it with diced mozzarella (I’ve found dicing it into chunks makes it melt perfectly come bake-time). The cheese is added before the final rise time, so you can finish shaping the bread. Be sure to leave about 1-inch around the edges of the dough uncovered to allow plenty of room to finish shaping later. Other toppings are often added just before baking. Another common khachapuri topping is eggs, which are cracked directly onto the surface of the cheese before baking (or partially through baking, depending on the size of your khachapuri, and your desired level of runny yolk). But traditional isn’t the only way to go. I did a meaty version, topped with prosciutto and fresh rosemary, both of which crisped up in the oven and made an awesome textural component. Or you can add additional flavors to the cheese itself. My green khachapuri has tons of fresh herbs and scallions added to the cheese mixture, and is probably my favorite of the bunch!
Once you’ve filled the khachapuri, you’re ready to finish shaping it. This is super easy: Work your way around the dough, folding the excess dough from the edges (about 1-inch all around, if you recall), over the cheese. This creates a little wall of dough all around that encases the filling. You really just need to fold the dough over, like you would fold pie dough over fruit when you make a galette, but I advise pressing a little at the ends to make sure it’s pretty well-sealed. Once you’ve finished shaping, cover the bread with a piece of plastic wrap you’ve sprayed with nonstick spray, and let it rise for 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.
Bake the khachapuri in a 375°F. I like to give the dough a quick brush with egg wash all around the edges to help it reach that perfect golden-brownness. Bake the khachapuri until the dough is evenly golden brown and the cheese is melty and lightly browned on the surface. For larger khachapuri, this takes 40 to 50 minutes. For smaller ones, it takes 30 to 35 minutes. (Note: If you want to add eggs, it’s safe to do it just before baking for smaller khachapuri. For larger ones, add the eggs about 15 to 20 minutes into bake time.)
Let the khachapuri cool for 5 to 10 minutes before you serve it, just to make sure you don’t burn yourself on delicious, scalding hot cheese. Rip off pieces of the outer bread and dip it into the center. Once it cools off a bit, go at it as you will.
I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.