By Shannon Sarna
(The Nosher via JTA) — I first fell in love with adjaruli khatchapuri, also known as Georgian cheese bread or cheese boat, at Marani Restaurant in Queens, New York. This cheesy-carby deliciousness is basically all the comfort food you could possibly crave in one single dish: cheese, runny egg yolk and butter, all being held by homemade bread.
Khatchapuri and khinkali, a dumpling most often stuffed with meat and spices, are two of Georgia’s most recognizable dishes (and yes, I am talking about the country, not the state). And they are pure comfort food, even if you’ve never been exposed to Georgian food. Georgian cuisine reflects influences from Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Armenia, and prominently features walnuts and several unique Georgian spices.
The Jews of Georgia date back to the Byzantine Empire and have had a long existence in the country. Separate from the Ashkenazi Jews who lived in Russia, they maintained a unique culture all their own, which was influenced by the diverse surroundings of the region and the Silk Road, the ancient routes of trade through Eurasia.
Since my introduction to khatchapuri a few years ago, I have traveled back to Marani several times, but I wanted to enjoy this cheesy specialty in the comfort of my own home, so I recently set out to conquer the dish.
This dough is very easy to make, comes together quickly and doesn’t require a long rise. Which means you don’t have to feel intimidated about making it at home. Could you use a store-bought pizza dough? Absolutely, just keep in mind it will not stretch quite as easily or as large as the traditional khatchapuri dough, which is softer. And also, it’s not quite as authentic. Not that I am judging.
After many trial runs and some research, I suggest using a combination of mozzarella cheese, Muenster cheese and brynzda, which is feta-like. I found that feta can be too salty for this dish, so if you cannot find brynza but have access to several different kinds of cheese, go for one that is slightly less salty, such as a Bulgarian-style.
For the dough:
2/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for brushing
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded Muenster cheese
1 cup brynzda cheese (can also use feta)
4 tablespoons butter
2 egg yolks, carefully separated from the white
Special equipment: pizza stone or dark baking sheet, parchment paper
1. Combine warm water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook attachment, or just a large bowl, and allow the yeast to bloom (start to bubble). Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
2. Add flour, salt and olive oil, and mix on low for 2 minutes until dough starts to come together. Raise speed to medium and mix for another 3 minutes. The dough will be soft — don’t expect it to be super firm, and try to resist the urge of adding more flour.
3. Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic or a towel. Allow to rise in a warm spot in the kitchen for 1 hour.
4. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 450 F. and place a pizza stone in the oven. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can use a baking sheet (a dark color baking sheet is better for this).
5. To make the filling: Combine the cheese in a small bowl. Cut butter into 1 tablespoon portions (you will use 2 tablespoons for each cheese bread).
6. When dough has risen, divide into 2 pieces. Working on top of a lightly floured piece of parchment, gently stretch each piece of dough into ovals 12 inches long.
7. Spread a quarter of cheese mixture in the middle of each bread, leaving 1/2 inch border all the way around.
8. Pinch the ends, rolling tight to form points on either side. Add the remaining cheese evenly onto each bread.
9. Brush the bread with a light coating of olive oil. Allow to rise again 15 minutes.
10. With the bread remaining on the parchment paper, slide onto the pizza stone or baking sheet. (You can make the breads one at a time or bake simultaneously.)
11. Bake for 13-14 minutes, or until golden and the cheese is bubbly. Remove cheese bread from oven and gently add egg yolk to the middle of the bread, taking care not to break. Bake for another 1-2 minutes.
12. Remove from oven and immediately add 2 tablespoons butter to the bread, one on either side of the egg yolk.
13. Serve by swirling the yolk, cheese and butter all together. This dish is best eaten while still hot. Makes 2 breads.
(Shannon Sarna is the editor of The Nosher.)
The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.