Khachapuri is life changing. And that’s not hyperbole. Once you’ve discovered the irresistible combination of crusty dough, ooey gooey cheese, melted butter and a velvety egg yolk that ties it all together, there’s no going back.
The dish is a Georgian staple, enjoyed at all times of the day and night as breakfast, an appetizer, main course or late night snack. And as a hangover cure after imbibing too much of the grappa-like Georgian brandy called chacha -- unbeatable.
I first tried khachapuri last year at Compass Rose after seeing countless friends’ IG posts. It really is the veritable definition of #foodporn. More recently, I dined at Supra, the D.C. restaurant whose very name translates to “Georgian feast.” Executive chef Malkhaz Maisashvili told me his staff sells upwards of 60 of the signature version of khachapuri on a weekend night, and about 90 percent of tables order one of the six iterations; not sure what’s wrong with the other 10 percent, but they don't know what they are missing! Supra dedicates an entire section of its menu to khachapuri, including pkhlovani (spinach, cheese and herbs), lobiani (white bean) and kubdari (spicy pork and beef). But the most popular is ajaruli, the aforementioned boat-shaped bread stuffed with three kinds of cheeses and topped with an egg yolk and butter. It’s named for a region in the western part of the country, and is believed to be shaped that way because of the fishing industry -- it’s meant to resemble a boat out in the sun, hence the egg yolk.
Riffing on a “make your own pizza party” dinner club idea (no disrespect meant, and I wouldn’t dare compare the two dishes), I asked Malkhaz for a little lesson in how to make ajaruli khachapuri. Baking bread can surely be daunting for the home chef, but khachapuri is actually pretty manageable, as the dough only has to rise once and baking time is super short. And Malkhaz is the perfect chef to show you how to do it. A Georgian native, he has been preparing his native cuisine since he was 16, when he began working as a prep station intern at Hotel Iveria in Tbilisi. Later, he became executive chef at the acclaimed Restaurant Nikala in Sighnaghi.
If you are getting a group of friends together to make khachapuri for dinner, you can easily round out the meal with a nice salad and some bottles of Georgian wine, like stone fruit and mineral-driven rkatsiteli, or otskhanuri sapere, which could easily stand in for a fruity pinot noir. Each khachapuri can serve about two people, though believe me when I say it’s highly addictive and I could have easily polished off an entire one myself when I sampled it. Better to make extras, which can be easily reheated in an oven.
Recipe courtesy of Malkhaz Maisashvili, Executive Chef, Supra
(Makes 4 khachapuri)
- Convection Oven
- Food scale
- Rolling Pin
- Two large metal bowls
- 24 oz. low-moisture, shredded mozzarella cheese (or sulguni if it’s available.)
- 4 oz. feta cheese
- 4 oz. ricotta cheese
- 5 egg yolks
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 16 oz. all-purpose flour
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 tbsp. dry yeast
- 3/4 oz. melted butter
- 1/4 tbsp. sugar
- 1/4 tbsp. salt
- 3/4 oz. vegetable oil (like canola oil)
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (A convection oven will yield better results including a crispier crust, Maisashvili told me. If you use one you may need to shorten the cooking time by a minute or two; refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.)
- Using your hands, mix 16 oz. of the mozzarella or sulgani (a brined Georgian cheese with a moderately salty flavor) with the feta and ricotta cheese in a large metal bowl. Combine with one egg yolk to incorporate, then form the mixture into four identical balls. (A food scale really comes in handy for this recipe, chef said, both to precisely measure the ingredients and also to make sure the khachapuri turn out to be the same size.)
- To form the dough, dissolve the yeast in the warm (not hot) water. Wait a few minutes to activate it, then add it to a large bowl. Add the milk, salt, sugar and hot melted butter and whisk until combined. Gradually add the flour, mixing gently by hand until a smooth dough is formed. Gently fold the vegetable oil into the dough, mixing briefly (four to five times).
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest 25 to 30 minutes, preferably in a warm area.
- Form the dough into four balls that are approximately seven oz. each. Wrap each ball of dough in plastic wrap and let them rest in the refrigerator another 15 to 20 minutes or until they are firm enough to roll.
- Working in batches, roll each of the balls of dough into an oval with a diameter of about ten inches, being careful not to overwork the dough.
- Cut one of the balls of cheese in half and roll it into two tubes that are around four to five inches long. Place one tube on each of the long sides of the dough oval, and fold the dough over the cheese tubes, rolling and slightly stretching the dough as needed. Remember it’s meant to look somewhat rustic, so the oval should be generally uniform in shape but don’t worry about making it too perfect. Pinch the ends of the dough together to leave a one-inch “tail” on each end, leaving room in the middle for more cheese.
- Repeat with the rest of the cheese balls and dough to make four khachapuri total
- Add two oz. of mozzarella to the middle of each khachapuri.
- Bake for five to seven minutes or until light brown. Keep an eye on the time, especially if you are using a convection oven.
- Remove the khachapuri from the oven and add an egg yolk to the center of each. Return it to the oven for one minute, just to slightly firm up the yolk, but it should still be runny.
- Remove them from the oven and add a tablespoon of butter next to the yolk. To serve, mix the butter, cheese and egg yolk together at the table. Rip off pieces of the dough and dip it in the melted mixture.