This, my little cheese volcano, is a minimally tamer version of what is often dubbed as a “heart attack on a plate.” Please meet khachapuri, a traditional dish in [the Republic of] Georgia. It’s my invitation to you, a cultural free pass, if you will, to eat a half-pound of cheese. Other regional versions are shaped like boats and topped with egg (don’t worry, you’re not missing out on any calories--this one is painted with butter), and I’ve read that some even come with bacon baked inside. I first ate khachapuri at a Georgian restaurant in Russia, and have since found it at bakeries in Chicago and San Francisco (and, oddly, a chain of restaurants in Krakow, Poland).
I’m conflicted about sharing this recipe, as it is not entirely authentic. Usually this would not bother me, but khachapuri without the right kind of cheese is perhaps not worth pursuing very far. Georgian khachapuri is filled with a pickled cheese called suluguni, and since I cannot find it near me, I followed Gourmet’s suggestion of mixing Havarti and mozzarella. The combination was “eh,” and I would recommend seeking out suluguni if you are considering this dairy monolith. I ate (shared) my khachapuri on its own since I made it for a project in Russian class (sometimes grad school is awesome), but to round out the meal, you could find a Russian/European grocery store and buy some frozen khinkali (Georgian dumplings), sour cream, and search online for a dish with walnuts and eggplant. Or make shashlik (kabobs)!
My babushki, the two old women I lived with in Russia, were proponents of the eat-more-butter-because-you’re-not-going-to-be-a-ballerina-anyway approach to eating. They suggested (actually, yelled) to me that butter is an absolutely integral part of maintaining internal health, as it lubricates your veins and lets your blood flow without any hindrance. This one goes out to them.
From Gourmet, May 2008
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (1/4-oz package)
7 tbsp warm water (for this I like to do the “Would you feed this to a baby?” test. If the answer is “I don’t know,” you can run the water against the back of your wrist; it should feel neutral--not hot or cold. Now you know how to be nice to yeast and babies!)
1 2/3 c unbleached all-purpose flour, set 1 tbsp of this aside
¾ tsp salt
1 large egg
¼ lb Havarti cheese, grated
¼ lb salted mozzarella, grated (if your mozzarella is not salted, you will have to play around with the added salt proportions)
1 tsp unsalted butter, melted
Mix yeast into warm water and add 1 tbsp of flour. Let stand until yeast is activated (the mixture will look creamy and bubbly).
Stir flour and salt together in a large bowl, add egg and yeast and stir to form dough.
Flour a surface in your kitchen (I just used a cutting board), and knead the dough until elastic. When I made my Russian presentation on khachapuri, I found a baking phrase that means “until the dough is ready for further manipulation,” which I liked a lot.
Form dough into a ball, dust with flour, and let this sit in a bowl for approximately 2 hours, punching down twice within that time period.
Preheat oven to 475.
Turn out dough onto your baking pan and flatten into a disk, approximately 7 inches across.
Take your grated cheeses and press into a tight ball. Place the cheese ball in the center of your dough disk, gather the dough up around the ball, and twist into a knot. Push down on the center of the ball with fist, and continue to spread the cheese out with your hands until you have a dough disk that is approximately 8 inches across. I used a rolling pin after the cheese was evenly distributed so ensure a smooth, round disk.
Cut an X through the top of the dough to expose cheese. Be careful not to cut through the whole disk! Put in the oven until lightly browned, for about 10 minutes. Brush dough with melted butter and cook for 5 minutes more.
The cheese is molten at this point, so let the khachapuri cool until it won’t burn your mouth. Cut into wedges and serve.
Note: Gourmet calls for a floured pizza pan of at least 12 inches or a large, floured baking sheet. I used (surprise) my roasting pan, which was a good call, since the khachapuri turns into a veritable hava-rella eruption in the oven. If I were to make this again, I would not flour the entire pan, as the flour not covered by the dough ended up burning in the 475 degree oven.