My housemate and fellow DPhil student Nick's scholarly pursuits focus on the politics and culture of the post-Soviet space. In practice, this means that I've been woken up multiple times from my afternoon naps by his attempts at Tuvan throat singing, which sound remarkably similar to a washing machine permanent press cycle.
But, I must admit, his experiments with Georgian cuisine make up for the annoyance. The highlight of Georgian baking is undoubtedly Khachapuri, a versatile cheesy pizza bread from the South Caucasus that is as delicious as it is filthy.
Khachapuri comes in dozens of shapes, sizes and regional versions. In our quest to try them all, we've experimented with variants like Imeruli Khachapuri and Megruli Kachapuri. But Adjaruli Khachapuri is definitely my favourite, not least because it's eaten by tearing the edges of the bread 'boat' and dipping them in the creamy eggs-and-cheese mixture within, so it has the 'social' dimension of a sharing platter.
The recipe below makes four Adjaruli Khachapuris. A forewarning for pedants and purists: technically, you're going to need Sulguni cheese - but it's hard to come by in the UK, so we use a mixture of mozzarella, feta and Tvorog, a Russian quark-type soft cheese (mozzarella and feta will do just fine, previously we've also tried cheddar and it still works).
For the filling: 500g grated mozzarella, 150g crumbled feta, 150g Tvorog cheese , half a cup of water.
For the dough: 550g flour (plus some extra for kneading), 2 tablespoon of sunflower oil (or olive oil), 1 sachet of dry yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar, a cup of warm water, 1 tablespoon of salt, 250ml milk.
Finishing touches: 4 tablespoons of butter, four egg yolks.
Dissolve the yeast and a tablespoon of sugar in a cup of water, and leave it to sit for 15 minutes. When the mixture becomes foamy, mix in oil, milk and salt (you can also add an egg at this stage) and stir for one minute. Sift half the flour and add it to the yeast mixture; mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until the flour is absorbed. Continue adding sifted flour and mixing until the dough can be worked by hand; sprinkle the remaining flour on a flat surface, and knead the dough for 5-10 minutes by hand until it becomes soft and comes easily unstuck. Shape the dough into a ball and leave to rise in a bowl covered with a wet cloth for one hour. Separate it into four pieces, flatten into the shape of a bread bun and leave to rest for another hour.
Mix the cheese with half a cup of warm water, and set the filling aside. Using a rolling pin, stretch the dough into four ovals about 0.8 cm deep. Using one eight of the cheese mixture, add a layer of filling on one of the dough bases, flattening it with a spatula from the centre outwards, leaving a couple of cms on the edges of the base uncovered. Roll the 'long' edges of the base inwards (this will result in something akin to 'stuffed crust' pizza) and pinch securely the ends of the dough together. Work into the shape of an eye, and then add another eight of the cheese mixture in the hole in the middle. Repeat the other three ovals.
Transfer on top of an oven tray covered in parchment paper and cook at 220° for 12-15 minutes. Take out when the edges are golden, but before they turn brown. Using a tablespoon of butter for each Khachapuri, coat the edges and add the remaining butter to the cheese mixture. While the butter melts, lay down the egg yolk at the centre of the cheese mixture; finally, stir the yolk into the cheese mixture, so it cooks through thanks to the heat of the cheese (this last step is generally done after the dish is served).