When I was ten years old, still living in the Soviet Union, I went with my family for a vacation in Abkhazia, a province of Georgia. The memories that I retain from that trip are all sensory: the sharp, cool scent of the cilantro that grew everywhere, the musky aroma of ripe figs, and the taste of a crusty egg and cheese pie called khachapuri that our Jewish landlady baked for us. Many years later, when I bit into a khachapuri in a Georgian bakery at Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, memories from that long-forgotten holiday came rushing back to me.
Georgian food arrived in Israel during the 1970s with a large wave of immigration from the Soviet Union, but for a long time this unique cuisine, merging influences from neighboring Russia, Turkey, and Armenia, remained a secret known only to the somewhat secluded Georgian community. It took two decades and some good Georgian restaurants and bakeries for the Israelis to discover it, and one of the first foods that got noticed were the boat-shape khachapuri pies. The original recipe calls for sulguni, a Georgian cheese with a texture similar to mozzarella but with a salty-sour flavor. Here it is replaced by a combination of aged mozzarella and good feta.
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting
⅛ ounce instant yeast
Pinch of salt
1 ¼ cups water
1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter, softened
For the filling
½ cup cottage cheese
9 ounces aged mozzarella, grated
4 ounces good-quality feta cheese, crumbled
For the topping
6 eggs (1 per pastry)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
How to Make It
Prepare the dough. Combine the flour, yeast, salt, water, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead for about 10 minutes to a soft and slightly sticky dough.
Lightly flour the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for about 30 minutes, until doubled in volume.
Punch the dough down and divide it into 6 equal-size balls. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for another 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Prepare the filling. Combine the cottage cheese, egg, mozzarella, and feta in a bowl.
Work with one piece of dough at a time. With a rolling pin, stretch and flatten the dough into an oval sheet ⅓-inch-thick. Place one-sixth of the filling in the center of the oval. Spread to within 1 inch of the edges. Roll the edges over to make a thick rim, pinching the narrow sides of the oval together to form a point at the ends. The pie should look like a kayak (see the photo above). Fill and shape the rest of the pies in the same manner.
Slide the pies onto the baking sheets and place on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the bottom is firm and crusty. Remove the pies from the oven, leaving the oven on.
Prepare the topping. Break the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl and carefully slide each into the pie. When all the pies are filled with the eggs, return the pan to the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Top each pie with a small cube of butter and serve immediately.