What Is Tone Bread?

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Cheese may be used in making tone bread.
Cheese may be used in making tone bread.

In the nation of Georgia, long on the dividing line between Europe and Asia, bread has been a central staple since medieval times. Cooked in a brick, mounded oven called a tone, which is similar to the Middle Eastern tandoor, these artisan breads are stuck to the inner walls of the oven to bake at a dry and intense heat. A variety of flavors and textures are available for tone bread, from cheese and potato to bean and spice.

Perhaps the most noteworthy tone bread is called khachapuri. The dough of this bread-as-meal dish encases cheese, with some butter and egg yolk slathered on at the end. It is then sliced and eaten like a pizza. The preparation is not difficult, as it starts with wrapping dough around a center of mozzarella, Monterey Jack, feta, or any number of other suitable combinations. Then, the ball is rolled out and baked — often with small slits at the center, along with a brushing of butter, fresh herbs and a little egg yolk.

Georgians also embrace another tone bread dish called khinkali. This dish is made of doughy pouches, secured at the top, holding savory toppings like cheese, mushroom, onion, garlic and various meats. The meats are cooked inside the pouch, within the oven to lock all of their juices inside.

Georgian and Armenian bread, often called puri, is customarily accompanied by some oil and herbs, including seasonal cuttings of arugula, basil, tarragon. These breads are not just stuffed with cheese and meat, either. Kartopiliani is a tone bread stuffed with seasoned mashed potatoes and onion. Lobiani is crammed full of coriander-tinged beans and onions.

Sweet versions of tone bread have been made for millennia too. A spice bread called nazuki has dough formed by mixing flour with sugary, sweetened milk and butter. The spice comes from vanilla, cinnamon and coriander, which is infused in the milk before the flour is added. Rolled out and brushed with egg yolk, it is then fired in an oven said to reach temperatures of about 900°F (about 482°C). Another variety has sweet cream cheese wrapped inside this dough before it goes under the rolling pin.

The Arabic tandoor oven, still popular after five millennia or more in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, is closely related to the tone oven. The types of breads that are traditionally made in a tone are often quite different, however. With few exceptions, tone bread of some sort is eaten with most every Georgian meal.

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    • Cheese may be used in making tone bread.
      Cheese may be used in making tone bread.