Why It Works
- A yeasted dough loaded with butter, sugar, Greek yogurt, and egg creates a tender, light bread-cake hybrid.
- The filling, known as khoritz in Armenian, is a mixture of chopped walnuts, flour, butter, sugar, and vanilla that's similar to a streusel.
- The gata is filled with just a single layer, making it easy to assemble and shape.
At its most basic, a gata—also known as “kata”, “gatah”, or “katah”, depending upon who’s doing the transliteration—is a lightly sweetened, buttery Armenian cake, bread, or pastry meant to be served as part of a mezze (appetizer) spread, or with coffee or tea, or as a dessert.
Some gata resemble croissants, made from an enriched bread dough rolled into paper-thin, table-wide sheets using an “okhlavoo” (a wooden dowel dedicated to dough work), smeared with butter, rolled up like a carpet and cut into spirals that bake up layered and crisp. Others are sweeter and decidedly more cake-like, whether they're made with a yeast- or baking soda/acidic dairy-leavened dough (baking powder was, until very recently, unknown in Armenia, so most chemically-leavened baked goods are made using a combination of baking soda and an acidic dairy like yogurt or sour cream). This latter style is usually formed into a flattened disc and filled with a single layer of a butter, flour, sugar, vanilla, and (sometimes) chopped nut paste known as khoritz, a mixture that's essentially the Armenian equivalent of streusel. These more simple gata are often dressed up with decorative strips of dough or by scoring patterns onto the top before baking.
When I set out to develop a gata recipe for Serious Eats, I was faced with the dilemma of deciding which style to choose from among so many. I didn’t grow up eating gata, and what I knew of the dish came from cookbooks and stories of friends and family who had eaten it on trips to Armenia. I knew I wanted something on the sweeter end of the spectrum—more coffee cake than savory bread—and I wanted to keep the preparation relatively simple. Which meant that the okhlavoo-rolled version was out; rolling out transparently-thin sheets of dough without tearing requires a lot of practice, not to mention miles of counter space. Since I am a bread person, and I knew I wanted some yeast in the picture, I chose to go with a walnut khoritz-filled cake made with a yeasted dough.
The dough I created is buttery and tender, thanks in great part to the fact that it is moistened almost entirely with Greek yogurt. A single egg helps give the crust structure and lends it a pale yellow color, while a touch of baking soda helps to further lighten the gata’s crumb. As for the fermentation itself, I leave the dough at room temperature for 30 minutes to get a jump-start on proofing before it goes into the refrigerator for at least four hours (or as long as overnight). Chilling the sticky, moist dough in the fridge while it proofs makes it easier to roll out and shape when the time comes.
My favorite thing about this gata—aside from its good looks and deliciousness—may be the way it’s shaped, which is both straightforward and forgiving: Once you've pressed and rolled the dough out into a 12-inch-wide round, you place the filling in the center of it, fold and pleat the dough over the filling until it's fully enclosed, and then you press and roll it into a disc again. It’s pretty easy to do, but the good news is—unlike other, similar preparations, like dumplings, which I’ve found are a challenge to shape prettily without lots of practice—the gata is very forgiving, because the dough is Play-Doh-malleable and the pleated part ends up on the underside, hiding any imperfections. As for the ornamentation, I opt for a simple crisscross pattern made with the tines of a fork on the top of the dough created, along with pleats around the outer rim. I mention this below, but it bears repeating: the dough puffs up as it bakes, softening the edges of the pleats and lines, so you should make them as sharp and dramatic as possible if you want traces of your art to remain.
- For the Dough:
- 10 ounces (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons; 285g) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons (5g) instant yeast
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons (6g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or same weight
- 5 ounces (10 tablespoons; 140g) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 ounces (about 1/4 cup; 60g) sugar
- 5 ounces (about 2/3 cup; 140g) plain Greek yogurt (whole or low-fat)
- 1 large egg (55g), lightly beaten
- For the Filling:
- 3 ounces (85g) walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
- 2 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup; 70g) all-purpose flour
- 2 ounces (about 1/4 cup; 60g) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or same weight
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons; 60g) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) vanilla extract
- To Finish and Bake:
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
For the Dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, using a stiff rubber spatula, vigorously stir butter and sugar together to form a uniform paste. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; wipe out bowl that had flour mixture, lightly grease with cooking spray or butter, and set aside. Using spatula followed by hands, mix flour and butter mixtures together until even, cornmeal-like mixture forms, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add yogurt and egg, and, using spatula followed by hands, stir until stiff, even dough forms, about 2 minutes. Transfer dough to the prepared lightly greased medium bowl and cover tightly. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then transfer to refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours, and up to 16 hours.
For the Filling: In a medium bowl, stir together walnuts, flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter and vanilla extract and, using a rubber spatula, stir until clumpy paste forms and no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds. Cover and store at room temperature until ready to assemble.
To Finish and Bake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Transfer dough to clean, lightly-floured surface, and dust top of dough lightly with flour. Using hands, gently press dough into even 6-inch circle, adding flour to both sides of dough as needed to prevent sticking, while pinching closed any major cracks in dough that form. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick.
Place filling in center of dough and, using clean hands and rubber spatula, spread into an even 5-inch round disc, leaving a 3 1/2-inch border of dough on all sides. Starting at one edge, using your hands, fold and pleat dough over filling toward center, working your way around disc. Pinch and press pleats together to fully enclose filling. Press top of dough gently to form an even 6-inch round. Invert so seam side is facing down and, using a rolling pin, gently roll into an even 9-inch round. Carefully transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat.
Pinch dough around the edge of the gata between the index finger of one hand and thumb and index finger of the other hand to form decorative points, spaced about 1 inch apart. Brush top and sides of gata evenly with egg wash. Using a fork, drag flat underside of fork across top of gata to form grooved lines in a crisscross pattern, spaced about 1 inch apart. Using a toothpick, poke 8 to 10 evenly spaced holes in top of dough, stopping when you reach the filling. Bake until evenly golden brown, 28 to 35 minutes, rotating baking sheet after 20 minutes.
Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let gata cool for at least 20 minutes. Slice into wedges, and serve.
Walnuts are traditional here, though other nuts such as pecans, pistachios, or almonds would make excellent substitutes.
The dough will likely crack along the edges when being rolled and pressed out; just pinch the dough as needed to smooth it out.
When decorating the top of gata, dip the tines of your fork regularly in flour to prevent dragging.
The edge pleats and top decorations will soften and smooth out as the gata bakes, so be sure to make them as distinct and sharp as possible.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The gata filling can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, if desired. Allow to come to room temperature before using, about 30 minutes. Gata is best served on the day it's baked, though it can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Reheat in a 250°F (120°C) oven for 15 minutes before serving.