Msemen is a traditional flatbread made with a combination of flour, semolina, sugar, salt, yeast, warm water, oil, and clarified butter. The dough is kneaded until it becomes smooth, and pieces of it are then flattened and shaped into squares, and stuffed with various meats and vegetables or plain.
It is best served with coffee or tea. They are honestly one of the favorite things to eat!
What is Msemen?
Msemen is a fairly flaky, crispy Moroccan pancake (Rghaif) or flatbread that’s made from a combination of plain wheat flour and semolina.
The word Msemen means “oiled” in Arabic and you’ll see that it fits perfectly here, as we do use quite a bit of oil in the preparing and the cooking.
It very closely resembles a South Indian flatbread which is called Roti Prata.
The sweet version is topped with melted butter and honey. It’s sometimes called the Moroccan breakfast bread because it regularly makes an appearance on morning tables. Other people call them Moroccan pancakes but I think that title belongs to beghrir!
Moroccan Msemen Recipe
You usually hear me remark that taste is highly personal. To begin with, the amount of semolina used is a personal choice.
I only use a small amount for a touch of bite and texture, but you can experiment with the ratio after the first time. In reality, I know several Moroccans who just use semolina for sprinkling and not in the dough.
Butter and semolina between the layers help keep the layers distinct, much like in a croissant. The butter is optional, I don’t always use it but the semolina is a must, it adds a lovely texture.
The more oil you use when cooking, the fluffier the msemen because it rises during cooking. Less oil gives a stiffer bread/pancake. We’re talking 2 Tbsp compared to say just 2 tsp.
Shall we get our aprons on?
Moroccan Msemen Recipe - Square Laminated Pancakes
- Extra large mixing bowl
- Stand mixer
- Double griddle
- 3 1/2 cups white flour - all purpose or bread
- 1/2 cup fine semolina or durum flour
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp dry yeast - less in very warm weather
- 1 1/2 cups warm water - not hot
For Folding the Msemen
- 1 cup vegetable oil - more if needed
- 1/2 cup fine semolina - can use coarser caliber if you like
- 1/4 cup very soft unsalted butter - more if needed
Make the Msemen Dough
- Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the water and combine to make a dough.
- Knead the dough by hand (or with a mixer and dough hook) until very smooth, soft and elastic but not sticky. Adjust water or flour as necessary to achieve that texture.
- Divide the dough into balls the size of small plums. Be sure the top and sides of the balls are smooth. Transfer the balls of dough on an oiled tray, cover loosely with plastic and leave to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, set up a work area. You'll need a large flat surface for spreading and folding the dough. Set out bowls of vegetable oil, semolina and very soft butter. Set your griddle or large frying pan on the stove, ready to heat up.
Shape the Msemen
- Generously oil your work surface and your hands. Dip a ball of dough in the oil and place it in the center of your work space. Using a light touch and quick sweeping motion from the center outward, gently spread the dough into a paper-thin, roughly shaped circle. Oil your hands as often as needed so that they slide easily over the dough.
- Dot the flattened dough with butter and sprinkle with semolina. Fold the dough into thirds like a letter to form an elongated rectangle. Dot again with butter, sprinkle with semolina, and fold again into thirds to form a square.
- Transfer the folded dough to the oiled tray and repeat with the remaining balls of dough. Keep track of the order in which you folded the squares.
Cooking the Msemen
- Heat your griddle or frying pan over medium heat until quite hot. Starting with the first msemen you folded, take a square of dough and place on your oiled work surface. Oil your hands and pat the dough firmly to flatten it to double its original size.
- Transfer the flattened square to the hot griddle and cook, turning several times, until cooked through, crispy on the exterior and golden in color. Transfer to a rack.
- Repeat with the remaining squares, working with them in the order in which they were folded. You can flatten and cook several at a time if your pan or griddle can accommodate them.
- When each msemen has cooled for a minute or two, pick it up from opposite ends and gently flex it for a few seconds with a quick back and forth, see-saw motion. This helps separate the laminated layers from each other.
- Serve the msemen immediately, or allow to cool completely before freezing.
- You can make msemen as small or as large as you like. I prefer to keep them small as described here.
- If you don't have a double griddle, use two or three frying pans on different burners for more efficient cooking.
- Instead of all vegetable oil, you can use a mix of oil and melted butter.
- Some of the white flour can be replaced by whole wheat flour. Adds nice flavor, but the final product might not be as crispy.
- You can also use a mix of half white flour and half semolina. It yields msemen with coarser texture. It's my preferred mix when making meloui, a round, coiled cousin of msemen.