Nothing like certain food to unblock the floodgates of memory. Most of us have a memory of a food that takes us back to our childhood. For me, one of those foods is msemmen which we often had for breakfast when I was growing up, especially during cold and snowy winters. My mother would make these delicious treats at the weekend for us. Even though they are just a simple kind of square pancake for me it’s one of the best Moroccan breakfast dishes ever and of course it is because essentially it’s fried dough. Who doesn’t like fried dough, right? But the fact that it’s simple doesn’t matter. Somehow memories involving food are very vivid and feel more powerful than other memories. Why is that? I guess food memories aren’t just based on the food I ate, but are shaped by the atmosphere in which I ate it, the company I was with and the situation and the emotions involved.
Msemmen are the best fresh and hot from the griddle with honey and a cup of aromatic mint tea or coffee. The most traditional way, however, is to dip msemmen in hot syrup made from butter and honey. It will get a bit messy at the breakfast table because the msemmen will be sticky, sweet and delicious. On other occasions, my mum would stuff them with vegetables or meat fillings and serve them at dinner time with a nice bowl of harira which is a Moroccan soup. But that’s a story for another time.
What I love most about msemmen is that they are crispy, flaky, and fluffy all at the same time. This is due to the laminating of the dough. Laminated dough refers to the process of folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough. This process results in a pastry with multiple flaky, airy layers when it’s baked. They are made by flattening the dough on an oiled surface until paper thin, dotting it with butter and semolina, then folding it into thirds (twice) to shape a layered pancake. The key being that while folding, one must sprinkle semolina on the layers to prevent the layers from sticking to each other and to allow for the heat to then separate the layers when cooked on a griddle.
You’ll need enough workspace to shape the dough into squares. A granite countertop or otherwise a plastic or metal tray will all do. Msemmen store beautifully in the freezer and are easy to reheat when you crave a quick and delicious breakfast.
Please don’t be alarmed by the quantity of oil and butter used in the process of shaping the msemmen. All that oil won’t be absorbed into the dough. Done properly, msemmen shouldn’t feel greasy or be any more indulgent than other treats such as croissants or donuts. Try not to be like msemmen and get all flipped out about the calories, be like syrup and go with the flow. If you eat everything in moderation you will never have to feel guilty.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
- 500 g all-purpose flour
- 80 g fine semolina
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1/2 tbs yeast
- 2 tsp bakingpowder
- 1 tsp salt
- 200 ml lukewarm milk
- 240 ml lukewarm water
- 50 g vegetable oil
- 50 g very soft unsalted butter
- 30 g fine semolina
Make the dough by mixing all of the dry ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer.
Start by adding the milk and the water and mix to form a dough. The dough should be soft and easy to knead, but not too sticky. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add a little flour 1 tablespoon at a time*.
Divide the dough into balls the size of golf balls. Pre-shape the balls making sure the surface of the balls is smooth. Transfer them onto an oiled tray, cover loosely with plastic and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
In the meanwhile put the butter, the vegetable oil and the semolina in three separate bowls ready to use when your dough is rested enough to proceed.
In order to shape the dough, you generously oil your work surface and your hands. Take one ball and dip it in the oil and place it on your workspace. Gently spread the dough into a paper-thin circle. Try to be careful not to tear the dough so 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. Once the msemmen is folded, another is spread that one is used to envelope a prior folded msemmen so as to create multiple internal layers of dough. Leave to rest a short while before flattening and cooking. 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. Let the dough envelopes rest for 30 minutes, but start the timer when you finished your first envelope.
Heat your griddle or frying pan over medium heat until quite hot. Starting with the first msemmen 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. Serve the msemmen immediately, or allow to cool completely before freezing**.
* The amount of water needed depends on the quality of absorption of the flour you are using.
**Msemmen can be reheated directly from the freezer in a frying pan placed over medium-low heat.