Msemen is a fairly flaky, square shaped crispy Moroccan pancake (Rghaif) or flatbread that’s made from a combination of plain wheat flour and semolina. It is eaten for breakfast and also in the evenings with Moroccan Mint Tea (or coffee), and as you’ll see in a bit, can be eaten in so many different ways.
But before we go any further, let’s learn to pronounce it first, shall we?
Phonetically: Mʊs – sɜː – mɜːn with the emphasis on the first syllable (Mʊs)
Muss (like puss) Sir (silent “r”) Mon (like the end of common)
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at a few interesting tidbits on this much loved pancake found not only in Morocco, but also in the other Maghreb countries.
- 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 I grew up with in Singapore and Malaysia, which is called Roti Prata in Singapore and Roti Canai in Malaysia. Roti Prata is also commonly eaten for breakfast but we have it with curry although kids love it with sugar and honey. On my last trip back, I found out that these days, there are all sorts of fillings and toppings, including, heaven help me, chocolate!
- So Msemen is square shaped; make it round and it’s called Meloui! Interesting much?
- I love that it can be served in so many different ways, with honey, butter, sugar and/or cream cheese. A good one for kids is to spread some cream cheese on one mesmen, top with another, then cut this sandwich into little triangles.
- Another fact I love about Msemen is that it can also be stuffed and cooked differently, with beef, chicken, vegetables or cheese, the list is in fact as short as your imagination. One of my favourite during our last stay in Morocco was the Rghaif that was cooked in chilli oil. That was just awesome!
Before we left to travel in summer last year, my kids and I had got into the habit of making some sort of flatbread every weekend, they love cooking and trying out new things, more so now after 4 months of travelling and visiting/living in 6 countries.
These North African flatbreads are some of their favourites because they’re meant to be eaten with honey! For a kid, it doesn’t really get any better than that, I suppose.
Taste is very personal, you always hear me say. So for starters, the amount of semolina used is a matter of preference. I use only a small amount, for just a little bit of bite and texture, but feel free to play around with the ratio after the first time. In fact, I know many Moroccans who don’t use semolina in the dough at all, just for the sprinkling.
Msemen is best eaten hot or warm. It’s slightly flaky when warm but chewy when cold. To warm up, just pop it back in a pan or griddle with a little oil for a minute on each side.
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?
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More Moroccan recipes on LinsFood
Msemen, square shaped Moroccan Panacake
- 300 g plain flour
- 200 g fine semolina
- 1/2 tsp dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 300 ml warm water
- 100 g butter at room temperature (optional)
- extra flour for kneading
For rolling and cooking
- 100 ml vegetable oil roughly this amount
- extra semolina for folding
- ½ tsp baking powder
Mixing and resting the dough
- Place the top 5 dry ingredients into a large, roomy bowl.
- Make a well in the centre and gradually pour about 250ml (1 cup) of the water in while mixing the flour with the water with your hand or in a mixer.
- Add a little more water, very little at a time, as you bring it all together with your hands. Be careful with the water, err on the side of caution and be stingy. You want a dough that feels dry and not at all sticky. If you’ve added too much water and the dough sticks to your hands, just add a little more flour.
- Lightly flour a work surface and tip the dough onto it.
- Flour your hands and knead the dough for a good 5 minutes (I’m afraid so) until it’s all smooth. Or 1 minute in a mixer. You’ll start feeling the difference in texture very quickly on your hands. If you got the water balance right, the dough shouldn’t stick and you shouldn’t need much flour. If it’s sticky, not the end of the world, just use a little more flour.
- Get a large baking sheet or tray and oil generously.
- With well oiled hands, divide your dough into 12 little balls and place them on the baking sheet.
- Cover with a damp tea towel and leave aside for 30 minutes to rest and proof. They will increase in size, so be sure to give some space between each ball.
Rolling and cooking Msemen
- Mix the semolina and baking powder.
- Now comes the rather fun part! Oil your hands and work surface generously and start flattening the balls individually into the usual round shape with the palm of your hands or your fingers (see gallery above).
- Dot with butter, if using, and sprinkle with the semolina and baking powder mix. Fold one side in (first fold).
- Sprinkle semolina mix and fold the other side in.
- Sprinkle semolina mix and fold the two longer ends in as the pictures above, sprinkling semolina again before the final fold.
- Place back on the baking sheet and do the same with the other dough balls. You will need another baking sheet or tray for this step.
- When done, cover with damp tea towel again and let rest for another 10 minutes.
- When the time is up, take a square piece out and place it on your oiled work surface. Once again, using your hands pat down and out to enlarge the square to roughly about 2 times its previous size. If you’re happy with how quickly this can be done, get 2-3 done then move on to the next step and start cooking. But if you’d rather, flatten them all out to cook first. Mind you, that’ll be a lot of surface covered up by the unfried msemen!
- Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a crêpe pan, flat Indian griddle (tawa) or an ordinary frying pan on medium high heat.
- Place one msemen on the pan and fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side, flipping over at least twice on each side. Don’t worry about any puffing up.
- To ensure even browning, take a clean tea towel, bunch it up and press down on the msemen for a few seconds, moving along the square bread. Or just use your spatula to press down.
- Halfway through, pour another tbsp of oil around the msemen.
- When done, turn out onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil and keep warm while you get the rest done, although in my house, they seem to disappear as quickly as I can cook them!
- Serve with some butter, honey and cream cheese. Traditionally, you’d break a piece off and dip into the honey, but hey, your casa, your rules!