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Basic Msemen Recipe – Square Moroccan Pancakes

Basic Msemen Recipe – Square Moroccan Pancakes

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These square, laminated Moroccan pancakes are called msemen or sometimes rghaif. They’re a popular breakfast and tea time treat not only in Morocco, but also Tunisia and Algeria. If you haven’t tried one, it’s time you do!

Although easily bought at bakeries or as a street food, many Moroccans prefer to make msemen at home. That way the texture, flavor, size and quality can all be controlled.

Serve them plain—I like them this way hot off the griddle—or spread with butter, honey, jam or cheese. The most traditional way, however, is to dip msemen in hot syrup made from butter and honey. A bit messy to eat, but sticky sweet and delicious.

The elastic bread-like dough used to make msemen can be unleavened or barely leavened. For the latter, just a tiny bit of yeast is used. In recent years, I’ve seen some cooks replace the yeast with baking powder.

I prefer the barely leavened method, which is what my recipe below uses. It yields msemen with well-defined layers, a slightly crispy exterior and chewy interior. There is room to play in terms of changing ratios of flour or replacing some or all of the white flour with whole wheat, but if you’ve never made msemen before, I encourage you to try the recipe as is.

Don’t be alarmed by the quantity of oil and butter used in the process of shaping the msemen.  All that oil won’t be absorbed into the dough. Done properly, msemen shouldn’t feel greasy or be any more indulgent than other rich treats such as croissants or donuts.

You’ll need ample work space to shape the dough into squares. A well-cleaned, clutter-free granite counter top, a large flat plastic or metal tray, or a large Moroccan gsaa will all do. Once, cooked, the msemen store beautifully in the freezer and are easy to reheat on short notice, so plan to make them ahead of time.

Once you master msemen, be sure to try making meloui, another type of Moroccan laminated crepe or pancake.

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Square, laminated pancakes called msemen are arranged in overlapping fashion on a platter. Two pats of butter and a small spoon full of jam sits on the pile of msemen.

Moroccan Msemen Recipe - Square Laminated Pancakes

Christine Benlafquih | Taste of Maroc
Msemen are a flat, square-shaped Moroccan pancakes usually served for breakfast or tea time. They're made by flattening rghaif 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. 
You can make the msemen ahead of time and keep in the freezer until needed. Measures for butter and oil are approximate quantities. Be prepared to use more or less for folding the msemen.
4.77 from 21 votes
Prep Time 40 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Resting Time 15 mins
Total Time 1 hr 10 mins
Course Bread, Breakfast, Tea Time
Cuisine Moroccan
Yield 20 4" msemen (approx.)
Calories 158 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

  • 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)

Instructions
 

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.

Reheating and Serving Msemen

  • Msemen can be reheated directly from the freezer in a frying pan placed over medium-low heat, or directly on the rack in a preheated 350° F (180° C) oven. 
  • To make the traditional Moroccan syrup for dipping, heat equal portions of unsalted butter and honey in a frying pan. When hot and just beginning to bubble, turn off the heat. Dip the warm msemen into the syrup to coat the pancake on both sides. 

Notes

  • 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.
 

Nutrition

Serving: 1msemenCalories: 158kcalCarbohydrates: 23gProtein: 3gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 4gSodium: 234mgPotassium: 38mgCalcium: 5mgIron: 1.4mg

Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate obtained from online calculators. Optional ingredients may not be included in the nutritional information.

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About the Author

Christine Benlafquih is Founding Editor at Taste of Maroc and owner of Taste of Casablanca, a food tour and culinary activity business in Casablanca. A long time resident of Morocco, she's written extensively about Moroccan cuisine and culture. She was the Moroccan Food Expert for The Spruce Eats (formerly About.com) from 2008 to 2016.

Recipe Rating




Daphne

Friday 23rd of September 2022

Hello can these be made with almond flour and do you have a video showing how you made them? Thank you!

Christine Benlafquih

Friday 23rd of September 2022

I agree that a video would be helpful; I'll be making msemen soon and will try to remember to record a video. And, I don't think almond flour would work well for msemen unless you're just looking to use it as a substitute for the small quantity of semolina or durum flour. If your objective is to make gluten-free msemen, I recommend trying a gluten-free flour mix that's intended for breadmaking. You might need to add a little xanthan gum and increase the resting period to get the desired stretch to the dough.

Saul Estrada

Wednesday 30th of March 2022

Hello, can you still make the msemmen without semolina, I don’t have it right now. Will it also have the same consistency?

Christine Benlafquih

Wednesday 30th of March 2022

Hi Saul. The semolina during the folding process helps to keep the layers separate when they cook. Two possible substitutes for the semolina during folding are cornmeal and bran. If you have don't have either of those on hand, you can try making the msemen without. Just dot with the butter, which also helps to keep the layers separate.

Francine

Tuesday 30th of March 2021

After visiting Morocco for the first time back in 2019, I promised myself that I would learn how to make msemen like the msemen that I ate in the streets of Casablanca. I’ve tried a few recipes but this one is the yummiest and most authentic. Thank you!

Christine Benlafquih

Tuesday 30th of March 2021

Thanks for letting me know that the recipe gave you great results. If you like whole wheat, try replacing a little of the white flour with some. It adds delicious flavor.

Ola

Tuesday 3rd of November 2020

can i freeze more???

Christine Benlafquih

Tuesday 3rd of November 2020

Yes. They freeze very well and you can make an extra-large batch with this in mind. Be sure the msemen have completely cooled before you freeze them.

Rayen

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

How do you make your msmen not Crumble

Christine Benlafquih

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

I've never had my msemen crumble. Can you explain in more detail?