It’s still chilly in the Middle East – still the season for comfort food. Try driving the cold away with msemmen, a flexible, square-shaped skillet cake (the best of Middle East and North African pancakes!), easily pulled apart into layers so you can stuff it.
Msemmen is similar to the Emirati Khameer bread (recipe here), which isn’t surprising, as they are both Berber in origin.
Msemmen is hard to pronounce, but delicious to eat. This is how you say it: Miss-i-men. It means greased, or oiled. And this is how you eat it: hot, with honey, between sips of mint tea.
Alia of the Cooking with Alia blog offers this recipe, with a YouTube video (below). It does take a bit of work, which reflects the old-fashioned tradition of hand-made food. Manipulating the dough with oiled hands, and layering it with a mixture of oil and butter, makes a unique skillet bread that’s a cross between rough puff pastry and a pancake.
The video below is less than six minutes long. It’s worth watching how Alia kneads the dough and then stretches it out by hand. It’s the sort of thing that takes practice, but once you know how to do it, you never forget. I was surprised at how little extra flour is needed to keep the dough from sticking – it’s the oil/butter mixture, which is incorporated at the last, unlike in Western bread recipes where all liquid ingredients are added at the beginning.
Below is Alia’s recipe. Comments in italics and edits are Green Prophet’s.
Msemmen, Berber Pancake
2 cups of flour
1 cup of semolina
3/4 cup of oil
3 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of dry yeast
1-2 cups of warm water (depending on the quality of absorption of your flour)
Mix all the dry ingredients.
Slowly add water and work the dough until you are able to create a ball with the dough.
If you are kneading the dough by hand, use energetic and quick strokes. Knead for 20 minutes while adding water until you get an elastic dough.
You can use a kneading machine (mixer or food processor) to speed up the process. Put the dough ball in the machine and automatically knead for the next 10 minutes while adding water.
Make small balls with the dough (the size of golf balls) and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. The resting period is important; don’t skip it.
Note: the amount of water needed depends on the quality of absorption of the flour you are using. The goal is to obtain an elastic and malleable dough. if your dough is too sticky add some flour; if it is too hard add some water and continue kneading it.
Steps for folding the Msemmen:
Mix the melted butter with the oil.
Spread some of the oil/butter mixture on a flat surface. Take one dough ball and flatten it with your hands. Gently keep stretching the dough until you get a thin circle of dough. Fold the circle into a square as shown in the video.
Steps for cooking the Msemmen:
Gently spread the dough square with your fingertips until you get a thin dough square.
On low heat (in a skillet), cook the Msemmen 5-10 minutes in each side.
Notice how Alia gently pushes the pancake down to break up any bubbles created when the first side was cooked.
More flavorsome Middle-Eastern breads on Green Prophet:
- Moroccan Anise Flatbread
- One-Handed Yemenite Pita
- Zalabya, Flatbread With Black Cumin
- Simit, Iraqi Sesame-Covered Bagel