Moroccan layers of Msemmen

Msemmen, Mlaouis, Rghaifs and all what lays in between


Although we do have regional cuisines which could differ from each other, there is a not a single Moroccan who does not know about Msemmen and Mlaouis while Rghaif remain a regional deal.

As Moroccans, we don’t consider Msemmen and Mlaouis to be bread not pancakes, we don’t serve them as Indian parathas with saucy food. They’re served with a different logic.

Moroccan layers of Msemmen

Moroccan layers of Msemmen. Credit @Nada Kiffa

While Mlaouis will remind you of Indian parathas in their shape, Msemmen, especially stuffed, will remind you of the Algerian M’hajebs if you have ever come across them. They’re also found in Egypt under the name of feteer with a famous version called feteer Meshaltet. The later is smeared with Samna baladi (a local clarified butter with a smen-like aftertaste) so you really need to have a strong stomach for it (but it’s nice).

I would not forget to mention the Yemeni Malawah which also falls into the same category we’re dealing with today.

A bit of History
Msemmen is another name for Al Musammana, a recipe found in “An Anonymous Andalician cookbook of the 13th century”, a collection of centuries old recipes and translated to English by Charles Perry. butter) and also Al Tujibi’s 13th century cookbook. It calls for butter or clarified butter in its shaping process.
In Corriente’s dictionnary of Andaluci Arabic, Musammana is defined as a fried rolled wafer.
However, we have also a version which is laminated with olive oil or a mix of vegetable oil and butter (either melted or left at room temperature).
Musammana also seems to be called Al Muwarraqa (leafy), which gives an idea about its thin layers
So what on earth I’m all about here? Let’s start with the basics.
As far as Mlaoui are concerned, I can only see a recipe mentioned in the same book which is mixed and shaped exactly like the Mlaoui we know. Its English translation is equivalent to ” A folded bread from Ifriquiya“.
What is Msemmen/Msimmnates?
It’s a multi-layered bread dough (with yeast or without) which will be greased with butter/oil and folded to form a square, then stretched to form an even thinner square. It is then fried on its fat from both side.
Msemmen can be shaped as small as squares of 6 cm to 50 cm (see below).
Msemmen come plain or stuffed. It’s usually served for breakfast of afternoon snack along with Moroccan tea, a few spreads (honey, cheese, jam), olives, boiled eggs, cold cuts…
Giant Msemmens are sold in the street. They’re sold by slices.
Shredded Msemmen is also a base for a famous Moroccan dish called R’fissa or Rfissa with chicken.
Moroccan rfissa with chicken and lentils

Family gathering around Moroccan rfissa with chicken and lentils. Credit @Nada Kiffa

What is Meloui/Mlaoui/Melouia?

Meloui, or Mlaoui are rather round-shaped as opposed to Msemmen which are square. The dough is almost the same (in some case, it is literally the same), whether with yeast or not. Their lamination process is also different but in the end.

So while both taste the same when their plain (no filling), their texture is slightly different. While Msemmens can get away with not yeast in the dough, It’s advisable and preferable to use it in the Mlaouis’ dough.

Msemmen can be shaped as small as rounds of of 10 cm to 35 cm (see below).
A funky version of Mlaoui is called Rezzat El Qadi (Judge’s turban) which can be served plain with honey or as a base to R’fissa with chicken.
A giant Rezzat El Qadi, sold in a stall
A chicken R’fissa having a Rezzat El Qadi as a base.
What is Rghaif/Rghifa?
Rghaifs are also made using the same dough used in the previous pancakes. They’re most of the time stuffed with sweet or savoury filling. The only difference here comes from the cooking process; Rghaifs are either baked or fried.
When Rghaifs are filled with a savoury mix, they’re most likely to be served as starters in a meal or literally be the centre piece (but then we eat a lot of them, along with tea).
A selection of savoury baked rghaifs from different sizes and with different fillings
The fried version of Rghaifs will be highly likely served on the sweet side, sprinkled with icing sugar or soaked in honey and served in main religious feast, during family gathering. They’re irresistible.
Honeyed fried rghaifs

Make a Moroccan happy by offering him or her one of these 3 wonders especially if they live abroad and you will instantly draw a smile on their face (offer smaller ones to those in diet).

So to summarize:

– Msemmen are square pan- fried laminated pancakes.
– Mlaouis are rather snail and round-shaped pan-friend pancakes with a different laminating logic.
– Rghaifs are rather baked or fried laminated pancakes.

The tree versions of Moroccan pancakes can be served plan or filled with different mixtures.

Since we can’t tackle Moroccan cuisine without consecrating a whole chapter for those addictive pancakes, I’ll be posting a few classic recipes of Msemmen, Mlaouis and rghaifs which I hope you will enjoy.

Moroccan rghaif

Moroccan rghaif with khlii. Credit @Nada Kiffa

1- Mufletas are sort of thin layers of Msemmen dough before being folded. They’re rather put on top of each other with an exact precision while they’re being pan-fried.
2- Msemmen and Mlaoui (especially the plain version) are freezer-friendly. They take a couple of minutes in a pan to find their texture (a crispy outside with a soft inside).
3- A new generation of home cooks adds baking powder which they mix with the semolina flour for lamination. I personally do not do that as I follow the traditional method which I find good.

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