A tray of Moroccan mesemmen, mlawis (mlaouis) and rghayef (rghaef)

How to make Moroccan Msemmen: recipe and tutorial

North African Msemmen is a soft of laminated dough which comes in different forms It can also be laminated with different types of fat. Msemmen can be stuffed or unstuffed but surely cooked in a pan with a heavy bottom. When they are baked or fried in oil, we call them Rghayefs, although these days people are calling those msemmen as well.

This is a basic recipe for the dough and how to shape it. We do make them plain or stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings.

 

A tray of Moroccan mesemmen, mlawis (mlaouis) and rghayef (rghaef)
A tray of Moroccan mesemmen (middle), mlawis or mlaouis (left and right), rghayef or rghaef (front and back). Credit @Nada Kiffa

Practice makes perfect

Msemmen and rghaif take a bit of practice to get right. It requires getting the feel and the texture required and a few tricks to get the lamination right. Both comes with practice but I can ensure you, it’s worth it. Once you get the hang of it, it will be as if you’ve done it all your life.

If you plan to make a large batch for freezing, I suggest you add a pinch of yeast to the dough. They’ll come wonderful after reheating them. For msemmen to regain crispiness, it’s imperative to reheat them in a pan or in the oven (not a microwave). 

The pinch of yeast is not added when the intention is to make baked rghaifs.

Fine semolina flour vs fine semolina

It is important that you use fine semolina flour in the dough as well as during the lamination as it gives an authentic texture and help separating the layers while they puff.

Plain msemmen square served with honey
Plain Msemmen square served with honey. Credit @Nada Kiffa

Now it’s worth knowing that depending on countries and brands, fine semolina can be a fine wheat flour with a rough texture (flour) as opposed to all purpose flour. It can also refer to the fine calibre of semolina (fine semolina used to make Revani or Basboussa).

Here is a photo to help you understand the difference. Both are used to make msemmen dough but it might require different time and method to work the dough.

Fine semolina flour, called la’hrech or finot in Morocco, is a bit yellowish with a slightly coarser texture as compared to the usual plain flour.

Fine semolina flour called finot on the left. Fine semolina on the right
Fine semolina flour or finot on the left. Fine semolina on the right


Ingredients
Serves 8 
Prep: 40 – Rest: 20 min- Cooking: 3 min/pancake

Main dough

  • 250 g of strong white bread flour
  • 250 g of fine semolina flour (not the coarse semolina)
  • 1/2 tsp of dried instant yeast (optional, see note)
  • 1 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 260-290 ml of water, lukewarm

For shaping and laminating

  • 100 g of butter, at room temperature with a cream-like texture or melted and cooled
  • 150 ml of vegetable oil
  • 200 g of fine semolina flour or fine semolina

Preparation

Prepare the dough

In a bowl, place the flours, salt and yeast (each in one side). Add the water to 3/4 and start mixing either by hand or by machine.

The dough need to be thoroughly kneaded to become smooth and soft without being sticky. It takes about 20 minutes by hands and 10 minutes with a KitchenAid.

To achieve the desired dough texture, gradually add the other 1/4 of water according to the absorption of the flours used.

You could leave the dough, covered, to rest for 15 min (in cold weather) or skip this step if the weather is too warm.

Shape the dough balls

Oil your hands as well as the dough. Depending how big or small you want the Msemmens to be. Form smooth dough balls the size of a small apricot to the size of a large egg. At all times, you should keep the outer dough as well as the hands oiled.

The way how I will describe it might help you go through this step: try to push the dough between your thumb then try to strangle the dough from the top or what should look like a little head peeking.

Pull that bit of dough with your other hand to detach it from the main dough. Make sure to form a dough ball by smothering its bottom.

Place each dough ball on a generously oiled surface. We usually use a big tray where we place them all. Roll the dough balls in oil and cover with foil or a plastic. Set aside to rest for 15 min.

Clean a flat and smooth work surface and place the ingredients for laminating the Moroccan pancakes next to you. I suggest you also keep a kitchen roll handy.

Although Oil the worktop, flatten the dough very thinly with your hands. Make sure you flatten it to reach a large rectangular or square form (practice makes perfect). Sometimes we want it rather round-shaped but not for today. The dough is each to stretch when well kneaded so fixing the corners won’t be a big deal.

It’s important that you avoid tearing the dough while you flatten it and stretch in order to get a see-through thin layer.

After you flatten the dough ball with one set of fingers, you will need the other set to stretch it outwards; we go from the centre towards the edges  which should also be equally thin and see-through.

Keep your fingers as well as the work surface oiled at all times.

Shape Msemmen/Msimnates

In this shaping step, you should always remember these rules:

  • The thinner and even the first rectangle of dough is the better.
  • Always remember the rule of thirds (see below). 
  • After you shape a square of folded layers, you need to leave the dough to rest for at least 10 min. It helps getting on with the next flattening step.


The edges can be stretched with fingers to form a perfect tall rectangle where all layers are covering each others neatly.

1- Once the dough ball is flattened to a rectangle of thin and transparent layer, smear with a bit of butter and sprinkle with fine semolina flour. 

Visually divide this rectangle into 3 thirds from top to bottom and from right to left. Both surrounding thirds will have to be brought back to the third located in the centre. That’s pretty much the logic of shaping a Msemmen square.

2- Bring the top third to the middle and fold it equally on it by stretching any edge. Bring the bottom third on top of the two and make sure it’s covering the first 2 thirds.


3- Sprinkle with a bit of fine semolina flour and place a few dots of butter as well and bring the third bit of dough from the right into the middle then the left third to the middle to close the square.

5- Set aside for a few minutes, slightly oiled from the surface and covered with cling film.


6- To couple Msemmen (a standard msemmen is built with 2 msemmens actually, one inside the other), just place one msemmen slighly flattened in the middle of another see-through layer of dough and repeat the procedure. Set aside when you carry on with the rest of the dough.

A coupled Msemmen for a better texture

7- Flatten each formed square again so the layers become even thinner. Avoid tearing the dough or poking holes in the square of dough while giving it extra centimetres. If you are making a single Msemmen, you stop here for now.

8- The Msemmen or R’ghaif squares are ready to be oil-fried (single Msemmen), baked (we do that when we stuff 3 or 6 msemmen inside each others) or pan-fried (single or coupled Msemmen).

9- Flip each Msemmen a couple of times from each side. They’re better pan-fried over medium heat. Bring the heat down if the pan is too hot.

9- In some region, Msemmen gets somewhat crushed during the first couple of seconds between the hands to allow the steam to escape and keep the layers separated. Alternatively, you can use a flat spatula and run it right across the inside of the msemmen. You can skip this bit if it’s to fiddly for you.

Once you become expert, you can tackle the giant Msemmens as they’re sold in our streets..

Giant standard Msemmen square sold in the streets of Morocco
Giant standard Msemmen square sold in the streets of Morocco. Credit @Nada Kiffa

Always serve warm with a hot beverage (tea mostly).

Notes

1- Small msemmens the size of 10 cm or less do not need to be coupled or doubled.

2- After you have finished shaping a Msemmen square, make sure the work surface or your hands do not have a lot of semolina flour as this will disturb you while flattening the dough for the next one. This is where the kitchen roll comes in handy.

3- Msemmen or meloui with yeast in the dough is last longer. It’s even freezer-friendlier than a non-yeasted dough verison. Some like the texture as well while others like the other version.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Claire. I want to bring your attention on the fact that semolina is not what's needed here. It's rather fine semolina flour, not the grits.Hopefully you can make them soon and let me know how they come out..

  2. These look delicious. I love Indian parathas so I am definitely pro laminated breads. Laminated semolina dough? Yes, please! I shall be keeping an eye out for fine semolina flour so that I can make these soon.

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