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In the past couple years, I’ve been learning to make a number of flatbreads from around the world. I've worked my way through hand-stretched Indian naan, rich and buttery Persian nan-e qandi, and crisp, cracker-like Armenian lavash. But it was the flaky, stretchy, good-on-its-own or used-as-a-wrap msemen (or m’smen) from Morocco that really caught my fancy.
I was introduced to it by the folks at Hot Bread Kitchen, a NYC-based bakery that trains and empowers women of diverse backgrounds to thrive in the culinary workplace. In reading more about these quick-cooked doughs, I found that the Moroccan flatbread is made in a similar way to Viennoiserie pastries—laminated like a croissant—even though it looks more like a multi-layered tortilla.
The dough itself is easy to make, comprised of little more than flour, semolina, yeast, salt, sugar, and fat. The suffix “smen” is Arabic and although it's a term that refers to a type of fermented clarified butter popular in Moroccan cooking, many of the recipes that I've seen call instead for either plain clarified butter or oil, or sometimes a mix of the two.
After making the dough, it's pressed and stretched until very thin, then greased with the fat and folded. With each fold, more flaky, flavorful layers are created.
Msemen is traditionally served during breakfast alongside a cup of mint tea, and it’s delicious dipped in honey, which only bolsters its buttery richness. Of course you don't have to follow this blueprint. For example, Hot Bread Kitchen makes both traditional and non-traditional msemen, including one stuffed with kale and cheese.
In coming up with my own msemen iteration, I added torn mint leaves to the first round of folds as a nod to the customary cup of tea. Fine semolina is sprinkled in between each layer, to prevent them from sticking together when cooked, helping each layer to be more defined. This msemen is best when eaten fresh out of the oven, but it can also be wrapped in plastic and reheated after a day or two, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
While msemen dough is usually “baked” on a griddle, the broiler here accelerates the process, but still yields a nicely browned and blistered bread. The broiler works particularly well with msemen because the bread is flat, which means there are no high points closer to the broiler that would burn before areas farther away are ready—something that would happen if you tried to broil dough that has more of a loaf-like shape.
One thing is certain; as flat as the bread is, the flavor is anything but.
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