Why It Works
- Greasing the dough with fat helps enrich the flatbreads and create distinct flaky layers.
- Sprinkling fine semolina on the dough also helps keep the flaky layers distinct.
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.
The dough is 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.
For the Msemen:
1 pound 6 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (640g; 5 cups)
1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight
1 teaspoon (4g) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1g) instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (355g) warm water
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60g) vegetable oil
1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter
1 cup packed mint leaves
1/4 cup (45g) fine semolina
Flaky salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling
For the Honey-Butter:
1/2 cup (120g) honey
1/2 cup (120g) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon (5g) water
For the Msemen: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. With the mixer running at low speed, slowly drizzle in water. Add egg and mix until thoroughly combined. Increase speed to medium and continue to knead dough until a very slightly sticky and tender dough forms, about 2 minutes.
Transfer dough to a greased mixing bowl. Lightly rub dough all over with oil. Cover with plastic and let rest in a warm place until dough increases in size by about 50 percent, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine butter and oil and heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled work surface. Punch down the dough. Coat your hands with the butter/oil mixture. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and coat lightly with the butter/oil mixture. Arrange dough balls on a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic and let rest until dough balls have increased in size by about 50 percent, about 1 hour.
Working one at a time on a lightly oiled work surface, and using greased hands, flatten each dough ball, pushing outwards from the center to make an 8- by 8-inch square; the dough square should have a roughly even thickness throughout. Generously brush the surface of dough with the butter/oil mixture, dust all over with a large pinch of semolina, and sprinkle mint leaves on top of the dough.
Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. Brush the top with more butter/oil, dust with more semolina, and season with a pinch of flaky salt. Fold into thirds once more to make a square packet. Return dough packets to the baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic and let rest at least 15 minutes and up to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, Make the Honey-Butter: In a small saucepan, combine honey, butter, and water and cook over medium heat until butter is melted and the sauce is smooth, stirring to combine. Season with salt and set aside to cool.
To Finish: Preheat broiler and set oven rack to 6 inches from broiler element. Working one dough packet at a time, set a dough packet on a second rimmed baking sheet. Coat hands once more in butter/oil mixture, and, using your fingers, press and stretch the dough packet out to a roughly 6- by 6-inch square.
Broil the dough packet until browned in spots, turning once halfway through, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a platter and cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining dough packets (be sure to let baking sheet cool to a safe level between uses). Serve with honey butter.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 27g||35%|
|Saturated Fat 12g||61%|
|Total Carbohydrate 78g||28%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||9%|
|Total Sugars 13g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||2%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|