Msemmen traditional, rich, layered, crêpe-like flatbreads from the Maghreb region of North Africa.
If you like setting yourself a culinary challenge or, you have had many failed attempts making msemmen in the past and your enthusiasm to master this beast of a flatbread hasn’t diminished. Here is my step-by-step how-to in photos.
You will forgive the lack of hands shown when shaping the msemmen. It’s a one woman show here i.e. I am the msemmen maker and photographer but I am not both at the same time!
Not without the aid of a tripod (and the timer-button on my camera), which is somewhere in England. Husband I hope you gave it a good home. I never used my tripod but it would’ve come in handy on this occasion.
How-to make msemmen (step-by-step)
Make the dough
In a large bowl, mix by hand 500g fine semolina, 500g bread flour and 1tbsp salt together. Make a well in the center and start adding gradually your 3 cups (750ml) of water while mixing the not-yet-dough with your other hand.
If the dough starts coming together into a rough ball before you’ve used all 3 cups, it’s ok you can add the rest gradually when kneading. I cut this step out (this time) and added all the water whilst initially forming the dough. It was sticky but that’s ok the semolina will absorb the water whilst kneading.
On a clean work surface knead the dough by hand for 10-12mins until you have a soft, somewhat flexible dough. You need-to-knead (get it?!) this dough a little longer than the normal 5-8mins because 1. You have to work harder with semolina dough to build-up the gluten. This is why we have used 50/50 semolina/bread flour or it would take 30mins+. 2. We are working with bigger quantities of flour/semolina kg in total. You can halve the ingredients but I find it worth while to make a big dough then freeze half after its first resting.
After kneading, coat the surface of the dough with oil. Place it back into the bowl, cover bowl with a clean plastic bag or wrap and leave to rest (no real rise here as we haven’t added yeast) for 40 minutes.
I know what you are thinking, a Tesco shopping bag in Algeria? Yes apparantly there is. Whether the store my father-in-law got the plastic bag from, is an actual Tesco store? I have no idea.
First shaping & Second resting of the Msemmen dough
At this point if you wish to, take half the dough, wrap it in lightly oiled cling-wrap/plastic bag and freeze for later.
Now it’s time to divide the dough.
Take off handfuls of dough, shape into balls (here for the technique).
Dip each into a mix of vegetable and olive oil ensuring tops are coated, then place on oiled tray(s).
Cover and rest for another 40 minutes. Until your dough balls (and you) are thoroughly relaxed.
At this point, turn on your hob to low and put your metal tadjine to pre-heat.
Stretching & Shaping Msemmen
Coat work surface and your hands generously with oil and re-apply as needed – for each dough ball, coat the work surface and when your hands feel remotely dry.
Working with one dough ball at a time. Gently flatten with the palms of your hands and smooth out the dough from the center outwards using your fingertips until flat and round-ish.
Place your hands under one ‘side’ and stretch from the center outwards, hold the part you’re working on and gently pull and wave it a little to further stretch, until thin and you can see parts of the work surface through it. Repeat this stretching with remaining ‘sides’ until you have a rectangular shape.
Any thick border after you’ve stretched and as you fold the msemmen can be flattened with the tips of your oiled fingers or removed with a knife. I prefer not to waste!
Once folded I go back and stretch again, by holding two sides and gently pulling to make a bigger msemmen. Also, the uncooked msemmen will stretch naturally when you pick it up and carry it to the metal tadjine to cook. It may become slightly misshapen but who cares? Homemade = not perfectly perfect.
Cooking the Msemmen
Each msemmen should take no longer than 2-3 minutes in total to cook.
The metal tadjine we here in Algeria is similar to an Indian tawa/tava and a good, more widely available in the UK, alternative for cooking msemmen.
If your msemmen suffer from thick sides and let’s face it we have all been there. A good tip is to press down on those thick sides while cooking (in-between flipping and turning!) using your turner. Make sure it’s a metal turner – also known as a fish slice. The plastic/silicone versions could melt, I think!?!.
How to tell you have made good msemmen? a. they puff up when cooking = layers✅ b. they are thin and you can hazily see through them when holding up to natural light ✅
Making msemmen is ideally a two-woman-show. One can be stretching and shaping while the other is on cooking duty.
I think whoever decided to say msemmen are like crêpe didn’t really think it through. Crêpes are easy to make compared to msemmen. They both roll-up well, providing you do this while the msemmen are still warm.
The results once you have mastered these flatbreads are extremely rewarding. Fresh from the tadjine they are crisp, flaky, chewy and tender. That’s four, I repeat 4, textural differences.
We love eating msemmen plain with our morning and afternoon milky coffee. You can easily spread them with a little nutella or confiture, sprinkle with chopped nuts, roll up and devour. In fact, those ingredients would make for an intriguing filling for sweet mhadjeb (my recipe desperately needs updating!) – a stuffed, usually savoury version of msemmen.
Tradtional, rich, layered, crêpe-like flatbreads from the Maghreb region of North Africa.
- 500g fine semolina
- 500g strong bread flour
- 1 tbsp salt
- 750ml (3 UK cups) water
- Oil, (mix of veg and olive oil) as needed for coating, worktop and shaping.
- In a large bowl mix dry ingredients together. Add water a cup at a time while bringing the dough together with your hands, it will be fairly sticky.
- Turn out onto a worktop and knead with both hands for 10-12 minutes until you have a soft supple dough. DO NOT ADD MORE FLOUR/SEMOLINA. Coat dough with oil and place back into the bowl, cover with a plastic bag or cling wrap and allow to rest 40 minutes.
- Divide dough by pulling off handfuls. Shape each handful into a ball, dip in small bowl of oil ensuring surface is covered. Place onto oiled tray(s)/plate(s). Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap/bag and allow to rest a further 40 minutes.
- Pre-heat your metal tadjine or tawa over low heat while you complete the next step.
- Coat worktop and hands with oil (re-apply as necessary) and working with one ball at a time. Shape by flattening the ball with your hands and smoothing out with your fingers to a flat rough-circle. Place hands under one side and stretch from the centre outwards, hold the part you’re working on and gently pull and wave it a little to further stretch until thin and you can see parts of the worktop through it. Repeat this stretching on all 'sides' to make a rough rectangular shape.
- Fold the dough from the left and right sides first and then top and bottom into a rectangle. Stretch the folded uncooked msemmen more by holding two sides and pulling, repeat with other two sides to create a bigger msemmen. Flick a little extra oil onto the surface of the msemmen, pick-up and carry to the hot tadjine (or tawa), place seam-side down and cook. Turning over and around frequently after first side is cooked, until you have an even colour and a cooked msemmen. If your msemmen have thick sides, press down on these with your metal turner to ensure they cook at the same rate as the thinner middle. Best eaten the same day they are made.
Dough can be frozen after first resting period for upto 3 months - place in a clean plastic bag coated inside with a little oil, wrap then freeze.To use defrost overnight in fridge. Next morning remove, divide, rest for 40 minutes or until the dough balls have come up to room temperature then shape and cook.
Alternatively, cooked and fully cooled msemmen can be frozen, simply stack together place in a clean plastic bag (or wrap tightly with cling/freezer bag) and freeze for upto 1 month. To reheat. From frozen, place in a pre-heated dry frying pan on the stove over medium-medium low heat , turning frequently until msemmen is hot throughout.
Made this or any of my other recipes? I’d love to see! Send me your pics via Instagram # and @halalhomecooking and I will re-post in my feed.
P.s. I believe heat plays a big role in making msemmen dough easier to stretch. If it’s cold where you are, crank up the heating for a few hours while you make them.