Rghaif – Msemen, A Crispy Square Moroccan Pan Bread

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Rghaif aka Msemen is a crispy square-shaped flatbread usually cooked on a pan with oil and butter. These square-shaped Moroccan pancakes are very similar to the Asian Paratha and the filled version is very similar to the Turkish Guzleme. Like all the other varieties, this tasty carb and fat duo is usually served for breakfast or tea. The rghaif dough is traditionally oiled and separated into balls. After resting, the balls are flattened with your hands and spread out into a paper-thin circle with oil and melted butter. Then they are folded into a laminated square shape and cooked on a lightly oiled pan. The finished product results in a delicious crispy outside and soft and layered inside.

Rghaif or Msemen Variations

Rghaif Ma’amrin – Filled Type

There are rghaif that are called – Rghaif Ma’amrin which translates as filled or stuffed rghaif in Arabic. There are a number of tasty fillings for stuffing this Moroccan square bread. There is a Moroccan meat and onion filling, a Moroccan chicken filling and a delicious cheese and spinach filling. Of course, it doesn’t need to be limited to these fillings. Recently we have been using the Turkish potato Guzleme filling 😉

Meloui – Round Type

Another variety of rghaif or msemen is the round-shaped style, aka milwi or meloui. I grew up acknowledging this round-style one as meloui and the square-shaped flat one as rghaif, but that could be due to what region of Morocco I am from. In any case, the meloui is round and cooked with semolina and rghaif is square, cooked on a pan and we don’t use semolina.

Rghaif Firan – Oven Type

All the above varieties of rghaif can be cooked in a pan or baked in the oven. There is one type that is a square rghaifa (singular definition) placed inside another one and then folded again so that it is doubled in size and layers. My mum makes this type with plenty of butter, she adds a little yeast to the dough and cooks it in the oven so that it’s more crispy and crunchy outside and a much softer and fluffier layered inside.

Rghaif Ma’aslin – Sweet Honey Type

Finally, there is a sweet version of this tasty square bread called Rghaif Ma’aslin that is deep-fried, then dipped into melted honey and topped with a sprinkle of roasted sesame seeds or crushed or sliced almonds. Sometimes they are even filled with a sweet nutty mix. Check out the recipe here.

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Making the Rghaif or Msemen Ahead of Time

There are 2 ways of making rghaif ahead of time.

  1. You can make only the dough ready, separate it into balls, and make sure each ball is well-greased with oil before placing it into a freezer bag. When you are ready to make them, you will have to remove them from the freezer and leave them to thaw and then rest the dough balls for at least an hour after that for the dough to be soft enough to shape with your hands. I have done this on a few occasions and it works.
  2. You can make and cook the rghaif ahead of time and keep them in the freezer until needed. This can be done by only half cooking them to keep the shape and prevent sticking. Just as they begin to brown on the outside you can remove them from the pan. Leave them to cool and then place them in the freezer in suitable batches for your family. This is the method that I usually use and I don’t need to separate each one as they don’t tend to stick. Leave them to thaw a little before reheating them in a pan. Or, if you have a wide toaster slot, you can cook them from frozen by placing one in at a time. You would never know the difference!

I wouldn’t recommend placing them in the fridge for a later time. In my experience, they tend to lose their freshness and moisture and do not share the same crispy texture when reheated from the fridge. Don’t ask me why!

Using Semolina When Folding the Rghaif

Traditionally, you use dots of butter and a sprinkle of coarse semolina after each fold to separate the layers. However, my family and I prefer not to use semolina at all in this style of rghaif. So, I don’t mix any semolina into this dough and I don’t use it in between the layers either. I have provided the original semolina dough recipe for you here if you would like to try it out. Please let me know which one you prefer if you do. Some of the white flour can be replaced by whole wheat flour as it adds a different flavour, but this version might not be as crispy. You can also use a mix of half white flour and half semolina flour, and this gives a coarser textured result. This is actually the most common mix when making meloui, (the round, coiled version of rghaif).

Should I Use Butter or Oil in my Rghaif?

Personally, I use both. I have used only oil at times and it doesn’t make too much of a difference at all. In most cases, I melt the butter and mix it in the oil that I’m using. The measures for butter and oil in this recipe are approximate so be prepared to use more or less for folding the rghaif.

Do not use olive oil for this recipe, olive oil loses its benefits when it reaches a certain temperature and the taste of pure olive oil is far too strong to use alone. I also wouldn’t use any margarine. Stick to sunflower oil or vegetable oil and/or real butter.

It is also very traditional for Moroccans to use some real melted lard (shihma) or khlea (Moroccan preserved meat and fat). Both these traditional Moroccan fats are very strong and are only dotted in between in place of butter for a more flavourful salty taste. You still would need to use oil for the spreading and shaping of the rghaif.

What’s the Best Pan to Use for Rghaif?

Growing up my mum had a heavy square pan like this one.

Farberware – 21745 Farberware High Performance Nonstick Griddle Pan/Flat Grill, 11 Inch, Black. $19.95

We had this pan for years and years and I loved it because I could fit up to 4 mini-sized rghaif on the pan in one go. When making larger ones, it cooked evenly corner to corner on this square pan.

Note: The smaller you want your rghaif, the smaller your balls would be.

Other varieties of heavy pans can be used, and I have used a fair bit of them. Even a normal frying pan will do. If I was more stable where I lived, I would love to have this type of thing. Unfortunately, being a digital nomad family, we tend to stay light now and I stopped spending money on heavy kitchen equipment that is not likely to be able to follow us around 😉

Thankfully, there is this amazing double griddle type pan that, if you ARE permanently nested, is well worth investing in. However, it’s only worth getting if you make this type of thing quite often. It will save you a lot of cooking time.

SENSARTE Nonstick Griddle Grill Pan, Reversible Grill & Griddle Pan, Two Burner Cast Aluminum Griddle, Portable for Indoor Stovetop or Outdoor Camping BBQ $39.99

What is Rghaif Served With?

Rghaif or Msemen is a pan bread that can be eaten as a savoury or as a sweet. A breakfast or tea platter of rghaif can be served with little taster plates of butter, honey, jams, chocolate spread, olives, salami and a variety of different cheeses.

At other times, filled rghaif is served as an appetizer or as a side dish with soups like harira during Ramadan. Rghaif can also be served as ‘bread’ to accompany some Moroccan salads such as this Moroccan cabbage salad or some comfort foods such as Loubia, Bisara or Adis.

Finally, on any occasion, whether for breakfast, tea or dinner, you can ALWAYS enjoy rghaif with a hot pot of Moroccan tea 😉

If you were happy with this recipe, why not try its sister recipe: Meloui

Rghaif – Msemen, Square Moroccan Pan Bread

Although rghaif is traditionally made with butter, it is still ok to use only oil for a dairy-free version. So if you are vegan for example or allergic to dairy, it does still work in texture it just might differ slightly in taste. I like to mix them both, so instead of all vegetable oil, you can use a mix of oil and melted butter together. 
Rghaif can be reheated directly from the freezer in a frying pan placed over medium-low heat, or directly on the rack in a preheated 350° F (180° C) oven. 
You can make the rghaif as small or as large as you like. I prefer to keep them small for the kids and so that I can fit more than one in a pan at a time. Actually, it's useful to use 2 pans on different burners to get through the cooking process more quickly.
Servings 20 pieces
Prep Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Resting time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes

Equipment

  • 1 large bowl
  • 1 Rghaif pan or double griddle
  • Large working space

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Self Raising Flour
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • cups Warm Water The dough must be very soft but not sticky

For The Folding

  • 1 cup Sunflower or Vegetable Oil
  • ½ cup Melted Butter to be added to the oil
  • ½ cup Coarse Semolina (for sprinkling in between the folds if using) optional

Instructions

Making The Dough

  • Wash your hands, make good intentions and say Bismillah. Even if you are not Muslim, you will find the recipe extra tasty and blessed by saying a prayer of your choice while making it. This can be anything spiritual that makes you feel peaceful, happy and blessed.
  • Place the flour into a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the salt to dissolve in the warm water and start to add the water a little at a time with one hand while mixing it in with the other.
  • As the dough starts to form, use some dough to scrape any remaining dough that is stuck around the edges and at the bottom of the mixing bowl (sometimes you need to add a few drops of water to collect all the loose dry crumbs). Adjust water or flour as necessary to create a soft dough.
  • Knead the dough by hand until soft & smooth in your hands but not sticky. Then shape it into a big smooth ball.
  • Place the dough back into the mixing bowl and smother the entire ball and the bottom of the bowl with some oil. Then cover with a plastic bag or clingfilm and then a tea towel. Let it rest like that for 15 minutes.
  • After the dough has rested it will be easier for you to divide the dough into 50g balls. Moisture your hands in a little oil and pull out one side of the dough. Then gently tuck the dough into itself to form a smooth ball shape at the edge of your hands.
  • Place the dough balls on an oiled tray as you make them, and cover them with plastic and a tea towel. Then leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Prepare Your Workspace

  • Prepare a large, clean, smooth and flat surface area to spread and fold the dough. Kitchen counter worktops can be cleared, cleaned and used. Or you can use a kitchen table if it has a smooth marble or granite surface (but not wood). Prepare a bowl of oil and melted butter and keep it at hand. If you are using semolina between the folds, prepare a bowl of this and keep it aside too.
  • Also, make sure to have your griddle or large frying pan on the cooker top, ready to heat up, a large oiled tray to place your rghaif when folded and a plate to transfer the rghaif when they are cooked.

Making The Rghaif

  • Generously oil your work surface and the inside of your hands. Take a ball of dough and place it in the centre of your work surface. Press down firmly on the ball with the bottom part of your fingers to form a patty.
  • Using a light touch and some oil/butter mix smother the patty and sweep out the dough from the centre outward with the palms and fingers of your hands. Your hands should easily slide out the dough with the oil. Gently spread the dough out into a paper-thin circle. Oil your hands as often as needed for them to slide easily over the dough.
  • When putting pressure on the dough becomes too difficult without ripping, use your hands to lift the edges of the dough and slightly pull outwards. Repeat this process all the way around the circle.
  • NOTE: Do not worry if you rip the dough anywhere, holes and rips are completely normal and can be overlapped in the layers to not show. Just try to keep it minimal Insha Allah.
  • When you have spread the dough out as thin as possible, sprinkle the dough circle with the oil & butter mixture followed by the semolina (if using).
  • Lift the top side of the circle and fold it inwards into the centre. (this is the 1st fold)
  • Spread the top side of the fold with more oil and sprinkle with semolina (if using) then fold the bottom up to cover the last fold. (this is the 2nd fold)
  • Then spread a little more oil (and semolina if using) before folding the dough into thirds to form a square. This will create a 3rd and then 4th fold.
  • Transfer the folded square to an oiled tray and repeat this process with the remaining balls of dough. Keep track of the order in which you folded the squares because you will be cooking them in the same order that you prepared them.

Cooking The Rghaif

  • Heat your frying pan over medium heat. Then starting with the first rghaifa you made, take a square of dough and place it on your oiled work surface. Oil your hands and pat the dough firmly to flatten it more. 
  • Then place it onto the hot pan to cook, flip over at least twice on each side and fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Sprinkle a little oil when needed until cooked through. The rghaif should be crispy and golden in colour. When cooked transfer onto a plate.
  • NOTE: To ensure even browning, take a clean kitchen tissue, crunch it up and press down on the rghaif for a few seconds on each side that may puff. Or you can use a spatula to press it down.
  • Repeat this process with the remaining squares, working with them in the order in which they were folded. You can flatten and cook several at a time if your pan can accommodate them.
  • When each rghaifa has cooled for a bit, crush it slightly on a flat surface from each corner to separate the layers inside.
  • Serve the rghaif immediately while crunchy and hot. Alternatively, you can allow them to completely cool before placing them in the freezer.

Notes

The calorie information provided is only an estimate obtained from online calculators. Any additional or optional ingredients will not be included.
Calories: 160kcal
Course: Bread
Cuisine: Moroccan
Keyword: appetizer, meloui, msemen, rghaif

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