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Cover of a cookbook about crepes from around the world

Today it’s Pancake Tuesday in Ireland and a few other countries too, but one or two regular characters in my books would be well into other national pancake dishes from around the world…

Take France with its crêpes; Brittany (not quite a country but you know what I mean) with its galettes; Provence (ditto) with its socca street food made from chickpea flour; Hungary and its thin palacsinta (sweet or savoury); your typical US diner with its fat “American style” pancakes and waffle type things; or these islands with our Findus Crispy Pancakes – though that particular brand is about to die a death.

The Maghreb too – from Morocco to Algeria and Tunisia – has a bewildering richness of pancake recipes. Not surprising either, given how their Mediterranean cuisines have soaked up Arabic, Jewish, Italian, French and Spanish influences over the centuries.

Pancakes from that part of the world come in many guises. Ones I’ve heard of include :

  • Msemen – a multi-layered pan-fried dough, apparently with the buttery  echoes of a croissant
  • Baghrir – moist and spongy, infused with honey
  • Roza – “turban-style”, coiled strands of dough
  • Berber-style pancakes – or crêpes berbères

A recipe for Berber pancakes

Here’s a rough-and-ready recipe for Berber-style pancakes, though readers from the Maghreb will probably find them rather different to the ones they usually make.

For a fairly large batch you will need…

  • 1 litre of warm water (see below)
  • Zest of 2 limes (optional)
  • 350g strong white flour
  • 250g fine semolina
  • 1 packet dried instant yeast (e.g. McDougalls)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g crushed roasted almonds
  • 100ml honey
  • 50g butter, to serve
  • About 100ml of rapeseed oil, for frying

To get the water at a temperature that the yeast will like (and if you are in a hurry), add a third of a litre of boiling water to two thirds of a litre of cold water. If you’re using the lime zest (or lemon zest will do), soak it in the litre of warm water for 10 minutes.

In another bowl, mix the flour and yeast together, add the semolina, then the (zesty) water.

Mix roughly for half a minute. Add the salt. Knead by hand – or mix with an electric mixer for a minute or so, until really smooth.

Cover with a clean cloth (I use one of those plastic shower caps that I “liberate” from hotels) and leave it to stand in a warm place for about two hours until the volume has doubled.

Brush a heavy non-stick frying pan liberally with rapeseed oil (or butter if you must) and place on a medium heat.

With a small ladle, pour a circle of dough, around a foot in diameter but quite shallow in the pan. Cook on one side only for several minutes, until it’s cooked all the way through (lots of little holes will appear on the top – it’s a bit like making crumpets or drop scones) and the bottom is golden but not burnt.

Repeat until the dough is finished. Serve cold or warm, drizzled with the honey, butter and almonds.

Moving further east, why not try making atayef (kataif), thin pancakes that are cooked only on one side, leaving the other side soft and velvety. They are sometimes stuffed with cream then dipped in ground pistachios and served with a drizzle of syrup. Yum.

There’s a Syrian recipe for them here, from a tasty blog by an ornithologist and cook called Sawsan.

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