Moroccan Baghrir – Thousand holes pancake
Long been a destination on my bucket list – and one that had taken us way too long to fulfill – we finally visited Marrakech in December 2018. I sort of did and didn’t know what to expect. A dancing mirage somewhere in between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the face of Marrakech carried mysterious, exotic and imaginative beauty in my mind, like a place only in story books, almost unreal.
But of course, in reality, Marrakech is anything but unexposed. We arrived to find an ancient city, like all the others of her kind left only with the pillars of tourism industry, whose beauty, flaws and dignity are laid bare for the world to entertain with. Her plastered skin glowing in pink and orange, her sometimes unequivocal display of chaos and neurosis, and her remedial serenity and reflective pools inside the earthen walls of her beautiful courtyard houses, all of which was once for herself, now all is but a reluctant theme park for foreign passers. This could be a difficult dilemma for any city, especially a poor one like Marrakesh, where her livelihood brings out both the best and worst she has to offer. Within the walls of Medina, it could feel like a pressure cooker of transactions. A request for directions, a photograph, a helpful hand, all of which seemed to need to become an exchange for euros, or worse, extortions. And there she stood in the backdrop, her face blushing in that beautiful gradation of earthy red hues, I wondered, if in sadness or apathy.
That sounded negative. For that I apologize, for who am I to lay judgment in my brief and shallow crossing with a city that is obviously complicated, and made our trip sound unenjoyable which it definitely wasn’t.
If you wish to enjoy Marrakech, in my experience, you have to choose a great riad to stay in. Riad is traditional Moroccan courtyard houses, but nowadays, mainly known as a synonym for Bed & Breakfast. Your riad is where you retreat from the outer disorientation and intensity, where you find conversations beyond bargainings, where it could feel like a temporary family even just for a few days. And most importantly for us, where the foods were great. When it comes to street foods, to be utterly honest with you, I wasn’t too impressed, at least inside the walls of Medina. We tried our best to avoid obvious tourist traps and focused on old establishments favored by mostly locals, but nothing stood up to the promise. On the third day, out of search-fatigue and the promising aroma lurking out of the kitchen every late afternoon that we could no longer ignore, we decided to stay in our riad for dinner at a more than reasonable pricing of 20 euros per person. What was served to us that night, had single-handedly reversed our perception of what Moroccan cuisine could and should be.
The dinner started with a few small bites of cold appetizers, each nicely balanced in texture and flavors that eased our skepticism. Then came a lightly spiced pumpkin soup that held so much more nuances of comfort than its creamed orange appearance suggested. “Is this typical in Moroccan meals?” I asked the manager. “Yes.” He smiled in amusement. “Pumpkin soup.” Of course. At this point we were sufficiently assured to not be surprised by any excellence that was not expected. But the main course, a bubbling tagine of fork-tender beef stewed in gentle spices and dried fruits with the occasional crunch of heart-shaped almonds, blew us away. It isn’t easy, I feel the need to point out, to cook foods that are unmistakably motherly and soft-spoken while standing up to all the required sophistication and depths one would expect from a paid dinning experience. Whoever cooked this meal, has a rare gift, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I decided to find out who she was.
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Sitting at breakfast on the rooftop in a sun-lit backdrop of blue and pink, was when I saw this. A plate of baghrir.
You may not know what it is, you probably don’t. But I did. I did because this particular Moroccan yeasted pancake, had hurt me. Yes, deep, like the boy in school who had maliciously broken your heart and left it to rot in humiliation, whom you would never truly forgive and forget no matter how many therapies and better relationships you’ve been through, the one whom you will always, always imagine to run into on the street in your upmost hottest self just so he could mope in regret. That boy, that was my baghrir. I came across its recipe many years ago online, lured by its exotic and mysterious profile, agreed to series of hookups in the kitchen so unsuccessful that left me in distress. Mushy, textureless, with big scattered holes like the surface of the moon, and worst of all, no apologies whatsoever.
But this baghrir… this was a different baghrir. Chewy, filled with delicate holes that trapped as much salted butter and honey as my conscience would allow, it was everything that I once thought was falsely promised to be. I was never one to ask to intrude in a private kitchen, but this is about settling old debts. I asked the manager to introduce me to their cook and a few hours later before our second dinner in the riad, Majda greeted me by her stove.
The kitchen was already intoxicated by the aroma of couscous that she was preparing for dinner, a dish that I once so foolishly thought to take minutes, was an ordeal that stretched for hours and through various procedures by her standard. She could barely speak a word in English, and I spoke none in French and Arabic. Nonetheless she walked me through the process of making baghrir, patiently, explaining not by precise measurements but details in intuitions and adjustments, uncompromising even in the slightest margin of inconsistency. I already knew she was good. And now I knew why. Ten minutes of preparing the batter and an hour of fermentation later, I stood by the stove and watched the batter I just poured into the skillet fizzing enthusiastically in densely populated air bubbles, which then popped as the batter cooked and solidified. It was one of the most satisfying cooking experiences I’ve had, and the baghrir was just as chewy and delightful as the ones I had in the morning.
Six months had passed since my Marrakech trip, and I’m glad to tell you that after a dozen batches of re-enactment from memory and obsessive fiddling, I now could finally bring Majda into your kitchen, too.
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* Some baghrir recipes involve baking powder, but I find it unnecessary, counter-productive even, resulting in large, moon surface-like bubbles. The yeast itself will do the bubbling job perfectly.
* The extra protein in bread flour gives the pancakes more body and chewiness, which I think is paramount in a successful baghrir. But if you only have all-purpose, it will work, too, but just slightly less exciting.
* The bubbles of baghrir should be small, densely populated and delicate. If you find your bubbles too large and scattered, it is usually a sign that the batter has over-proofed. You need to either reduce the rising time or the amount of yeast.
- 1 cup (168 grams) fine semolina flour
- 1/4 cup (35 grams) bread flour
- 1/2 tsp (4 grams) fine sea salt
- 1/2 tsp (2 grams) instant dry yeast, or scant 1/4 tsp for overnight
- 1 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (385 grams) hot water at 105 F/40 C
- Salted butter, room temperature
- Good floral honey
- Water at 105 F/40 C would be 2 cups of water microwaved on high for 50 seconds, or as Majda used, the hottest tap water. In the blender, blend fine semolina flour, bread flour, fine sea salt, instant dry yeast and hot water on high for about 2 minutes, until the batter is extremely smooth. The batter should be very watery and runny.
- Transfer the batter into a container, cover, and let rise at room-temperature for about 1~1:30 hour (use 1/2 tsp of yeast for this). The batter should look quite foamy at the surface. Or you could prepare the batter before bed, and let rise in the fridge for 7~8 hours overnight (use scant 1/4 tsp of yeast for this). The next morning, the batter will appear to have separated with a watery layer in the middle. Don't panic, simply stir it back together. If you are leaving the batter in the fridge for more than 8 hours, reduce the yeast to 1/8 tsp.
- Once ready, give the batter a gentle stir and let rest for another 5 minutes. Heat a small non-stick flat skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then turn the heat down to medium-low. The temperature of the skillet should be that there is a faint sizzling sound when the batter hits. Pour about a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the skillet, then swirl it in an wide angle to spread it out into a thin, 6" pancake. Bubbles, tons of it, should immediately form on the surface of the pancake. Once the top surface of the batter is completely cooked, and the bottom is lightly browned, about 1-plus minute each, transfer the pancake onto a cooling rack. Repeat with the rest.
- The optimal state of the pancake is not when it's warm! It will taste mushy instead of chewy. The pancakes should be allowed to cool down completely before serving, about 30 minutes to 1 hour, which makes them perfect for breakfast parties. But if you're in a hurry, place them in front of a fan to cool down fast. Serve the pancakes with softened salted butter, salted I say, and drizzle with good floral honey (not that bear stuff please). It is a perfect pairing by design, the best really, hard to be outdone. But occasionally dipping the leftover pancakes into dinner curries isn't without its merits.
khuzkJune 13, 2019 at 9:31 AM
whoah, this reminds me of Serabi (or Surabi) in Indonesia but it use rice flour and serve with coconut milk! so interesting ^^
Sofia AndersonJune 13, 2019 at 2:58 PM
I absolutely LOVE how to write the recipes. Just as I do it.
CharlieJune 13, 2019 at 5:43 PM
Thank you for the recipe!
I will give these a try.
The top reminds me of crumpets, that as someone with British blood I absolutely love.
So glad your food experience turned to the better.
AliceJune 14, 2019 at 3:19 AM
Do you think any of these techniques could be applied to injera since it’s also a fermented flat bread? All the recipes that “work outside of Ethiopia” include baking powder but traditionally they wouldn’t, seems similar to this. Much lower protein content unfortunately.
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 14, 2019 at 12:41 PM
Alice, I haven’t had any experience with injera. It tastes a lot more sour than baghrir though. But I think texturally they are quite similar.
AliceJune 19, 2019 at 10:50 AM
I think I just need to try it out when I know I’ll be the only one eating it! Haven’t given myself botulism yet…
EmilyJune 15, 2019 at 3:50 AM
So beautifully written and such sweet victory at the end!
LIAT Naomi SHEERITJune 15, 2019 at 6:37 PM
It is a well known dough from fron the Yamenite cuisine. Its called “Lachuch” but traditionally we use white flour and not semolina
ShuJune 17, 2019 at 5:57 PM
Does baghrir keep well till the next day?
KarinMarch 15, 2020 at 9:38 PM
Hello, Mandy… love, love, love your blog; am adding your book to my holiday wish list! Made these for breakfast; batter sat overnight… simple and beautiful with the “1000” tiny bubbles. My family loved them. Will be my go to for crepes, too, from now on ?
LaniSeptember 13, 2020 at 5:55 AM
Can one use sourdough instead of yeast?
mandy@ladyandpupsSeptember 13, 2020 at 2:14 PM
Lani, I’ve never used sourdough starter so I don’t know, sorry.
Jennifer charlesApril 11, 2022 at 8:59 PM
My cast iron skillet is happiest to have a little butter to make it non stick- would this ruin things. Ever since my own trip to Morocco have been dreaming of these. They are magical. May I ask which Riad you stated in? Thanks much!
mandy@ladyandpupsApril 12, 2022 at 2:29 AM
Jennifer, I’m not sure as it was thought to me not to use any oil but it wouldn’t hurt to try.
KalMay 14, 2022 at 10:30 PM
I tried these today and these were amazing with salted butter and dark honey. I think darker maple syrups also will taste great. My first try failed because I blended ingredients bit too long in my Vitamix and it turned into roux. I should have paid attention to the slight change in sound just before it turned into cooked dough.
GhaniMay 29, 2022 at 11:58 AM
@ Jennifer: I cook mine on the Lodge 10.5 inch griddle. and I make them with 100% whole wheat, 100% Semolina, or barley. I even tried 100% AP Flour. My ingredients are the same as listed with variations in flour used. and of course the hydration changes with the type of flour used.
Before I use my cast Iron griddle, I make sure it is clear of any debris or roughness. the I heat it up on medium for at least 5 minutes. then I turn the flame off and thinly coat the pan usually with canola oil, then let it cool and whipe it clea n of any oil with a kitchen towel ( you could use paper towesl). the it is time to cook, i drop few drop of olive oil on a towel and wipe the pan quickly before I start the first one. I only use the dry towel to quikly wipe the pan after each Baghrira to knock off any residues…..
Butter could easly burn on a hot cast I ron if too hot , and it is best used when clarified.
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 30, 2022 at 12:54 AM
Ghani thanks for the tips!
GhaniMay 29, 2022 at 12:11 PM
@ Lani :
Yes You definetly could use a good Sourdough starter instead of baker’s yeat. That is how it was done traditionally. in the atlas region. and No blender either, but you have to work the dough gradually by hand from an udehydrated brittle dough form to a lquid sliky smooth batter, then floow the rest of let rest and ferment but not overfermente….
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 30, 2022 at 12:54 AM
GhaniMay 30, 2022 at 8:41 AM
@ Mandy: Just Wow!
Your recipe is with lazer percision:
-I followed it blindly down to the gram, with the exact specified ingredients.[digital scale]
– The water temp of 105. ( Brita filtered tab water Faifax, VA,USA) [digital themometer]
– Blend it on high for exactly 120 seconds(2 mins) [Osterizer blender]
– covered with saran wrap and let it rest/feremnt for 60 mins ( 1 hour).
– Then procedeed to coooking: 12 successful Baghrira /0 failure.
– I used The lodge cast iron Griddle warmed up for 2 minutes on medium flame (USA).
– While coooking, I only minimally adjusted my flame betweem Low and Medium staying most of the time on the half way.
-Thank you very much for this super easy to follow recipe/description
-Thank you even more for keeping it real and simple, as authentic as it gets. It is extremely rare to see such authentic recipe nowdays… ( tons of sugar added to hide the abuse of baking powder, while using baker’s yeast, Adding unnecessary vinegar to hide yeast abuse etc….).
The people of the mountains are generally hrifty and very considerate about all elements in their surroundings.. and also the scarcity of goods did not allow for material abuse, so those people will go to lenght to to strike a delicate balance between simplicity,, Thrift and Delight. which may just prove to be very hard for most of us to grasp in a world of excesses.
(P.S My Mother is from the Middle Atlas region and my father from the Souss region/south)
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 30, 2022 at 11:41 AM
Wow thanks for the precise feedback! Glad you enjoyed it!
Maxine GruenerNovember 11, 2022 at 8:03 AM
Just reading your post about baghir, and wishing that I read this before we arrived Marrakech. We have 3 more days in town, and would love your suggestions for a place to have baghir, and what the name of your riad was?
mandy@ladyandpupsNovember 11, 2022 at 1:08 PM
Hi Maxine, this is the Airbnb link: https://abnb.me/W1jnULEoRub
It’s been a few years so I’m not sure if the female chef is still working there :). Have fun!
IsaFebruary 25, 2023 at 11:57 AM
Oh my goodness! I finally made these and wow, they are good. The flavour is addictive and the chewy texture just has to be experienced. However, despite following your recipe closely, not all went exactly to plan.
I didn’t get a thousand bubbles. I might have seen a few hundred, but not a thousand. And when I had eaten twice as many as I should, I left the rest of the mixture in the fridge for the next day. This second batch had many fewer holes, some literally only two or three! Maybe the gas evaporated overnight, and I probably didn’t leave it out of the fridge long enough to reactivate the yeast before cooking.
I left the initial batter longer than 1–1.5 hours, probably 2. Would that have caused less gas? Or maybe having it in a wide bowl allowed too much surface area for gas to escape the liquid. Or maybe the yeast was a bit old and just not as active.
Also, they took a very long time to get even the faintest ghost of colour on the bottom. Can’t imagine why, as the pan was quite a bit hotter than I would normally use for pancakes.
Anyway, brunch the next day… I wanted to eat them with something savoury but only had staples to hand, so I rolled them around some really good, bitey local cheddar, a chopped kumato, pink salt and a generous grating of Tasmanian mountain pepperberry. I thought they deserved a civilised approach, so I went in with a knife and fork but the baghrir held out! My cutlery is old and the knives no longer sharp. And these little ones are toughies! That chewy texture repels a blade – who knew? But they also happen to: 1 stick together where pancake touches pancake so they stay closed when you roll them up; 2 hold their shape when you bite into them, right to the last; and 3 resist liquid, as no kumato juice dripped out or softened the baghrir. And because they need to be cooled, you have plenty of time to roll them up in a production line while another one is cooking. They would be perfect for a lunch box or picnic, assuming they don’t get soggy after a few hours – some testing required here. I might even experiment with a canapé version, or maybe you might like to!
So definitely a thousand thanks for the recipe, LadyandPups! And my compliments on your absolutely delightful writing. I’m hooked!
mandy@ladyandpupsFebruary 25, 2023 at 1:09 PM
Hi Isa, thanks for the feedbacks! so a few notes: It sounds like your batter had over-fermented/proofed (cuz it’s left out for too long), which cause the bubble to collapse during cooking, even more so the overnight batter. It should really only need 1 hour max of fermenting. Second, it sounds like your skillet wasn’t hot enough to begin with. You should really hear a sizzling sound and it shouldn’t take too long to get a little color. Hope this helps!
IsaFebruary 26, 2023 at 11:22 AM
Thanks so much, Mandy. Agree, I had a few things wrong. I made some today at a hotter flame that finally got some colour. And the bubbles again collapsed during cooking for the batch from batter kept overnight, so it’s over-fermenting. But I’ve also remembered that the yeast is actually quite old, so that’s another one. In fact, amazing that they can still be so delicious and presentable despite all this! Embarrassing though that I can manage three mistakes in a simple trad pancake.