Baghrir are Moroccan semolina pancakes that are wonderfully light and fluffy. The top is studded with lots of holes that are perfect for holding the traditional honey butter topping (or whatever you choose to serve with them).
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Pancakes are a popular choice for weekend breakfasts in our house. Some current favorites include individual Dutch baby pancakes and banana pancakes.
I also love British pancakes, but I tend to save those for Shrove Tuesday, more out of tradition than anything. However we are always up for trying new pancakes to add to our weekend rotation, and these are a great one to add in there. They're super easy, light, and the perfect vessel for toppings.
Where are the origins of baghrir?
While I subtitled these "Moroccan pancakes", you will find these enjoyed in Tunisia and Algeria as well. The exact origins are unclear, with both Morocco and Algeria laying claim. They may both, to an extent, be right, as the pancakes are understood to date back centuries to the Berber, the native people of North Africa who occupied the region across modern Morocco and Algeria.
The name "baghrir" (or beghrir) is apparently a Tamazight word, one of the Berber languages, meaning "too soft". They also go by other names locally, and have slight differences in how they are made and served, but essentially they are soft, spongy pancakes, characterized by lots of tiny holes on top. In fact, they are sometimes called "thousand hole pancakes".
The general idea of these spread around the region and you may have come across qatayef in the Middle East which have similar ingredients and texture but are stuffed.
Why do baghrir have lots of holes on top?
You may think on first glance these are related to crumpets with the many holes on one side. There do have a bit in common, especially as the holes comes from two main things.
Firstly, they have a reasonably high amount of leavening, in particular you traditionally include yeast in the mixture. Secondly, you only cook the pancakes on one side, allowing the bubbles to pop on the upper side, creating the little holes.
And why are the little holes a good thing? Well, they trap whatever you pour over the pancakes or dip them in, for an extra delicious mouthful.
A short list of ingredients
These pancakes have a relatively short list of ingredients, though a couple of them may seem unusual compared to other pancakes you may be familiar with. Baghrir are made with either just semolina flour or a combination of semolina and regular all purpose flour.
To help the pancakes rise, you use a combination of yeast and baking powder, along with a little salt. You add warm water to bring the batter together, and help activate the yeast.
In the past, you would need to leave the mixture longer as you only used yeast as leavening. However in more modern versions you typically use a combination of yeast and baking powder so it's quicker. The baking powder gives the initial lift, and the yeast works to help the bubbles that become the holes form. (Or at least I believe that's how it works, but either way, it does!)
What is semolina and what kind do you need here?
Semolina is made from durum wheat which is a hard variety of wheat common around the Mediterranean. Durum wheat has a higher protein content than some other varieties so develops gluten more strongly. This is part of why it's often used for pastas, as it is easier to work with, being drier and more elastic.
Another part of what makes semolina different is that it has a lovely flavor that's slightly nutty and a gently yellow color which both add a little something to whatever you make with it.
Generally, you distinguish between semolina, which is a coarser grind more like a fine cornmeal, and semolina flour which is finer. The coarser semolina is what you might use to dust the dough or baking sheet before baking breads or English muffins, and for gnocchi alla Romana. The finer flour is what you use in the dough of pizza and breads. For pasta, you might use either but you will have a bit of a different texture.
Here, you want to use semolina flour. And while it may not always be possible, you want to look for a fine semolina flour if available. Even semolina flour is often coarser than regular flour, which is great in some uses for texture. However here finer is better for the light, spongy texture.
Can you make baghrir without semolina flour?
As mentioned, the semolina does make a difference to the flavor and color of the pancakes, and the higher protein also helps the texture as well. Semolina is definitely a key feature, with some recipes using just semolina, while others combine it with other flour, as I have here.
So I do recommend using semolina flour in these, which is available in most larger stores, as well as online. However if it's not available, about your best option as an alternative would be using some bread flour which has a higher protein content than all purpose, even if it's not quite the same flavor and color-wise.
How to make Moroccan pancakes
These pancakes are really easy to make as you simply blend all of the ingredients together in a blender. While for some pancakes you want to make sure you don't over-mix, that's not the case here. The mixture is relatively thin, and so blending helps it become very smooth.
The other part that is unusual, compared to some other pancakes, is you then leave the mixture to rest for a short while. This is because the mixture includes yeast and so you need to give it a bit of time to activate with the semolina.
It's easiest to cook these one at a time as they cook quickly plus the batter also spreads relatively wide. Cook over a medium heat and ideally in a non-stick skillet (frying pan) or crepe pan. You can make them different sizes, but if you use an 8 inch (20cm) skillet, you can let the batter spread to the edges.
Only cook the pancakes on one side until the top is dry and riddled with little holes. If the holes don't seem to be forming properly, then the batter may well be too thick, so try thinning with a little more water.
How to serve baghrir
These can be served at various times of day and in various ways, some depnding on where you are. They can be served for breakfast, but also as a snack alongside mint tea or coffee, and are popular for iftar during Ramadan. Typically, you serve them either with something drizzled on them or dipped in something.
One of the most popular choices is honey butter, which is simply equal amounts of honey and butter melted together (as described below). Other common choices are jam or orange blossom water with cinnamon or sugar. You can also serve them in a more savory way with olive oil.
If you happen to have leftovers, you can store these in the fridge for a day or two, or freeze them for longer storage. To store, make sure you separate the pancakes to stop them sticking to each other. You can use layers of either cling wrap/film, parchment or foil between them, before wrapping as a whole to store.
Then, just reheat them gently in the skillet (defrosting first, if frozen) to warm them through and serve.
Baghrir are traditional Moroccan semolina pancakes that have a wonderfully special texture. They are soft, light and the tiny holes on top make them sponge-like and perfect to take in whatever tasty toppings you use. A wonderful breakfast, snack, dessert or whatever you enjoy them as. But you'll be sure to enjoy!
Try these other traditional Moroccan recipes:
- Harira (Moroccan lentil and chickpea soup)
- Zaalouk (eggplant salad/dip)
- Loubia (stewed white beans)
- Chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives
- Plus get more North African recipes and breakfast recipes in the archives.
Baghrir, Moroccan pancakes
- 2 cups water lukewarm (ie gently warm but not so warm it would stop the yeast working)
- 1 ½ cups semolina flour
- ⅓ cup all purpose flour plain flour
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
For honey butter, to serve
- 3 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoon honey
- Place the water, semolina flour, all purpose/plain flour, yeast, baking powder, salt and sugar in a blender. Blend everything together so well combined. If you don't have a blender, you can also blend by hand using a whisk - if mixing by hand, I suggest mixing the dry ingredients first, then add the water and mix. If using blender, you are generally best to add water first as you add everything to stop it sticking, though either way it's worth stirring and blending a little more to ensure well mixed. The mixture should be thin-looking for pancakes but a little thicker than for crepes.
- Leave the mixture to rest at room temperature for around 30 minutes.
- Towards the end of the rest time, you can make the honey butter for serving. You can either gently warm both the butter and honey over a low heat in a small pan and stir to mix as the butter melts. Alternatively, melt the butter in a microwavable bowl in the microwave, warming in 10 - 15 second intervals. Once almost all melted, add the honey and warm a final 10 seconds or so, stir well to mix, and if needed warm gently again. Note the mixture will separate more when it is warmer, then the ingredients combine more as it cools back down, so stir now and then as it cools.
- Once the pancake batter has rested, lightly grease a small skillet/frying pan (I use an 8 inch/20cm skillet) with butter and warm over a medium heat.
- Add around ¼ cup (60ml) of the pancake batter in the middle of the skillet and let the mixture spread. Leave it to cook without turning until the top becomes completely dry. You should have lots of small bubbles on the top of the pancake almost as soon as the batter starts to cook, that then turn into holes. If you don't have that, you may need to add a little extra water to the batter to thin it. The pancake is ready when dry on top and gently brown underneath. If the sides dry too much and curl up, the heat is probably too high so reduce the heat.
- Repeat with the rest of the batter to make the rest of the pancakes, setting aside to keep warm in between, then serve with the honey butter (warm it agian if needed if it cools too much and the butter solidifies).
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