One stack of these spongy pancakes isn’t enough
When a plate of beghrir is placed in front of you, the dish might at first appear to be delicate. Covered with holes like the craggy surface of the moon, these yeasted Moroccan pancakes seem like they’d tear easily, yielding to whatever fruit or cheese they’re served with. This is not the case. Like Injera, a teff-based sourdough flatbread native to the Horn of Africa, beghrir are sturdy enough to be picked up and eaten by hand. But when they're completely covered in sticky toppings, you may prefer flatware.
Beghrir, also spelled baghrir, are often called Moroccan pancakes when the recipe is written in English. The dish is served throughout Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. When made properly, the pancakes’ surface forms dozens of tiny holes, creating a spongy texture perfect for soaking up condiments—traditionally a honey butter or jam.
“It’s kind of like a yeasted crepe batter,” Melia Marden, chef of The Smile in New York City, told me over a breakfast of the pancakes at her cafe’s new Smile To Go location at the Freehand Hotel. “You cook it on one side and it forms all these bubbles because of the yeast, so it has a texture.” Marden explained that she ate beghrir during a recent trip to Marrakech, and immediately knew she had to create her own version at The Smile. Though Marden makes her pancakes with all-purpose flour, beghrir can also be made with semolina or durum flour as well.
In Marrakech, Marden saw the pancakes served at room temperature with almond honey and a fresh, spreadable cheese. When she decided to make an American adaptation of the dish, she wanted to touch on all the notes that made the dish so special in Marrakech (the unique textures and deep flavors) while making a point to highlight seasonal crops in the New York area. Marden’s pancakes—simply known as “Moroccan pancakes” on Smile To Go’s menu—are topped with housemade ricotta and rhubarb compote. “We’re going to change the fruit topping by season, we think maybe grilled peaches in the summer,” Marden said. Perhaps the most creative topping also served on Marden’s pancakes is her pistachio honey, a riff on the almond honey she had in Marrakech. She heats olive oil, pistachios, and honey slowly until the mixture turns a golden-green hue and takes on a deep, almost caramelized flavor.
Beghrir aren’t hard to make. In fact, once the batter is ready, you need no more than a hot nonstick skillet for frying. The pancakes cook only on one side, and then are slid out onto the serving plate. Marden explained that the only tricky thing is how sensitive a yeasted batter is to its environment, especially when it comes to the temperature of the ingredients and of the air in the kitchen. For example, if the water used to activate the dry active yeast in the batter is too warm, it may slightly alter the end result. “Also, the bubbles can change over time, like if you make the pancakes right away, the bubbles might be smaller or bigger,” Marden said. “It’s not super-precise, and I kind of love that.”