When I need to stress bake, I turn to sweet doughs. I was baffled when the internet at large decided to cope with All Of This by making sourdough bread, because even though playing God with yeast is pretty rad, it’s not a bread that requires the sort of care and attention sweet doughs need. With sourdough, you beat it in a mixer, proof it, bake it, and post it on Instagram. Most of that so-called stress baking is just waiting around, and I don’t see how you can relieve any sort of tension when you’re barely getting your hands dirty.
I like things that take time and energy, recipes that require leaps of faith and plenty of moxie: the enriched doughs in my pain-in-the-ass cinnamon rolls and pain-in-the-ass-ier sticky toffee sticky buns whose glossy, buttery brilliance lays across your hands like a weighted velveteen blanket, or the crispy laminated doughs I use for sweet pies and beef Wellington pot pie, which require the meditative swooping movements of my rolling pin. Back in January I had a hell of a lot of fun in the kitchen when I learned to make Portuguese egg tarts, whose shatteringly crisp shells are the result of a type of dough lamination I’d never worked with before. Now, in the final week of October, my stress baking needs are officially at DEFCON 1, and I require a new dough to play with. This recipe is just what I needed, and it’s just what you need, too.
These pancakes are a hybrid of two things I love: Moroccan msemen and almond croissants. Msemen are square pancakes made by rolling out dough into paper-thin sheets, dotting with butter, folding up like a booklet, and pan-frying until golden. Unlike croissants, which are so fussy to make they practically disqualify themselves from the stress baking category, msemen are rather easy to make, and extremely fun. The magic is made possible by an ungodly amount of oil, which is used to lube up your pin, your rolling surface, and yourself; this lets the dough slip and slide with ease, and lets you easily roll it so thin you can practically see straight through it. I assure you that in spite of all that oil and butter, these pancakes are not the least bit greasy, which makes them extra miraculous.
If you don’t have it in you to eat 16 pancakes at once, keep them in a gallon-sized ziptop bag in the freezer; you can quickly zap pancakes in the microwave whenever you need a snack that’s not only tasty, but also kinda classy. I’ve been making these for weekend breakfasts alongside my ultra-rich hot chocolate, which is so damn decadent that it instantly brings my stress levels down to DEFCON 3.
- 4 cups flour
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 3/4 tsp. instant yeast
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
- 3/4 cup or so of neutral flavored oil, like grapeseed or canola, kept in a small bowl
- 1 cup almond flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 stick butter, softened
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer affixed with the hook attachment and set it to medium speed. Slowly stream in the water, stopping as soon as a smooth dough forms with nary a dry bit to be seen. (You might need to use a tiny bit less or a tiny bit more water than called for, so go slow and trust your gut. If you think you may have added a bit too much water, add more flour a teaspoon at a time until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl). Beat the dough for about one minute until it’s smooth, shiny, and balls up around the hook.
Line a sheet pan with plastic wrap, then dip your hands in the bowl of oil and smear them across the plastic. Plop the dough out onto the pan; it will be quite sticky. Put a bit more oil onto your hands, rub it on the outside of the dough, then roll the dough into a log and divide into 16 relatively even pieces. Roll each into a ball, spread out onto the pan, cover with another sheet of plastic wrap, and set aside on the counter for one hour.
In a dry nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast the almond flour for about 4 minutes, stirring often with a silicone spatula. When it begins to brown, add the sugar with a hefty pinch of kosher salt and continue cooking while stirring for another 2 minutes or so, until the almond flour is a lovely toasty brown and intensely fragrant. Immediately remove the mixture to a plate, spreading out so it can cool.
Before you begin shaping the pancakes, get your workstation ready so you don’t make a slightly messy project into a massively messy one. First, clean your countertop well, and whip out your favorite dough-rollin’ board if you have such a thing. Above your board, put the bowl of oil, a small plate with the softened stick of butter, and the almond filling. On one side of the board, put the dough balls, and on the other, another lightly oiled, plastic-wrap-lined sheet pan. Also grab a rolling pin, and a small spoon for the almond filling.
Dunk your hands in the oil, and smear a good amount on the board and rolling pin. Grab a dough ball and roll out into a square-ish shape that’s nearly paper- thin; if you tear the dough while first getting the hang of things, just ball it up and roll out again. Take a few chickpea-sized pieces of butter and lightly smear them over the pancake, leaving visible streaks, then sprinkle a scant spoonful of the almond filling onto the pancake. Spread the filling out with your fingers into a thin layer, then fold the pancake like an envelope into thirds. Flatten the dough a bit by slapping it quickly and repeatedly; you’re not looking to mush the layers together, so slapping is preferable to a rolling pin. Put another dollop of butter on your index finger, smear it down the center of the dough rectangle, then sprinkle on a bit more almond filling, then fold it in thirds again (this time from the opposite sides) to make a small square. Flip the pancake over, lightly pinch the ends together, then move to the sheet pan. Repeat until all 16 pancakes have been formed. (Here’s a good video that shows how the folding works.)
Put any remaining butter into a small bowl and microwave until melted. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Smear a bit more oil onto your hands and the board, then put a few pancakes down on the board and slap until they become roughly 6" squares. Brush with a thin layer of melted butter, then, working in batches, cook the pancakes in the skillet for about 4 minutes, flipping after every minute, until golden brown on both sides. Continue until all the pancakes are cooked.