Last summer, I was incredibly lucky to wake up — and come home — to fresh bread almost every day. Morning after morning, Julia would wake up, fire up the oven and get her dual mixers going to work on testing and co-writing the very first Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook. It was nothing short of magical to find trays and trays of hot-out-of-the-oven flatbreads, rolls, biscuits and all sorts of amazing baked goods every day. Although, baking all those hot breads in our tiny kitchen (before we moved upstate) without air conditioning — and only 2 square feet of counter space — was probably a little less magical for Julia.
All summer I watched this book come to life, and the most remarkable part was getting to hear about, watch and meet the extraordinary women behind these recipes. Part bakery and part workforce training facility, Hot Bread Kitchen works with immigrant women, empowering them with the skills they need to succeed in the culinary industry. Founded by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, Hot Bread Kitchen was actually the result of a funny miscommunication that turned into an incredible idea. After interviewing for a job at a microfinance organization called Women’s World Banking, Jessamyn retold the story of her meeting to a friend who thought she had said Women’s World Baking. The vision of an international women’s baking organization was so exciting that Jessamyn chose to pursue that instead.
Hot Bread Kitchen now employs dozens of incredible women who have immigrated to the United States. These women share delicious recipes from their home countries and work at local green markets (and the HBK storefront inside La Marqueta in Spanish Harlem) to sell these special baked goods to the community. Today we’re sharing one of my favorite recipes from the book, M’smen, a wonderfully buttery Moroccan flatbread that is perfect with just about everything. Traditionally it’s served drizzled with honey, but I loved crisping this up in a pan to serve with eggs in the morning or adding a bit of jam and creme fraiche (Julia’s favorite). If you’d like to learn these recipes and more about the women of Hot Bread Kitchen, you can pick up a copy of their new cookbook, The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World, right here. xo, grace
Photography by Jennifer May
What m’smen means to some HBK bakers: Koutar, one of the Hot Bread Kitchen graduates, makes m’smen, a flaky flatbread eaten with honey, for her husband as often as she can. They are in New York without family, and it is the only thing that makes him less homesick for Morocco, his home country. In fact, many of the women who work at Hot Bread Kitchen start and end their days making flatbreads for their families, even though they spend eight hours baking bread professionally.
Makes 12 (7-inch/18 CM) squares; serves 12
I first tasted m’smen traveling in Morocco. I bought a piece of the tender, buttery, flaky bread drizzled with honey from a street vendor. It was an exquisite culinary experience. So years later, in 2009, when the Arab American Family Support Center referred three strong candidates from Morocco to our training program, my first question was, “Do you know how to make m’smen?” One of the three, Bouchra, taught us how to make the bread and, much to her surprise, it quickly became one of our best sellers. M’smen, also called rghaif or melloui, is often served with Fresh Mint Tea (page 33), but we hear from our customers that they use it for all sorts of things, including making tuna sandwiches. You can mix and divide the dough up to 8 hours before shaping, allowing ample time for the gluten to relax.
– 4 cups/500 g all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
– ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/100 g semolina, plus more for shaping
– 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
– 1¾ cups/400 g water
– 2 teaspoons, plus 6 tablespoons/95 g canola oil, plus more for shaping
– 6 tablespoons/85 g salted butter, melted
1. Put the flour, semolina, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the water and 2 teaspoons/10 g of the oil and, with the mixer on low, mix until everything is well combined, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth, shiny, elastic, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 6 minutes.
2. Generously coat a rimmed baking sheet with oil. Coat a large, smooth work surface with oil (a granite, stainless steel, or Formica countertop is ideal). Transfer the dough to the oiled surface. Using oiled hands, form a ring with your thumb and index finger and use it to squeeze off pieces of the dough into 12 equal balls (each should weigh about 3 ounces/85 g). Put the balls on the oiled baking sheet and roll them around so that they’re coated with oil, but keep the balls separate from one another. Put the entire baking sheet in a large plastic bag or cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put the remaining 6 tablespoons/85 g oil in a small bowl, add the melted butter, and stir to combine.
4. Re-oil the work surface. Working with one piece of dough at a time, use the palm of your hand to flatten the ball and then continue to apply downward pressure with your palm to stretch it out into a rough circle about 10 inches/25 cm across that’s so thin it’s nearly translucent.
Using your hand, cover the surface of the dough with 1 tablespoon of the butter mixture and then sprinkle with a dusting (about 1 teaspoon) of semolina. Use a rubber spatula to lightly mark the midline.
Fold the top of the dough circle down so that the edge extends about ½ inch/1.5 cm beyond the line. Repeat that fold from the bottom so that the two edges overlap the center. Then fold in each of the other sides in the same way to form a 3-inch/7.5 cm square. Transfer the m’smen squares to the oiled baking sheet seam side down and let rest for at least 15 minutes. Form the remaining breads in the same manner, warming the butter mixture if it begins to solidify.
5. Proceeding in the same order in which you formed the breads, put each square on a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper and stretch it with your palm until it has slightly more than doubled in size. If they resist stretching, let them rest a bit more before proceeding. Each finished m’smen should be a 7-inch/ 18 cm square. Cut the parchment so that it extends just slightly beyond the square. Do not stack the breads as you stretch them — they will stick together.
6. Heat a large griddle over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles away almost
7. You can cook as many m’smen at a time as your skillet or griddle will hold. Lay the breads paper side up in the skillet and then peel off the paper as soon as the breads begin to firm; it will come away easily. Cook the m’smen until they turn first translucent and then brown in spots, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack while you continue cooking the rest.
8. M’smen are most delicious eaten warm, but once cooled, they can be stored for up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They freeze well for up to 3 months. Reheat m’smen for 1 minute on each side in a hot dry skillet before serving.