Very soon it will be the month of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset, not letting even a drop of water go through their lips. After hard days’ fast come nights of feasting and socialising when people visit each other, bearing gifts and sweets. And if there is a sweet that symbolises this month in the Middle East, it is qatayef (pancakes similar to Scottish muffins but thinner).
You can have them plain, topped with qashtah (clotted cream), pinched half-closed to make them look like cones and drizzled with sugar syrup (in the fancy sweet shops they’ll be garnished with orange blossom jam). Or you can have them filled with cream, walnuts or unsalted cheese, then fried and dipped in sugar syrup. I love them fried, especially if I am having them at my friends, the aptly named Ramadan brothers, whose stall is at top of souk Madhat Pasha on Straight Street in Damascus.
When I was doing the research for my baking book, I kept coming across variations on the same breads throughout the Mediterranean, especially when it came to multi-layered breads. In some countries, the multiple layers are achieved by flattening the dough, folding it, then flattening it again (Moroccan r’ghayef, Tunisian mlawi or Algerian m’hajjib). In others, it is done by flapping the dough in the air to stretch it very thinly, then slapping it against a marble top and folding it (Egyptian fiteer or Turkish katmer), or it is achieved by rolling a disk of dough into a sausage, then squishing the sausage into a ring, and flattening the ring (Moroccan melwi).
Well, as you know I was recently in the Emirates, and while there I came across their own version of warqa which they call regag. They also have their own version of r’ghayef, called mukassab and their version of qatayef or beghrir which they confusingly call lgeimat (used normally to describe saffron-infused fritters drizzled with date syrup).