By: Ruben Urias
It’s all about the tortilla! Whether you are munching on the tiniest of palm sized corn tortillas for tacos al carbon, or a giant sobaquera or sonorencia for a tasty burrito, the ever versatile Mexican tortilla has penetrated the menus of restaurants and homes alike. In fact, it has gained such popularity in America and elsewhere that even fast food giants—for better or for worse—have embraced its utility.
However, despite their wide-spread use and popularity, many people have never tasted a fresh made tortilla. Sadly, their tortilla exposure has been limited to the grocery store name-brands, or other poor imitations. In much the same way that sliced bread has regrettably overshadowed French baguettes in American markets, tortillas are suffering the same fate. But there is hope.
For starters, you can make flour tortillas in the comfort of your own kitchen. In fact, making fresh tortillas at home is surprisingly simple and requires only a few, common ingredients that are likely in your pantry as we speak. With a basic recipe, and a little effort on your part, you will be able to experience tortillas as they were meant to be enjoyed—hot off the stove! And for those who have already experienced a fresh from the stove tortilla, and slathered it in butter, they would agree that going back to store-bought varieties will be near impossible. As word spreads and more people become aware of what real tortillas taste like, maybe, just maybe, the poor imitations will begin to fall by the wayside.
Basic Flour Tortillas
Servings: 1 dozen
3 c. All-purpose flour
¼ c. Lard or Shortening
1 tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Baking Powder
1 c. Hot water (approx. 150F-180F); have additional ¼ to ½ c. reserved as needed.
First, briefly mix all dry ingredients by hand in a large mixing bowl.
Add your lard or fat of choice. I personally feel that lard provides the best results in terms of flavor and texture, but shortening is just fine.
Combine the lard with the flour using a rub-and-drop technique. You do this by pinching together a small handful of flour and lard between your thumb and fingers. Rub the flour and lard together letting the ingredients drop back into the bowl. Repeat this process until your flour has a slight gravely appearance—approximately 1 minute.
Add the hot water to the bowl. Mix ingredients together, at first, with a sturdy spatula or spoon. This will let the sticky mixture cool down enough for you to eventually knead by hand.
Once the mixture has cooled off sufficiently, knead the dough, or masa, by hand to combine the rest of the flour and water. Do not knead vigorously as we are simply trying to combine the flour and water into a smooth dough.
If after kneading for approximately 1-2 minutes you begin to see bits of dough and flour collecting at the bottom of the bowl, add a teaspoon or two of the reserved hot water and continue kneading. Repeat as needed until all the dough comes together.
Once you have successfully combined the flour and water into a single mass, knead it for just a minute or two more to create a dough that is smooth in appearance. If the masa feels stiff, feel free to wet your hands with tap water and knead to loosen it.
To divide the dough, the easiest way to ensure equal portions is to roll the masa by hand on your work surface into a coarse cylinder of equal diameter. Cut this in half at its center point. Cut each of these pieces in half again. Now, divide these four pieces into three golf ball sized pieces each—giving you 12 pieces of masa.
You should rest your masa at room temperature for 20 minutes to 1 hour prior to shaping. One of the best ways to rest the dough is to first coat your hands lightly with some lard. Then, roll each piece of masa into smooth, uniform balls and place back into the mixing bowl. You will probably need to recoat your hands after rolling two or three pieces. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel to prevent drying.
To shape your tortillas, take a ball of masa and flatten it by hand onto your work surface—dust with flour if needed. Using a rolling pin, roll out your tortilla. Turn and flip the tortilla every few strokes or so to help maintain a round shape. When your tortilla has reached about 6-7 inches across, take it off your work surface and stretch it by hand to its final shape.
There are a number of ways to stretch your tortilla. The easiest method to learn is to simply rest the tortilla on the palm of one hand, and lightly pull the bottom edge of the tortilla with the other hand. Rotate 45 to 90 degrees, and repeat until it reaches the desired thickness, size, and shape. Generally, your tortilla should be between 8 and 9 inches across, and thin enough that the outline and color of your palm begin to show through the center.
Cook the tortillas on a griddle over moderate-high heat. Set the tortilla flat on the griddle, and leave it there for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the temperature. Flip the tortilla with a spatula, or by hand. The cooked side should look white, not waxy, with a few light brown spots. Cook the second side for another 30 seconds or 1 minute, until cooked through. Remove the tortilla from the griddle and place it in a towel lined tortilla warmer, or simply place it in clean, folded kitchen towel.
Test this first tortilla, preferably with butter, to make sure the thickness is to your liking. The thinner the tortilla, the faster it will cook, but also the faster it can over cook. Be sure to watch the temperature of the griddle as well. If the heat is too high, you will get black spots, not brown, and the center will crisp before the edges cook through. If the heat is too low, your tortillas will barely turn white and will look waxy. But if everything is to your liking, you are done! Finish rolling out the rest of the masa and enjoy.
The balls of masa can sit refrigerated for up to 3 days before loss of quality. Cooked tortillas will last for 3-5 days in a towel lined tortilla warmer or a paper towel lined Ziploc bag.