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Nancya,

Here's a recipe for corn tortillas.

For about 15 tortillas

1 pound fresh masa for tortillas
OR 1 3/4 cups masa harina for tortillas (such as Maseca brand) mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water

1. The dough. For fresh masa, knead the dough with a little cool water until soft and easily malleable (I think it feels like soft Play-Doh or cookie dough); add water a tablespoon at a time and stop before the dough becomes sticky. Cover with plastic wrap.

For reconstituted masa harina, cover the masa harina-water mixture and let stand 30 minutes, then work in cool water, a tablespoon at a time, until dough is as soft as you can get it without being sticky; it will feel a little grittier, less puttylike than fresh masa, and it should feel slightly softer than masa when the proper amount of water has been worked in. Cover with plastic wrap.

2. Pressing and unmolding the tortillas. Divide the dough into 15 balls and cover with plastic wrap. Heat an ungreased double-size griddle (one that fits over two burners) or 2 ungreased large skillets so that one end of the griddle (or one skillet) is between medium-low and medium, the other end (or other skillet) is at medium-high. (If you're using cast iron, the heat will build as you're making tortillas, so you'll likely have to adjust the temperatures downward as you work.)

Cut 2 squares of medium-heavy plastic from a ziploc bag (at our restaurant, we cut up a medium-weight garbage bag) to fit over the plates of your tortilla press (a little bigger than the plates is fine). Open the press (if you're right-handed, you'll want the opened top plate to your left, the pressure handle to your right) and lay 1 square of plastic on the bottom plate. Center a ball of dough on the plastic, flattening it a little with your hand to make it stick, and cover with the other square of plastic. Close the top plate, then fold the pressure handle over onto the top plate and press down somewhat firmly. (Knowing just how hard to press will take a little practice -- too light and you'll have an uneven, thick tortilla; too heavy and it'll be too thin to get off the plastic.) You're looking for a round that is 5 to 6 inches in diameter and less than 1/8 inch thick.

Fold back the pressure handle, open the top plate, and, while the plastic-wrapped tortilla is still lying on the bottom plate, take hold of the top piece of plastic and quickly pull it off. Now, pick up the tortilla by the plastic with one hand, and flip it over, uncovered side down, onto the slightly separated fingers of your other hand -- it'll cover your fingers and half your palm. (If you're right-handed, I suggest that you pick up the plastic and tortilla with your left hand and flip it onto your right. As you get good at all this, work to align the top of the tortilla with the top of your index finger, with the circle extending just slightly past the tip of your middle finger; this will leave an inch or two of tortilla hanging down below your little finger.)

Starting at one edge, quickly peel the remaining plastic off the tortilla (go too slowly and you'll risk ripping the tortilla), leaving the raw, flattened disc of masa on your hand. If the dough is too soft, you'll have difficulty peeling off the plastic; to correct the problem, work a little masa harina into the dough and continue.

3. Baking the tortillas. Lay the tortilla on the cooler end of the griddle (or cooler skillet). Now, the practiced hand of most Mexican señoras will get that tortilla on the griddle in a flash with a deft, swift move that seems just the opposite of what you'd expect. Rather than turning her hand over to release the tortilla onto the griddle, she moves her hand (held at a 45-degree angle to the griddle) away from her, letting the overhanging portion of the tortilla go down first, then quickly rolling her hand out from underneath the tortilla (the movement looks as though she's brushing something off the griddle with the back of her hand), letting it smoothly fall flat. It looks easy, but practically all of us North Americans get to the "sweeping" part, think we're going to burn the backs of our hands (especially the backs of our little fingers), and jerk straight up rather than away from us, leaving behind a ripped or folded-over tortilla. You simply need to summon your courage -- realize that feeling the heat on the back of your hand isn't the same thing as burning yourself -- and just learn to do it. Turning your hand over to release a tortilla this size onto the griddle usually gives you a rippled tortilla that's impossible to cook evenly. (A word of advice: Try pressing, unmolding and laying the tortillas on your countertop before you start with the griddle. You can scrape up the dough, roll it back into a ball and do it all again. You'll notice that once you have that unmolded tortilla on your hand, you need to
get it off and onto the counter or griddle quickly or it will start to stick to your fingers.)

When you lay the tortilla on the griddle, it will immediately stick. If you have your temperature right, it'll release itself within 15 seconds, at which point you should flip it (with your fingers a la mexicana or with a spatula) onto the hotter surface. (If the heat is too low, the tortilla will dry out before it releases itself; if too high, it'll blister. Both translate to "not great texture.")

In 30 to 45 seconds, the tortilla should be speckled brown underneath. (If it browns faster, the temperature's too hot.) Flip it over, still on the hotter surface, and brown the other side for another half minute or so. A perfect tortilla is one that balloons up like pita bread after this second flip -- something you can encourage by lightly pressing on the tortilla with your fingertips or spatula. Or, you can encourage ballooning, as many Mexicans do, by stacking a finished tortilla or two onto one that's just been flipped.

Always taste your first tortilla: If the dough is too dry, the texture will be heavy (it'll probably have cracked around the edges when pressed, too).

As tortillas are finished, collect them in a cloth-lined basket. They're best after they've rested together for about 10 minutes (and steamed from their own heat), but still have the original heat of the griddle.

This is an excerpt from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.

Would you prefer flour tortillas?
 

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You're welcome, Nancya.

Hope everything goes well.

:p
 
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