Category Archives: Tortillas

Making Corn Tortillas

For years I avoided making corn tortillas, for the simple reason that I’d never been able to shape them without getting huge cracks. Much later I learned an easy trick that helps the tortilla maker figure out whether the dough has enough water in it. It worked like a charm. Oh, the wasted years. Begin your tortilla-making process by whisking together your masa harina and salt.

Add the water….

..and begin kneading the dough by hand.

Nope, still not enough water. Look at all that dry mix that’s left. So I add a few tablespoons more…

…and work it in. But is the dough wet enough to shape the tortillas?

Here’s how you find out. Take a piece of dough off the main mass…

…roll it into a ball…

…and press it hard against your work surface with the heel of your hand.

Do you see cracks around the edges of the disk? Then it’s not wet enough.

Add a tablespoon of water or so…

…and work it in.

Keep going like that, testing and adding water, until you don’t see any more cracks.

Then you’re ready to roll (or press). Separate the dough into pieces about 1.5 ounces each, then cover them with a towel to keep them from drying out.

At this point you have one of two options. You can press them — either in a tortilla press or with a flat pan or other flat, firm object — or you can roll them, which is what I do for no special reason. Either way, you’ll need some squares of parchment or thick plastic (say, cut from a freezer bag or heavy trash bag). Why? Because these things are a little sticky. Place the ball on one pieces of your paper or plastic…

…cover it with the other one…

…and press it down with your palm.

The just roll it, turning the paper a quarter turn every so often until it’s about 6″ across.

Then just peel back the top layer. Done! Yes, there are little cracks around the edges, but I don’t worry about those. They tell my dinner guests that they’ve got hold of a real homemade tortilla! Which reminds me: there’s a third option for shaping tortillas: just patting them and tossing them between your hands like the little old ladies do in Mexico. It’s an amazing thing to watch, but something I’d never have the skill to do.

You can griddle them as you work or stack them between sheets of plastic if you wish.

When you’re ready to finish them, heat a cast iron skillet or omelette pan to medium heat. Put the tortilla in the pan without any cooking fat or oil, and cook for about 30 seconds.

Flip the tortilla. No, it doesn’t have any pronounced toasted spots on it. Corn tortillas shouldn’t be as crispy as flour tortillas, however we’re going to toast this side a little more in a moment.

After about 45 seconds, flip the tortilla again. When it puffs up — about 15-20 seconds more — you know it’s done.

Cool each one for about a minute on a towel, then transfer them to a stack that you either keep wrapped in a towel or in a tortilla warmer (or both). Bring them warm to the table.

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Making Flour Tortillas

It didn’t even occur to me until I was putting this post together that these might seem a little well-done to some of you. But I like deeply toasted tortillas. Store bought tortillas usually sport a few polite light-tan spots on them. I view those as the flatbread equivalent of par-baked bread loaves, meant to be finished at home. I do so with an aggressive heating, right on a stove burner. What you get is not only a boost in flavor, but a crunchy-soft texture that I find irresistible. When I make tortillas fresh, I cook’em until they blister.

Begin by combining your flour, salt and shortening in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle (you can also do this by hand if you wish).

Mix on medium speed for about three minutes, then with the machine running add the warm water.

Keep mixing for about another three minutes until a dough forms and cleans the sides of the bowl.

Divide the dough into twelve pieces of about three ounces each.

Roll the pieces into balls.

Cover the balls with a towel.

Flour your pastry board and set one of the balls down on it.

Gently roll the dough out (you’ll find it’s a very easy dough to roll). Roll a little, turn the dough, and roll a little more until you have a circle that’s about 10″ across.

You can toast the tortillas on a hot skillet as you make them, or roll them all at once and stack them between sheets of parchment, wax paper or plastic. They’ll keep this way for up to a couple of days.

Heat a pan over medium heat. Then, using no oil or fat of any kind, lay a tortilla in. Cook until the tortilla bubbles up in spots, about a minute. It’s better to cook these at a lower temperature than a higher temperature, because the extra time on the griddle will help to cook out the “cereal” flavor and/or texture that can occur with wheat flour.

Flip the tortilla and toast on the other side for another minute or so.

Cool the tortillas for a minute or so each on a towel, then transfer them to the stack, which you’ll want to keep wrapped in a towel or inside a tortilla warmer. They’re best just after they’re made, though they can be refrigerated or frozen. You will of course need to toast them once again to get them ready to serve. That being the case, if you’re planning to store them, try cooking them low until they’re just barely browned, that way you can re-toast them without the risk of burning them.

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Corn Tortilla Recipe

I wish there was a way to somehow transmute humble corn meal into the masa harina that’s needed for corn tortillas, however there’s really no substitute. Corn masa (dough) comes in two forms: ready made dough which is sold in tubs and is only available in larger cities with established Mexican communities, or dried instant masa, also called masa harina, which you can acquire at many speciality shops or via the internet. Back home in Chicago the fresh dough was easy to find. Here in Kentucky I can still get the instant, which in my view is just as good. Everyone from Quaker to Goya to Maseca makes instant masa, just make sure that whatever you buy says “for tortillas” on it. The recipe goes like this:

8.5 ounces (2 cups) instant tortilla mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
9.25 ounces (1 1/4 cups) water

Whisk together the salt and tortilla mix, then add the water. Knead it together by hand, adding more water as necessary to create a dough that doesn’t crack at the edges when it’s rolled. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, about 1.5 ounces each. Roll the pieces into balls and place under a cloth to keep them from drying out. Using a rolling pin and two pieces of thick plastic (cut from a Ziploc-type freezer bag) or parchment, roll the balls into circles about 6″ across. Griddle the tortillas as you work or stack them between sheets of plastic wrap (you can hold them that way for several hours).

To finish, heat a cast iron skillet or 6″ omelet pan to medium. Apply the tortillas one at a time. Toast for 45 seconds, flip and toast another 45, until small brown spots appear on the underside, then flip once more for a few seconds. When the tortilla starts to puff up, it’s done. Let each tortilla cool on a towel for a minute or so before transferring to the stack, which you’ll want to keep in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in a towel. Deliver to the table warm.

Corn tortillas can be refrigerated, but don’t do as well in the freezer. They’re best made and eaten fresh.

Filed under:  Bread, Corn Tortillas | 2 Comments

Flour Tortilla Recipe

Flour tortillas get a bad rap, widely thought of as “Americanized” tortillas, but they are a staple in many regions of Mexico. Yes they contain fat and yes they contain white flour, but then so do more than a few commercial yeast breads. Combined with some rice, beans and a few pieces of pan-fried plantain, they’re part of Mrs. Pastry’s favorite meal. The recipe goes like this:

12.5 ounces (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
3.5 ounces (scant 1/2 cup) vegetable shortening (or lard, preferably home-rendered, is probably even better, butter is also an option, as is vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, shortening and salt. Mix on medium-low for about 3 minutes until the shortening is incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. With the machine running, add the water and mix another three minutes (alternately, knead by hand for about five minutes).

Divide the dough up into 12 pieces of about an ounce and quarter each. Rolls them into balls and cover them with a towel to keep them from drying out. They can be held for upwards of an hour at this point if you wish. Using a pin and a lightly-floured pastry board, roll them one-by-one into circles about 10″ across. You can griddle them as you go on a cast iron skillet or stack them between pieces of plastic wrap, waxed paper or parchment. Covered, the uncooked dough will keep for a couple of days if you like.

To finish them, heat a 12″ cast iron skillet or omelet pan over medium heat. Lay the tortillas on one at a time, about a minute per side, until they puff up a bit and brown spots appear on them (I like mine more deeply toasted, but it’s up to you). Cool each one for about a minute on a towel, then stack them in a tortilla warmer or wrap them in another towel so they remain toasty for delivery to the table.

Cooled, they can also be refrigerated or frozen. All it takes is a 15-second burst in a microwave to make a cold and rigid tortilla warm and pliable again.

Filed under:  Bread, Flour Tortillas | 8 Comments