Category Archives: Corn 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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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