Confession time: I’ve always purchased my tortillas from the store. I’d go to the little Mexican grocery store around the corner of my house and head to the deli counter. If you were in a Jewel, you’d see stacks of S. Rosen’s hot dog buns and Kaiser rolls lining the baseboard. At a Mexican grocery, however, you’ll see large cardboard boxes filled with a daily delivery of tortillas. If you’re lucky, they’ll still be warm . . .
Recently, I decided to test the limits of my culinary skills by making my own at home. What could be better than homemade tortillas, right? I tried my hand at both flour and corn tortillas and here’s what happened:
The recipes were seemingly easy. A few ingredients:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup shortening or lard (you can substitute butter) cold
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup warm water
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Then, using a fork or your hands, cut the shortening into the flour mixture. This is simple, but make sure you crumble the shortening up into tiny pieces.
Add the water, and use your hands to mix it all together until you have a nice dough. If it’s too dry, try adding more water. If it is too wet, add a little more flour. This recipe is very forgiving, so don’t worry too much about exact measurements. After the dough looks about right, let it rest for about one hour. I like to throw a dish towel over the bowl to make sure nothing accidentally falls in.
After the dough’s siesta, roll it into 10-12 golf ball sized pieces. This is the part the whole family can get in on, and it’ll make the process go faster.
Now it’s time to smash those little golf balls into tortillas. Using a tortilla press or a rolling pin, stretch the dough until it’s approximately 1/8 inch thick.
Fire up your griddle or wrought iron pan and go to town. No oil or butter is necessary. Just throw the uncooked tortillas on the hot pan and watch them slowly brown. This process did take some time because I only have one wrought iron pan that would only fit one tortilla at a time. So, I tuned in to some XRT, poured myself some Juju Ginger (by Left Hand Brewing), and pulled up a bar stool next to the stove. The next half hour was pure nirvana as the smell of tortillas filled the kitchen…
I suggest eating these fresh, but they’ll keep in the fridge for a few days.
The next day, I attempted to make corn tortillas. Yep, I say “attempted” and I mean “attempted and failed”. Corn tortillas are a bit less forgiving than their flour counterparts. I had never worked with corn flour before and it does not act like regular wheat flour. Also, you must make sure your proportions of fat and water are right or else you end up with a finished product that does not have the right texture (though some people don’t use fat at all!). I knew what I had done wrong the moment I began cooking them… not enough water.
A tortilla press will make your life easier; though it isn’t completely necessary for successful tortilla making. It’s just a tool that will make things go faster. This is especially true for the corn tortillas. The masa doesn’t make dough like wheat flour does. It is therefore not easy to use a rolling pin to stretch the corn tortilla. It needs to be pressed. I placed my ball of dough between two pieces of wax paper and used a big, flat pot with handles to press it flat. It worked, but not as well as I would have hoped. If you know someone with a tortilla press, borrow it. You can also buy one for under $20 if you think this is something you would like to cook often. For those of us lucky enough to have women and men in the family who know how to shape a tortilla by hand, I would take them up on a lesson.
Becca’s Breakdown (10 is best):
Ease of preparation: 8/10
Availability of ingredients: 10/10
Overall success of culinary endeavor: 6/10 (the quesadillas I made and maxed-out on after I was finished were super yummy)