Saturday, May 30, 2009

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Pronounced “tor-TEE-yah,” the tortilla is the mainstay of Mexican cuisine. Not only eaten as a bread, tortillas are an integral part of Mexican cooking, the basis for such delicious fare as burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and fajitas.

Most American cooks have all-purpose flour in their kitchens, so this recipe is for flour tortillas. Corn tortillas are actually made from masa harina, not cornmeal or corn flour, a product that may not be readily available outside of California and the Southwest. If you can get masa harina, by all means try corn tortillas…there should be a recipe on the side of the package.

Flour tortillas don’t require much work and they are delicious. Leftovers can be easily reheated on a hot, dry skillet, but not in the microwave, as they will get crisp and hard as soon as they begin to cool. When using as a wrap, whether in Mexican cuisine like a burrito or in something trendy, warm the tortilla first to make it flexible enough to roll without cracking or breaking.

Flour Tortillas

(makes 12)


2 cups flour

1 cup warm water

¼ cup lard (shortening can be substituted)

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Prepare dough:

Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. (You can shake it through a sieve if you don’t have a flour sifter.)

Add lard and cut into flour. If you don’t have a pastry cutter, use two table knives, one in each hand, in a scissors-motion. Continue cutting lard into flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Lumps of lard should be no larger than a small pea.

Slowly add ¾ cup of water while mixing it in with a fork. Grease your hands with lard to keep the dough from sticking, and gather the dough up into a ball. If it is too dry to stick together, add more water, a little at a time, until dough holds together but is not sticky to the touch.

Knead the dough about 20 times on a floured board. With a sharp knife, cut dough in half. Cut each half into thirds, then cut each third in half. You will have 12 pieces of dough. Roll each piece of dough into a ball. Cover the dough and allow to rest for about 20 minutes. Dough can be refrigerated for later use at this point.

While the dough is resting:

Prepare a place for the cooked tortillas to rest: a plate with a lint-free towel placed on it, a second lint-free towel nearby to cover the hot tortillas as they come off the grill. This will keep them hot and flexible.

Roll the dough:

Take a ball and flatten in between your hands. Place on a floured board and roll with a floured rolling pin (if you don’t have a rolling pin, a straight-sided bottle filled with water and capped will work). Roll to a thickness of no more than ⅛ inch.

Cook on dry hot griddle or skillet (see below). Roll and cook only one tortilla at a time: if you stack uncooked tortillas, they will stick together.

Cook the tortillas:

Use a griddle or heavy skillet. Do not use any oil. Heat pan until a drop of water bounces and skitters when flicked onto the cooking surface.

Place a tortilla on the cooking surface and watch closely. When the surface begins to bubble and the bubbles inflate, turn the tortilla. Cook until they are not doughy, but remove from heat before they begin to burn. Brown spots on the tortilla are normal.

Place the cooked tortilla on a towel-covered plate and cover with another towel. When second tortilla is done, place it atop the first and cover with the towel.

Serve hot.

To reheat:

Heat a dry griddle or heavy skillet until a drop of water bounces and skitters when flicked onto the cooking surface. Place cold tortilla on cooking surface, turning several times until heated through. Place hot tortilla on a towel-covered plate and cover with another towel.

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