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Sunday, May 1, 2011


Tortillas from Scratch

No store-bought, plastic-wrapped tortilla can compare to a homemade one hot off the griddle or comal.

One of the definitive elements of Latin American cuisine is the tortilla, a simple, round flatbread made with treated corn flour or white flour.

Corn Flour

Corn tortillas are made with a type of specially treated corn flour called masa harina. To make masa harina, whole corn kernels are boiled with an alkali until the hulls loosen and float to the top. The kernels are then drained, crushed, and dried. The resulting flour is mixed with water and kneaded into a pliable dough in order to make tortillas. You can find dry masa harina at many supermarkets. At specialty stores and Mexican grocers, you may even find fresh masa, which needs to be used right away.

    Making Corn Tortillas

    Even though they're such a simple item, it takes years of practice before cooks can effortlessly make a perfect tortilla. (A tortilla press makes flattening the rounds much easier.) For corn tortillas, divide the dough into small balls--about the size of a walnut. Keep the dough wrapped in plastic while you work with one piece at a time.
    The best way to bake the tortillas is to use a cast iron griddle--the kind that stretches across two burners of your stove. Two cast iron skillets will work, as well.
    • Heat one burner to medium-high and one to medium. There's no need to add oil to the pans: you aren't frying the tortillas, just heating them until the dough is cooked but they're still pliable, not crisp.
    • If you have a tortilla press, flatten the dough and begin baking. If you're using your hands, the easiest way to flatten the masa balls is to use a gallon-sized plastic freezer bag to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter.
    • Flatten the dough in between the sheets of plastic into a round as thin as you can make it without tearing. Peel it from the plastic and transfer it to the hottest griddle.
    • To lay the tortillas in the pan, your knuckles will be close to the heat source, but don't panic: working from left to right, lay the left-hand edge of the tortilla onto the griddle, and gently sweep your hand away--don't jerk it. The edge of the tortilla will stick to the griddle, so as you move your hand, the tortilla will fall into place in the pan.
    • After about a minute on the hot griddle, flip the tortilla over into the cooler skillet.
    • Using tongs--or your fingers, if you're brave and heat-tolerant--gently touch the center of the tortilla until it starts to puff slightly.
    • The tortilla should be done, developing brown spots, after 30 seconds to a minute.
    • Wrap the hot tortillas in a clean kitchen towel while you shape and bake the rest of the dough.

    Making Flour Tortillas

    Flour tortillas are different from corn tortillas in that they contain wheat flour rather than corn flour, and include additional ingredients like shortening or lard and sometimes a pinch of baking powder. These pale cousins of the corn tortilla are usually made larger and thinner because the gluten in the wheat flour allows the dough to be stretched without falling apart, plus the fat in the dough keeps them from cracking and tearing. They can be flattened with a rolling pin. To bake them, follow the process outlined above for corn tortillas.

    This recipe, I learned from watching my Mom , however, nobody (not even my Mom) knows how much of every ingredient you are supposed to use, so I experimented with different amounts of ingredients and came up with this one, which is pretty good and not so loaded with fat. This is great to do with kids on the weekend, and something you can enjoy anytime!"


    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 4 cups whole wheat bread flour
    • 1/2 cup shortening
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
    • all-purpose flour for rolling


    1. In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup all-purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, and salt. Rub in the shortening by hand until the mixture is the texture of oatmeal. Make a well in the center, and pour in the boiling water. Mix with a fork until all of the water is evenly incorporated. Sprinkle with a bit of additional flour, and knead until the dough does not stick to your fingers. The dough should be smooth.
    2. Make balls the size of golf balls, about 2 ounces each. Place them on a tray, and cover with a cloth. Let stand for at least 1 hour, or up to 8 hours.
    3. Heat a griddle or large frying pan over high heat. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a tortilla to your preferred thinness. Fry one at a time. Place on the griddle for 10 seconds, as soon as you see a bubble on the top, flip the tortilla over. Let it cook for about 30 seconds, then flip and cook the other side for another 30 seconds. Roll out the next tortilla while you wait for that one to cook. Repeat until all of the balls have been cooked. Tortillas can be refrigerated or frozen.