This week, I learned to make homemade flour tortillas, because I was so disappointed with the ones I brought home from the store. As Bridget Lancaster puts it, “Sometimes it can be a little difficult to taste the difference between store-bought flour tortillas and the wrapper in which they’re sold.”
I’m an experienced bread baker, so rolling pins don’t frighten me. The only thing I did fear is that making tortillas would be a time suck. It’s not. There is an hour wait time (which can be stretched to three days) with only brief bits of not-especially-hard stuff on either side of it. I’ve never had a store-bought tortilla that can compare to these.
Ingredients for 10-12 seven-inch tortillas:
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp salt
½ tps baking powder (optional, but recommended)
¼ cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1 Tbs vegetable oil
½ cup warm water
Mix dry ingredients. Cut in shortening (which sounds like work, but it happens practically by itself, in all of 30 seconds). Sprinkle with oil. Pour water over the mixture, and mix/knead by hand just until the dough becomes a coherent mass: about 30 seconds of very light mixing and perhaps 10 seconds of easy, in-the-bowl kneading. Wrap in plastic and let rest an hour. Cut dough into chunks of about 1⅓-1½ oz. each (10 to 12 chunks). Form each dough piece into a tight ball. Roll the balls into very thin circles – I’m talking paper thin – about 7 inches across. Fry over medium heat in a dry pan until bubbles begin to form. Flip. Both sides of the tortilla should have brown or even charred spots when done. Place between tea towels to keep warm.
- Most tortillas call for lard. I prefer vegetable shortening because it’s easier to come by, easy to stock in small quantities, and I’m more culturally familiar with it. It works beautifully in a tortilla.
- You can swap out the shortening for half as much bacon fat. (In other words, instead of using ¼-cup shortening, use 2 Tbs bacon fat.) If your bacon fat is refrigerated, melt it first. Read more about bacon fat tortillas, below.
- “Warm” water should be, in this case, about 110°F. If having to use a thermometer is a deal-breaker for you, no worries. I’m talking about “bath water” hot. In other words, your tap can produce water this hot … unless your tap can make water so hot that you can’t keep your hand in it – in that case, keep yourself a few degrees shy of that.
- You can swap the water for an equal amount of milk. Milk tenderizes flour and simultaneously enriches it. Your tortillas will be heavenly soft with a texture that is so pleasant to bite into, you will understand immediately that you have never had such a fantastic tortilla. Tortillas made with milk are richer (more delicious and satisfying) than those made with water. Tortillas made with water are flakier, with hints of crispishness, and, although they’re quite delicious, have a kind of graceful attitude that lets you focus not on them, but on the stuff you fill them with. Tortillas made with water … if they were to pair up with something other than a savory filling, it’d be experimental (which, don’t be fooled, can be epic). Milk-made tortillas, on the other hand, i get the feeling they like to get together with sweet things on the down-low. That doesn’t mean they’re not still savory. Don’t be surprised when life doesn’t turn out to fit into that nice, neat little box you’re trying to keep it in.
- Rolling nice circles takes experience. The tighter your initial ball, though, the easier it is. This post is full of links to videos of people making tortillas. Watch them closely.
- It seems that most people single-task this process … in other words, roll all the dough, then fry all the circles. I prefer to multitask: roll a piece, toss it in the fry pan, and as it cooks, start rolling out the next ball.
The recipe I’ve presented in this post is a mashup of several that I tested. The first was this one from Epicurious. It produced pretty-good-but-not-amazing torillas that were nonetheless better than store-bought.
I like this recipe from Genius Kitchen, because it shows several ways to vary the basic tortilla theme. I decided to adopt two of its key features:
- Baking powder. It’s a leavener, but a tortilla is a flat bread … weird. However, it does produce a lighter tortilla. Baking soda can also improve shelf life. The Epicurious tortillas – which do not call for baking powder – were noticeably heavier.
- The Genius Kitchen recipe is the one that hipped me to minimized kneading. One of the reasons for using hot water is to melt the shortening just enough to coat the flour, which will work against gluten formation. The more you knead the dough, the more your going to strengthen the gluten network you just tried so hard to inhibit. Minimal kneading definitely produces a softer tortilla.
There are a handful of other reciepes that I found useful and entertaining – not in determining the ingredient list or modifying the directions, but more for several useful tips and helpful suggestions. My Alton Brown take-aways are tips on freezing, gadgets are cool, and never underestimate the expressive power of a good hand model. And the heating pad – Alton, I love you so much. However, using a food processor is overkill. You can accomplish everything you need by hand in mere seconds, with little effort and hardly any cleanup. (By the way, in case you missed it in the recipe directions, I mix/knead my tortilla dough in the bowl without ever transferring it to the countertop.) America’s Test Kitchen also has a tortilla recipe. Many of the things I said earlier about water temperature and gluten development come from this video. Cooking with Alia is fun, mainly because Reuben is back, and he couldn’t be more adorable. Then there’s the Vegan Zombie. I have to wonder what he’s going to use to fill his tortillas once he’s done? I mean, he’s a zombie, so he eats people, but he’s a vegan, so he doesn’t.
Bon Appetit has a recipe for bacon-fat tortillas that’s worth a look. I’ve incorporated it’s key ideas into this recipe. Choose the milk option (from the ingredient list) and the bacon option (from the notes), and you’ll come very close to the Bon Appetit recipe. This recipe will not produce a bacon-flavored tortilla. What it will do is produce a very flavorful tortilla and prompt a lot of people to ask you what’s your secret.
Once your tortillas are made, if you can bring them to the table while doing these dance moves, your friends will forever think that eres totalmente un machote.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
I found this text analysis tool to be useful this while writing this post. Credit for images on this page: Make It Like a Man! This content was not solicited by Choko, although I’d’ve been totally cool with it if it had been. It was not written in exchange for anything.
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