Classic Dishes: Mexican Flour Tortillas

I love Flatbreads of all kinds, especially those with old, traditional origins. Call me old school, but I prefer Indian Naan Bread or Mexican Flour Tortillas over relative newcomers such as Pizza Crust. And I love to make my own, even if it does mean a little time and effort. That’s why I go big and freeze lots!

Homemade Flour Tortillas - © seededatthetable.comBeautiful Homemade Flour Tortillas. Make lots and Freeze them!

I’ve looked at hundreds of Mexican Flour Tortilla recipes over the years. An d the one remarkable thing about that journey was that they all sounded almost identical. Let this be your rule: There’s only one right way to make Flour Tortillas!

Here’s what you need…

  • 2 cups / 500 ml Flour ( I use Bread Flour. All-Purpose is okay, too)
  • 1 tsp. / 5 ml Salt
  • 1/4 cup/ 65 ml Lard, Vegetable Shortening or Vegetable Oil
  • 1 teaspoon / 5 ml Baking Powder
  • 3/4 cup / 185 ml Warm Water or Warm Milk

First, let’s get over the Lard thing…

Traditionally, Mexican cooks have used lard where cooks of other nationalities have used Olive Oil, Vegetable Oil or other Fats. Lard may be out of favour with dieticians and Doctors, but it’s still your best bet for truly authentic Flour Tortillas.

Milk or Water?

I’ve tried both and I must confess I can only just detect the slightest difference in flavour from one to the other. I tend to go with Water, because it’s easier.

What you do…

Combine the Flour, Salt and Baking Powder in a large bowl  and whisk to evenly distribute them.

Next, add the Fat. I like to use Vegetable Shortening for overall consistency, but Oil is also okay. It’s just harder to combine evenly with the dry ingredients. If using solid Fat, blend in with a pastry cutter or your fingertips as if you were making Pie Dough or Scones.

Then, pour in 1/2 cup / 125 ml of your Warm Water or Milk. As for our Naan Bread recipe a few days ago, the liquid must not be boiling, just hot. I use very hot Tap Water and it works just fine. On thing warm liquid does is activate the Baking Powder. Stir into the Flour and Fat mixture with the handle of a big Wooden Spoon. Add more liquid if the mixture feels too dry. Add liquid by tablespoons so as not to add too much. Soggy, sticky Tortilla Dough is a no-no.

Now, knead the Dough in the bowl (this is why we chose a large bowl!) until it comes together in a nice ball and is smooth on the outside. This should take no more than  5 minutes.

Rest the Dough in the bowl under a damp towel in a warn place for at least an hour. Two hours is better.

After resting, Cut your Dough Ball into four equal pieces and then, with your hands, roll out each piece into a long ‘snake’ about 1 in. / 2.5 cm thick.cut the snake into pieces about 1.5 in. / 4 cm long and roll the little pieces into nice balls about the size of a golf ball.

Let the little balls rest for another 30 minutes under a damp towel for another half hour.

Finally roll the little balls out to a thickness of about 1/8 in. / 3 mm thick and about 5-6 in. / 12 – 15 cm round. If you have a Tortilla press, go for it. If you want to go entirely traditional. pat and stretch the tortillas with your hands, like they did back in Mayan times. Don’t worry about odd-shaped Tortillas. Odd-shaped Tortillas say ‘authentic’, whereas perfect round ones say, ‘factory-made’.

‘Bake’ the tortillas one at a time on a hot, dry frying pan, flat grill pan or (if you’re chicken) a large-bottomed non-stick pan. Some folks I know swear by Cast Iron. Cook a minute, until, bubbles start to appear on the top and brown patches appear on the bottom side. Flip with tongs (or your fingers, if you’re going Mayan!) and cook for another minute, until brown patches appear on the underneath, on the second side. Stack your fresh Tortillas on a large, warm plate under a dry towel.

Make lots…

I usually double or triple the recipe I’ve just given. I freeze most of the tortillas as soon as they reach room temperature under that towel. The towel keeps the moisture inside them. I like to wrap frozen tortillas in foil and warm then gently in a 300 F – 325 F oven until they’re moist and flexible, just before serving. You could Microwave them, I guess, but why tamper with perfection?

Of course, they’re best hot off the pan with whatever toppings and fillings you crave…

Enjoy!

~ Maggie J.

Posted under: Chef Secrets, Comfort Food, Food Tips

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