Sunday, May 2, 2010

Flour Tortillas

Today at Butter + Cream it’s going to be all about tortillas, and frankly I couldn’t be any happier, because they just happen to be one of my favorite foods. Whether used as a vehicle for meats and veggies, filled with cheese for a quesadilla, or simply eaten on their own, tortilla's are something that I will never say no to. I have had a long-time love affair with their round, chewy goodness.

Tacos are eaten on the regular at my house, usually at least once a week. From chipotle steak, mushroom and chorizo, to jalapeno shrimp, no taco is safe. Given our love of tacos, it was not a surprise that at some point I'd have to try my hand at making my own tortillas. And ever since that first fateful attempt, and exclaiming to myself "where have you been all my life?" I've been making them from scratch ever since.

Tortillas are one of those foods that just taste so much better when fresh. There’s nothing like a still warm, freshly made tortilla to elevate any Mexican meal. Flour tortillas are traditionally found in the northwestern Mexican states, such as Sonora where they are well known for their enormous, membrane-thin, flour tortillas. They are sometimes vulgarly called tortillas de sobaco, which means armpit in Spanish, since they are flung with amazing dexterity from one arm to the other, reaching the armpits.

This version is a little different than the armpit tortillas. These are thicker and fluffier, which makes them perfect for eating plain, straight from the griddle. And that just happens to be my favorite way to enjoy them. What can I say, I'm a simple person. A simple person who loves tortillas.
There are a couple different tools that are helpful, but not essential, when making tortillas. A comal, is a very thin, flat griddle which is used often in Mexican cooking for toasting spices and chiles, and cooking tortillas. Most comals are commonly made out of a heavy tin or a light metal, and are very thin so that the metal will heat up quicker, and stay hotter. This is important so that the heat cooks the dough fast, which is essential for a tender tortilla.
A comal is not a necessity, many other types of pans can be used. A cast iron griddle, or a heavy frying pan with a black surface would both work, just make sure to give them more time to heat up. If you're interested in purchasing a comal, they can be found at most Mexican supermarkets and are usually inexpensive. Another item that is helpful, but definitely not essential, is a tortilla warmer:
During the tortilla cooking process it's nice to have a place to keep the tortillas warm until they are all cooked. I put the tortillas inside a small kitchen towel which I place inside the tortilla warmer with the lid on to keep them warm. If you don't have a tortilla warmer, they could just as easily be kept warm just wrapped up in the towel.

The ingredients for flour tortillas are super simple: flour, salt, shortening or butter, and water. That's it. And if you think that's easy, just wait until we talk about corn tortillas. Now there's some simple ingredients. Ok, so whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl.
And then get ready to work in some butter or shortening with your fingers. Flour tortillas are traditionally made with vegetable or pork lard, but nowadays it's more common for them to be made with vegetable shortening. They can also be made using butter, and this being Butter + Cream, I had to go with that option.
So work in the butter or shortening by rubbing it between your fingers until it is incorporated fully throughout the flour.
Then add in some boiling water and stir until the dough starts to form some clumps. Because the water is boiling, you'll have to use a spoon to do the mixing at first.
After a minute or so of mixing it should be cool enough to start getting your hands in there. That's when you want to start gathering it into a ball.Place the ball on a lightly floured work surface.
And knead it for about a minute or two, until the ball becomes smooth. You don't want to overwork this dough, so stop when it just starts to become smooth.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it hang out at room temp for 30 minutes. Once the 30 minutes is up, cut the dough into six wedges:
Then cut each wedge into 3, giving you 18 lumps of dough.
Now it's time to start rolling out tortillas. It's a good idea to roll out the tortillas one at a time, and keep the rest of them covered with a lightly damp towel so that they don't dry out. Start by taking one lump of dough, and rolling it into a ball.
Using a rolling pin on a floured surface, roll out the dough ball.
Don't be discouraged if your tortillas don't turn out perfectly round, because that's difficult to achieve. Most of my tortillas turn out looking like odd amoeba shapes. I mean, I'm pretty sure this one doesn't qualify as any known shape:
There, this ones a little more in the right direction, though still not perfect. I'm not worried about it though, I know these babies are gonna taste good no matter what.
If you're planning on using your tortillas for burritos or tacos, it's a good idea to roll them as thin as possible. I usually roll mine out a little bit more on the thicker side, so just do whatever floats your boat. Once you've got a tortilla rolled out, place it on a hot comal or pan, it should be hot enough that you hear a little sizzle. Cook until it starts to puff, about 30 seconds. See those little bubbles? Those mean were doing something good.
Flip the tortilla and cook it for another 30 seconds on the other side, until just cooked through.
Place the cooked tortillas inside a cloth to keep warm, and try to keep yourself from eating too many of them before you've cooked the rest.
Flour tortillas keep well kept in a ziplock bag in the fridge for about a week (although they won't last that long) or they can be frozen.

Flour Tortillas
Adapted from Orangette

4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp salt
6 Tbs vegetable shortening or butter

In a small saucepan, bring about 2 cups of water to a boil.

In a large bowl, stir the flour and salt together with a whisk. Mix in the shortening or butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in enough boiling water (about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups) that the dough holds together; you will want to begin by stirring with a spoon, since the water is scorching hot, but you should finish by working the dough with your hands.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

Set a cast-iron skillet or comal over medium heat. Place the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut it into 6 wedges. Cut each wedge into 3 smaller wedges, for a total of 18 wedges. Keep the wedges covered with a lightly damp towel while not being rolled out. Use a rolling pin to roll out a wedge into a very thin circle. When the skillet is hot but not smoking, cook the tortilla until slightly puffed, about 20-30 seconds. Flip, then cook for 20-30 seconds more, or until flecked with brown spots. Place on a cooling rack. Repeat the process with the other 17 wedges. Allow each tortilla to cool completely before stacking them.

Freshly made tortillas are soft and perfectly delicious at room temperature, but to reheat them, you can warm them briefly in a low oven. These keep well in the fridge, wrapped in paper towels and sealed in a plastic bag, and they also freeze nicely.

Yield: 18 tortillas


  1. These look amazing and authentic! I can smell them from here....mmmm!

  2. Don't feel badly if it takes many years to get a nice, round tortilla when you roll them by hand. My grandma has been making them FOREVER and they are still a little irregular. Of course mine are so irregular that she says they look like maps, but they taste good and that's all that really matters to me!

  3. wow, you made that look pretty do-able! I have to admit, I will be eating some of the dough raw if I make these. . .I have an obsession with tortilla dough since Chevy's always handed them out to me when I was a kid.

  4. @Jill: That does make me feel better, thank you. :) I just figured it was my lack of patience. I love referring to them as "maps" by the way.

    @KK: I am to this day still obsessed with those Chevy's tortillas. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make anything that tastes as good as those.


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