Sunday, May 2, 2010

Corn Tortillas

Photo courtesy James Lopez

Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to take a trip to Mexico with my friend Lori and her family. We visited her Dad's side of the family who live in Hidalgo, a state in southeastern Mexico. The town in which we stayed was about a 6 hour car ride from the airport, on single lane dirt roads, through winding mountainsides. The small rural town was miles and miles away from any other cities, perched way up in the hills.
Photo courtesy James Lopez

The landscape was much more lush and green than I had imagined it would be in the middle of summer, creating spectacular views. We stayed there for several days, and slept in the family's house. The occasion for our visit was the birthday of my friend's Grandmother and her entire family and practically the whole town, was there for the celebration.
Photo courtesy of James Lopez

The birthday party was a blast and included two different mariachi bands, that had everyone dancing well into the late hours of the night.
Photo courtesy of James Lopez

The food was a specialty, made especially for the party. They prepared a kind of goat stew, and the goat was cooked underground, wrapped in large leaves. The meat went underground the night before the party and cooked there, until the middle of the next day.
Photo courtesy of James Lopez

Throughout the entire trip we were inundated with the most delicious Mexican food I have ever had. It seemed as if there was always somebody cooking something in the kitchen. From the moment we woke up, until right before bed, we were always being offered some kind of treat. Everything was authentic and made completely by hand for the sole purpose of feeding us the best food they could make. The most amazing part to me were the corn tortillas that were prepared continuously throughout the day. There was a small basket in the center of the table that was constantly being filled one by one with freshly made, piping hot, tasty tortillas.
Photo courtesy of James Lopez

And it was here in this kitchen that they allowed me to try my hand at making a few tortillas. Speaking absolutely no Spanish, every instruction had to be translated to me, and I followed mainly by observing and copying their moves. Most importantly I got a feel for the consistency of the dough, the size and shape of the ball before placing it on the press, and the proper way to lay it on to the hot pan.
Of course I have since to taste any corn tortillas as good as those, and I may never taste any as good again. There was definitely something special about those certain tortillas, something that I don't think can be replicated outside of that little kitchen, in that little town. But I can at least continue to try my best to recreate them at home.

An important tool for making corn tortillas is a tortilla press:
Unlike flour tortillas which can be easily rolled, corn tortillas are best if pressed between two sheets of plastic using a tortilla press, as the dough has a very high tendency to stick. Tortilla presses can be bought at Mexican supermarkets, and in well-stocked cooking stores. Another important tool for making corn tortillas is, obviously, corn flour.
This is Maseca which is an instant corn flour used for making tortillas. It makes things super easy because just add water and you've got tortilla dough! I also like to add a little bit of salt for extra flavor, but you can leave it out if you want a more pure corn flavor.
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.
Add in the water, and start mixing it together. The amount of water you use can vary. You want a dough that is leaning more towards the wet side, than the dry side though.
Once the dough is mixed, take chunks and start rolling them into balls. The size will depend on how big or small you want your tortillas to be. I tend to make mine on the smaller side; I roll the balls so they are just a little bit smaller than a golf ball.
Take the dough ball and place it on your tortilla press. You'll need to cut out some plastic for both sides of the press. I used large ziplock bags and cut them roughly to the same size of the press.
Press the dough ball down a little bit to flatten, then place the second plastic bag on top of it. Press down firmly.
Peel off the top piece of plastic. Pick up the tortilla and place it in the palm of your hand.
Gently peel the plastic off the tortilla.
Keeping your hand as horizontal as possible, lay the tortilla flat onto the comal or pan. You should hear a slight sizzle, that means your cooking baby!
Cook the tortilla for about 15 seconds and then flip it over.
Cook for 30 seconds, then flip the tortilla back over again and cook for 15 seconds more.
Keep the tortillas stacked inside a towel, so that they stay warm and pliable. The tortillas can be eaten right away or kept in the fridge for about a week. They also freeze well. Use the tortillas for your favorite taco recipe, or have them one of my favorite ways - brushed with a little butter, rolled up and eaten hot. Yum yum.

Corn Tortillas
Adapted from The Art of Mexican Cooking

2 cups Maseca corn masa
1 1/3 – 1 ½ cups water
1 tsp salt

Mix the Maseca with the salt. Mix in the water so that it is evenly distributed through the flour and forms a cohesive mass when pressed together. The dough should be of medium consistency, neither too firm nor wet.

Heat a comal or griddle over medium heat. Roll the dough into smooth balls. Open up the tortilla press and place a piece of plastic (such as a Ziploc bag) on the bottom plate. Place a ball of the dough on the bottom bag, a little off center toward the hinge rather than the pressing lever (it presses too thin on that side) , and press it out with your fingers to flatten a little. Cover with the second bag and press down firmly but not too fiercely.

Open the press, remove the top bag, and place the tortilla in the palm of your hand. Very carefully peel the bag off the flattened dough. Do not try to peel the dough off the bag. Keeping your hand as horizontal as possible, lay the tortilla flat onto the comal. There should be a slight sizzle as the dough touches the surface. Leave for about 15 seconds, flip the tortilla over onto the second side and cook for a further 30 seconds. Flip back onto the first side again and cook for 15 seconds more.

As the tortillas are made, they should be placed one on top of the other in a basket lined with a cloth to preserve the heat and keep them moist. They can also be wrapped and frozen.


  1. I've never tried to make corn tortillas before but you have just inspired me. What a treat to be able to spend time in such a beautiful place with a lovely family!

  2. A great post. Is'nt it amazing how welcome you are made to feel when visiting out of the way places especialy if you need a translator? The tortillas look absolutely great. God bless you.

  3. must go straight to and buy a tortilla press. i always see these homemade tortillas and am so jealous, yet i forgot to just buy the damn thing! i'm fixing that right now :)

    thanks! they look great :)

  4. This post made me smile. Lori's family seems lovely, this is the way to travel!

  5. thanks for the corn tortilla making lesson just in time for cinco de mayo!

  6. I remember seeing the pictures you posted from this trip - they were stunning. what a wonderful experience and memory to have

  7. i am going to give it a try today.
    I cook for my 91 year old mom, and she deserves a treat.


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