Making Flour Tortillas
When the three of us get together, there is never a dull moment, and never a quiet one either. The talk will range from busy schedules, to farm antics, to the latest germ busting discoveries and other recipes, to budgeting and the latest sales and our coupon victories, to an occasional tale of frustration at the lack of hours in the day. Today was no exception. But along with along with all the story telling and sharing and supporting, something is always accomplished. Today that accomplishment was perfecting the technique of making our own flour tortillas. I must say that Bree was a great teacher, funny, patient, real and honest. She has made her own tortillas for years and had always said that they were extremely easy and inexpensive to make, but just took a little time. She was right. With simple ingredients and her tips they were easy. They took us a couple of hours, but with practice, I’m sure they will be faster to make. With 4 common pantry staples; flour, salt, baking powder, and vegetable oil (or lard), and some additional water you can make the best tortillas ever. I can’t imagine those processed ones from the store that are packed full of preservatives and chemicals and taste like cardboard ever entering my kitchen again.
Mix together 3 cups flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Some prefer and swear by lard. I can’t speak for lard, but Bree has used both and prefers vegetable oil. Try both and see which you prefer. Mix together those 4 ingredients until they have a coarse cornmeal texture, similar to the beginning of pie crust or biscuit dough. We used a mixer for this step because it incorporates thoroughly with less work and less time, but a pastry blender works for this step as well. After these ingredients are incorporated, add 1 cup warm water, a little bit at a time, incorporating after each addition. You may not need all the water, or you may need a tad bit more, depending on the humidity and other weather conditions. Ultimately you want a nice soft, elastic dough. When you remove it from the mixing bowl, you will need to work it with your hand to make sure every bit of the flour/oil clumps are smoothed out. This is one key to nice thin, smooth tortillas. The second tip, Bree gave us is to let this dough, and ANY dough for that matter, rest for a few minutes after the initial mixing and again prior to the final shaping. The dough should rest 5 minutes at this stage before it is separated into smaller sections to prepare for the final rolling of the tortillas. Set it aside under a clean towel to keep the surface from drying out, while you rinse your bowl and utensils for easier cleanup later.
As luck would have it, yours truly ended up needing a bit more water, but did not recognize that fact, until I had removed the dough from the bowl and worked it into a ball. Bree showed me how to tell it was a bit dry, by pulling it and showing me how the surface tore and left jagged edges rather than stretching smoothly across the surface. Since I had already removed the dough from the bowl, and made it into a firm ball, it was more difficult to incorporate more water, so Bree showed me how to run a bit of water over it, then work it into the center. We had to add just a dusting of flour on the surface to keep it from becoming a sticky mess. Thank goodness she is a pro at this, she was unfazed and took the opportunity to make a “teachable moment” from it, so we would know what to do to solve this problem,
if when this happens when I make the next batch. Of course if your dough is a bit sticky, just add a DUSTING of flour to make the dough a bit drier and easier to work with.
The next step was dividing the dough into 16 equal parts and pinching out the dough balls that would later become 16 tortillas. If you divide your dough in half (2 pieces), then each of those in half (4 pieces), then each of those in half (8 pieces) then divide each piece in half one more time (16 pieces), you will have 16 pieces all roughly the same size. Pinch, pull and push until you have ball of dough with a smooth, elastic surface and set on a VERY LIGHTLY floured surface to rest once again. When all are finished, cover with the clean towel and allow to rest a final time for approximately 10 minutes. This allows the fibers to fully form and adhere to one another preventing the dough from tearing during the rolling process. You will be rolling these out EXTREMELY thin. Skipping the resting phase makes this part of the task extremely difficult and leads to frustration. Even if you are in a hurry, don’t allow yourself to be tempted to skip this step. You won’t save yourself any time in the long run, because it will make the next step take much longer than necessary. Use these few minutes to wipe the countertop you won’t be using and get out your skillet that you will be using to cook the tortillas, take a bathroom, drink a glass of water and the time will be up!
When it is time to shape and roll your tortillas, you will need a rolling pin. Even if you have a tortilla press, like the one pictured above, you will still need to give it a final roll to achieve the final thickness that makes it almost transparent. This thin dough is the secret to a nice tortilla, rather than a tough, layered, hollow finished product. The tortilla press can give it an equal pressure that helps to achieve a nice round shape, but it doesn’t do a very good job, in our opinion, of getting it down to that super thin state that makes the best tortillas. Don’t have a tortilla press? Don’t worry! To make nicely shaped tortillas, simply drag a very light dusting of flour onto your counter top, flatten the ball of dough in your hand and, pressing evenly on both sides of the rolling pin, roll back and forth, toward and away from your stomach, creating a long oval. When that oval is about twice as tall as it is wide, pick it up and turn it sideways, repeating the process to create a circle. Repeat those steps as needed until you get a thin circle of dough that is nearly transparent. Remember these steps take practice and each one will not be a circle, that is part of their charm! The ones that are not circles will taste just as good as the ones that are. You should be able to handle each one without it tearing, but you can’t be overly rough. Very little flour is needed to prevent sticking to the counter if your dough is the right consistency. Too much flour can make them scorch and give them a dry floury taste that is not pleasant, so go lightly. I actually found that they did not tend to stick to countertop even when nearly no flour was used.
Once the tortillas are rolled out, place them in a dry (no oil) skillet that has been preheated to a medium-high heat. You will cook on one side until you see bubbles forming over the entire surface of the tortilla. At this point, flip the tortilla in the pan, and wait for the bubbles to form on the surface again. Remove the tortilla to one half of a clean towel and cover it with the other half to hold in the warmth.
Although these are best when eaten freshly made, the keep well in the freezer. They are great for freezer meals, make ahead days, and prepping. Place the appropriate amount for your family in a ziplock back, freezer container or vacuum seal them and toss them in the freezer for quick use when you are pushed for time, or have worked outside until mealtime and need something quick and easy.
At the end of our “lesson” we experimented a bit with making chips from the fresh tortillas. They were good, but not quite what I was after. They were actually better after they sat for a bit. I am wondering about using corn tortillas to make homemade chips. I have another friend who makes her own corn tortillas. I’ll have to get her to join us for a guest appearance with the Chicks from the Sticks and see if we can that to our repertoire of made from scratch cooking. The more we learn to do for ourselves, the more we provide for our families with limited money spent and the more we can teach and share with others. The things you can do with tortillas is almost endless. These can be served for any meal, used as snacks, incorporated into a main course, side dish or even a dessert. These will easily become a pantry staple at our house.
I do believe Mel is working on claiming her title as the Vanna Chick. Love you, Mel!
Join us again, soon, to what these Chicks have in store for you next.
The Chicks from the Sticks