Saturday, May 02, 2009

Homemade Tortillas

By popular request, I am posting a how-to article on making homemade tortillas. Before I begin with the nitty gritty, let me say a few things.

1) I really, really wish I had taken some pictures. When I was making them, I was thinking, wow, I wish I had some pictures of what the steps should look like. But, I had no idea that this experiment would actually work, so I saw no need to document what I thought was going to be a failure.

2) At each and every step of the process, I thought the whole thing was going to be a miserable failure. So, if you've never made tortillas from scratch before, don't get discouraged during the process. It will at many points seem desperately wrong. Keep working through the recipe and an amazing, nearly miraculous transformation will happen.

2a) Miraculous isn't not at all too strong a word. These things are delicious. Like, among the best things I have ever had sort of delicious. I don't understand how that is possible, given the little that goes in them, and how very wrong they seem at so many steps of the process. But they are amazing. Try them once, you'll see that I'm right.

3) You know I can't just write a straight-forward informative article without making my little comments. I think I'm funny, and so you all have to put up with me. (Or do your own google search on homemade tortillas.)

4) I didn't, surprise surprise, follow the directions on the recipes I found exactly as written. Here is the recipe I primarily drew from. It's called Tortillas I and I found it on However, I also read the comments following the Authentic Mexican Tortillas recipe and incorporated a tip I found there.

That being said, let me tell you why I went crazy yesterday afternoon and decided to try this. A few weeks ago, I really wanted burritos. I picked up all the ingredients I needed from the store during my weekly grocery trip. I got home and realized I had forgotten ground beef. Not to be undone, later that week I made chicken and rice quesadillas. Last week, ground beef was on sale, and I picked up a few pounds of it. Monday I thought, I really want burritos. But, Tuesday was the Jedi's birthday, and he wanted manwich for dinner. (Apparently nothing says happy birthday like manwich.) And I didn't want ground beef dinners two night in a row, so no burritos Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Thursday was coop, which makes it a leftover night for dinner...certainly not a cooking night. So on Monday I decided that Friday was absolutely definitely burrito night. Every night that week as I was making dinner, I reminded myself that Friday was burrito night. Yummy burritos. Burritos for you, burritos for me, burritos, burritos, burritos.

On Friday afternoon I realized that in my mad burrito fix, I had neglected to get in tortillas from the store at any time that week. No burritos. Sadness ensued. To cheer myself up, I emailed the Jedi asking him what he wanted for dinner. I thought, if I can't make myself happy, I can at least make someone else happy. See how loving and selfless I am? The Jedi didn't care what was for dinner.

And then, this notion hit me. Didn't people use to make their own tortillas? And, if I'm remember my social studies correctly, didn't the Native Americans make tortillas on stones? (And I'm part Cherokee, so I can write a question like that and not be considered insensitive or politically incorrect, can't I?) Surely I could hop on the internet and find some directions for making my own tortillas. How hard could it be? Ok, ok, I know making homemade pasta is insane, but tortillas? This could even be a great family learning project with the kids.

The more I thought about it, the more pumped I became.

I told the kids my grand plans. I was super excited about this notion. I thought I did a remarkable job of delivering my pitch to them. They both stared at me blankly. Sweetling, who has experienced many Mommy projects and the results of the same, very, very, very politely let me know that this might not be a good idea. Not to be deterred, I figured I could sway my impressionable five-year old to my side. Toa of Boy was just as suspicious about this endeavor.

However, not being one to let common sense keep me from a plan, I hopped on allrecipes and started my search. I did careful reading. I disregarded recipes that had the dough rest for an hour. Who had an hour? I invited the kids to join me once again. Sweetling said she really needed to clean her room. I said, she could take a break from cleaning her room for this really fun project. But cleaning her room was preferable to the chaos she sensed would be occurring in the kitchen. I told Toa of Boy he could help mix and stir. That sold him. So, with on co-conspirator (is that a redundant word?), we started.

This is the recipe we used. It made just barely enough for 5 people. But one of those five was Sweetling. Next time I make it, I'll increase the recipe amounts, and take pictures for my blog.

Measure out 2 and 1/2 cups flour into a large bowl. (If a small boy is doing the measuring, be sure to help him with the leveling.)
Add 1 tsp baking powder.
Add 1/8 tsp salt.
Let the boy stir it all together. (While the boy is stirring, put some water in a pan to boil.)

Add 1 tablespoon shortening. With your hands, crumble the shortening and the flour together. Try to convince the small boy to keep the flour in the bowl. Make sure his sleeves are pushed up, cause he somehow manages to get flour up to his elbows.
Decide the single tablespoon of shortening that the recipe calls for did diddly.
Add a second tablespoon of shortening. Crumble in as before. Convince your assistant not to slam his hand into the bowl.

By this time....the recipe I almost followed said that your mixture should resemble cornmeal. Mine didn't. I thought, well, this is obviously a failure. BUT, one comment I read on another recipe said that the tortillas were more flakey then pie crust. I know how to make pie crust from scratch, thanks to Mammaw. So, I squeezed a squeezed some of the mixture together in my fist. When I opened my hand, the mixture almost stayed together, but still crumbled apart a bit. (See how useful a photo would be here?) I decided that this would make it a little more flaky than a good pie crust dough would be, so I proceeded to the next step.

Take your boiling water off the heat. Carefully measure 3/4 cup boiling water. Be sure it has stopped boiling, (like no more bubbles breaking the surface while its in the measuring cup.) Pour some of your water into the bowl. WARN YOUR ASSISTANT THAT IT IS WAY TO HOT TO TOUCH. Warn him off this often. Stir the water in with a wooden spoon. Add a little more hot water. Warn your assistant. Stir with spoon.

Now, the recipe I was sort of following said you might not need all your water. I used all of mine, but I'm just letting you know what the woman who knows better than I do said.

This was the step at which I thought, once again, this can't possibly work. After I had, in a mad, rash act of frustration, dumped all the hot water into the bowl and stirred with a wooden spoon, I had nothing resembling any kind of dough. This is the point at which the Jedi came into the kitchen. I told him what a miserable failure this was looking to be. The Jedi, wisely, said nothing, but gave me a kiss and went back out of the kitchen.

Though the dough was still hot, it had cooled past the point of scalding. I discarded the spoon and started kneading it with my hands in the bowl. Now, the original recipe said to knead it on a lightly floured surface, but the last thing I needed was more flour. So, the next step is...

Knead dough by hand as soon as it is cool enough to touch. Knead it, squeeze it, convince it to hold together by sheer force of will. When it has cooled a little more, let the boy help. Roll the dough around and pick up all the crumbs in the bottom of the bowl. Squish them in. By now the dough is resembling dried out playdough. But, as you knead it, it begins to look more and more like dough.

As soon as it holds its shape, use a pastry brush to let the boy coat the surface with vegetable oil. It might still look like a deformed and mutant excuse for a ball of dough, but that's ok. So did mine. Cover the ball with a dish towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.

(While it rested, I browned my ground beef and added the low-sodium taco seasoning packet and water and let it simmer. I also opened the can of refried beans, which I don't like but the Jedi and Sweetling and Toa of Boy do, and put them on to warm.)

On a very, very, very lightly floured surface, begin to roll out sections of your dough. Now, let me say two things. One, this stuff is already super dry. You don't need nearly as much flour as you think. I put flour on my surface and then used my hand to wipe almost all of it off. Two, this stuff is already super dry. Air is your enemy. Keep your main dough ball covered while you roll out your individual tortillas.

The recipe, which I kept reading even though I hadn't quite followed it, said to pull out golf ball sized pieces of dough to roll. I did that. I got a little thing smaller than a saucer. The Jedi would have taken one look at it and asked if it was a joke. Like, the thing could have fit in an EasyBake oven. So, I went with hackey-sack pieces. I was worried that I wasn't going to have enough dough to make enough tortillas for my family, so I rolled mine out a little too thin. They need to be much thicker than the store bought tortillas. Really, they resemble soft tacos much more than tortillas. (Again, air is your enemy, keep them covered after you roll them.)

They don't roll out into perfect circles. At least, they don't when its me rolling them. And I can make a pretty mean pie crust, so I think its them and not me. Maybe there's a trick to it, but I got really, um, organic shapes with frayed edges when I did them. Once again, I thought this was a sign that I had done something seriously wrong. Don't get discouraged by how they look right now.

While the Jedi cleans off the table and sets it, fry your tortillas over medium high heat in a heavy skillet. One tip I read said be carefull to have your skillet hot enough. It said if you cook them to long over lower heat, you loose too much moisture. In fact, I didn't let my pan heat up enough before throwing the first tortilla on, and the first one was really really crumbly.

So, when your skillet is hot, put your tortilla on. It only needs to cook for a minute or so on each side. The good ones, when I got the pan to the right temperature, started puffing a little with steam almost as soon as they hit the skillet. Flip them as soon as there undersides have a few little brown marks on them. (Which happens almost as soon as they get puffy.) Really, this is a quick process.

Put each tortilla in a warmer with a lid as soon as it cooks. Again, air is the enemy.

I cannot stress enough how delicious and wonderful homemade tortillas are. I always thought of tortillas as a boring wrap meant to just hold the yummy filling together. These homemade ones were nearly melt in your mouth good. I don't understand how that is, given that they are almost nothing but flour, but they were wonderful. Be warned, after having tasted the real thing, I don't think I can ever go back to the store bought variety. I think I'm forever stuck making my own tortillas every time I want to have tacos again. And quesadillas too for that matter.

1 comment:

Paulie said...

So, when do we get to come over for your homemade tortillas?