Any serious cook or baker eventually tackles making homemade tortillas. I was lucky as one of the staff in my bakery was from Mexico and was happy to show me how to make them. But even she had problems when the dough wasn’t just right.
The dehydrated cornmeal specifically used for tortillas is known as masa harina para tortillas, has a distinctive limey taste and is ground to a fine powder-like flour. Masa Harina is made from either yellow or white corn. It is not the same as regular cornmeal. The corn is soaked in water with lime or lye and soaked until the skins loosen and can be easily removed. The corn is then mashed, dried, and ground into flour. Be sure you get some fresh from a Mexican grocery as old masa is not so easy to work with. Be sure that the corn flour is not labeled masa harina para tamales — it is a much coarser grind and is unsuitable for making tortillas, but great for thickening chili ans making tamales, or as use in baking powder cornbread and muffin recipes.
I mail order the very best whole grain masa harina from the Santa Fe School of Cooking (http://santafeschoolofcooking.com/On-line_Market/Specialty_Foods/index.html) in New Mexico. I don’t know their source (probably a small local mill), and they are not talkin’, but the masa is remarkable. You want the fine grind. Store it in the freezer.
Corn tortillas are traditionally patted into rounds by hand or a tortilla press, rather than being rolled out with a rolling pin as for flour tortillas, as the corn dough has no gluten to hold it together.
This recipe comes from a remarkable book The Well-Filled Tortilla by Victoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman (Workman, 1990) and uses easily available canned hominy to moisten and tenderize the dough. Its the miracle ingredient. The hominy makes an often touchy-handling dough exceptionally malleable. It is now my favorite corn tortilla dough and it is quickly mixed in the food processor, a modern alternative to hand grinding for hours. It is also gluten free.
For first time tortilla makers, this is the ticket. For old hands, this tortilla is so darn delicious you will eat more than a few at one sitting if you are not careful.
- a tortilla press
- 2 pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap, cut as wide as your tortilla press
- a comal or heavy skillet, preferably cast iron
Makes about twenty 6-inch tortillas
- 1 1/2 cups (one 29-ounce can) drained canned hominy
- 1 1/2 cups yellow or white masa harina para tortillas
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup hot water
To make the dough, Place the hominy in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, and add the masa harina, salt, and water until the dough forms a soft, firm ball, about 10 seconds. Consider the water amount a minimum starting point. The dough may be a bit on the dry side but adjustments can be made when dividing the masa into balls.
Cover with a clean, damp dishcloth or plastic wrap and let rest 1 hour at room temperature, and keep covered while pressing or rolling out the tortillas. If using later, wrap the entire ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 24 hours.
To shape the tortillas, divide the dough into 20 portions about the size of a golf ball. The ball should be seamless; if it is, you need to add a bit more water. Place one of the portions of the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper. Press in a tortilla press, turning at regular intervals, until the desired thickness, or roll out with a thin rolling pin to a 7-inch round, less than 1/4-inch thick.
Often the edges will crack; you can leave like this, or press on the plastic to smooth, or trim with a knife. Leave in the plastic wrap until ready to cook. You will have a pile of tortillas sandwiched between the layers of plastic or waxed paper to prevent sticking and drying out. These may be refrigerated in this form for up to 8 hours before baking, if necessary.
To bake the tortillas, heat an ungreased heavy cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat; a drop of water will dance across the surface. Peel off both layers of the plastic or waxed paper and place each tortilla onto the hot pan, one at a time, or as many that will fit without touching. Bake for 30 seconds on the first side, turn over and bake for 1 minute, then turn back to the first side and bake for a final 30 seconds; the tortilla will puff up and be speckled with brown spots. The tortillas can be baked in advance, stacked, wrapped in plastic or placed in a thick plastic bag, and refrigerated overnight. Rewarm as needed right before eating.
To Reheat Tortillas
In the oven:
Heat the oven to 400º. Place individual tortillas directly on the rack and bake 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Wrap stacks of 8 at a time in aluminum foil, or place in a terra cotta tortilla warmer, and heat at 350º for about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the stack.
On a cast-iron skillet or griddle:
Heat an ungreased pan over medium-high heat until hot. Place a tortilla on the surface until just puffy, about 10 seconds. Turn once. Use a tablespoon of oil if a crispy tortilla is desired.
On a stove top grill (El Asador) or outdoor grill:
Heat the grill over a gas range or charcoal fire medium-high heat to hot. Place a tortilla on the surface until just puffy; turn once. A grill pan can provide a great way to emulate the experience of outdoor grilling for the many people who live in apartments and cannot cook outside. A good grill pan will last a lifetime, and can provide you with a lifetime of tasty, healthy food with the signature char flavor you would expect from a grill.
In a microwave oven:
Place individual tortillas in a single layer on the microwave tray and warm until just puffy, about 30 seconds. Over baked microwave tortillas are very tough. Wrap stacks in plastic wrap and microwave at 2 minute intervals, depending on the size of the stack, or until the stack is warm and pliable.
In a bamboo steamer:
Wrap a stack of tortillas in a clean dish towel and place in a vegetable steamer basket over an inch of boiling water. Cover and steam 5 to 8 minutes, or until the stack is warm and pliable. Many people swear by this method.