***UPDATE January 17, 2011 I've used all butter (when I ran out of lard) and they were delicious! I also did them with 1/2 lard and 1/2 olive oil once, but I didn't like the results as much -- they were crispier and not as tender. ***
Flour tortillas. Oh soft, tender goodness. Oh light, delicate, bready warmth. Oh perfect holder of all things edible: fajitas; tacos; Greek chicken; Nutella; leftover casserole with sour cream (don't diss it 'til you try it); banana, with peanut butter and honey; and even (lightning, please don't strike me)... hot dogs with Cheez Whiz.
Oh flour tortillas, how I love thee.
But you are the bane of my cooking skills.
I cannot count the number of times I have felt like an utter failure because you turned out crispy, or greasy, or thick and doughy, or flavorless, or gummy, or dry.
Yes, dear friends, after literally a decade of dashed hopes and failed attempts, in the twilight of September 8th, 2010, I made a perfect flour tortilla. I thought it was a fluke, so I tried it again on October 12, 2010 and was stricken by my repeated success. Could it happen a third time? This morning: yes!!
Tender, light, flavorful, perfectly browned, and freezable! (I've frozen them after rolling both before and after cooking: they taste about the same, with a slight preference for freezing raw).
You see, for 10 years I thought it was about the perfect recipe. I'm sure the recipe has a lot to do with it, but I'm learning it's more about technique.
Here are 5 tips I learned through failed attempt after failed attempt.
#1. Let Crisco be anathema. Mexican mamas don't use Crisco. Crisco is greasy, flavorless, and dare I go into the heart-clogging, artery-plugging, cholesterol-raising, heinous disgustingness that is the hardened hydrogenated polysaturated spreadable manufactured soybean fat? NO! Just say no to Crisco. USE LARD! (If it's in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, it's good. If it's in a tub, then it's hydrogenated just like "vegetable shortening." You can easily make it at home in a crock pot. Ask a butcher at a meat market [not a box grocery store] for grass fed pork leaf lard. They normally throw away this gold. Directions: here.)
#2. By all means, use nearly boiling water. When recipes say "warm water," it does no good unless the fat is melted, and the way to do that is with nearly boiling water. You're not killing yeast here, so get it as hot as you can. I microwave mine for 3 minutes (old microwave).
#3. When it says "knead five minutes," they actually mean it. There is a qualitative difference between tortilla dough kneaded "until combined and smooth," and tortilla dough kneaded for a full five minutes. Don't skimp on the kneading. (I use my KitchenAid with the dough hook and love the results, but I've successfully done it by hand before).
#4. Roll them until they're translucent. Yes, you really do need to see through them. Don't use a tortilla press. A tortilla press is designed for corn tortillas and really only works for them. No matter how much I kidded myself into thinking they were thin enough when pressed, the resulting pitas should have clued me in. If you can't see through it, it's not thin enough. (Yes they'll still taste great and will be good for gorditas, tortas, or carnitas, but they won't be that nice thin "tortilla consistency.")
#5. Use medium heat! Your tortillas will be crispy and black before they're cooked if you use a high heat. Be kind to your tortillas, and use medium heat.
So a brief recap:
- Don't use Crisco. Use lard.
- Get the water almost or actually boiling.
- Knead a full five minutes.
- Roll them as thinly as possible.
- Use medium / medium-high heat.
I know, because my tortillas never bubbled. And then when I tried the 5 above tips (through trial and error), I thought I'd done something wrong because my tortilla was exploding in front of my eyes.
DELICIOUSNESS ON A PLATTER!
You, too, can make a perfect homemade flour tortilla.
Now I know you'll be wanting a recipe, and I can say... I've got three or four recipes that are all pretty good. The technique is what matters. But, you've got to start with some recipe, so the one I consistently use nowadays is translated and adapted from Blanca Díaz's magnificent how-to video on YouTube. If you've never made tortillas, watch the video two or three times (and cry when your first attempt doesn't turn out like hers... and then call everyone you know and rejoice on the day when you have mastered it).
Homemade Flour Tortillas
First Seen On and Heavily Adapted From Mangio da Sola
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 cup of lard
¾ to 1 cup of very hot water (near or actually boiling)
1. Place the flour in a bowl.
2. Add the salt, baking powder, and fat without stirring.
3. Little by little, pour the very hot water over the ingredients and mix them with your hands (or dough attachment in your stand mixer), measuring the quantity of water until you reach the desired texture. It should be moist and soft, but not sticky.
4. Knead/Mix the dough for 5 full minutes, and form a ball.
5. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel, and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Cut the dough into 8 pieces for burrito-sized tortillas, or 12 pieces for regular small tortillas, and roll the pieces into little balls.
7. Place one of the balls on top of a clean surface, and press down on it lightly with your fingers.
9. Place the tortilla on a hot comal, griddle pan, or cast-iron skillet until it forms small bubbles on the uncooked side of the tortilla. Play whack-a-mole with the tortilla (push the air out of the bubbles as they pop up). Turn over the tortilla, and wait until it inflates a bit; continue beating the bubbles into submission.
10. Store the tortillas in tortilla holder, covered container, or wrapped in a towel. You could also keep them warm in a low-temperature oven. These tortillas can be reheated the next day; store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.
What have you made, lately?