Monday, January 30, 2012

The Recipe: Homemade Corn Tortillas

adapted from

2 cups masa harina
1 1/2 to 2 cups water
Pinch salt

You'll need a special corn flour called masa harina for making the tortillas. Masa harina is corn flour that has been treated with calcium hydroxide or "lime" which makes it more nutritious by releasing the niacin in the corn, and easier to digest. Look for masa harina that is only corn and lime (calcium hydroxide) for corn tortilla making. We got our masa flour at Whole Foods.

To make about 12 tortillas, start with putting 2 cups of masa flour in a large bowl. (For added "lift" you can mix in 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, but we did not do this.)  Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt into the masa.  Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of very warm water to the masa flour (according to the directions on the package, some brands may call for different amounts of water). Mix in and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Begin working the masa with your hands to make the dough. Work the dough for several minutes. Press the dough with your fingers and the palms of your hands as if you were kneading bread dough. If at any point through the tortilla making process the dough seems too dry or too wet, add a little more water or masa to the dough.
Take a piece of the masa dough and shape it into a ball the size of slightly large golf ball. We got about 12 balls from our dough.

Take two pieces of parchment paper or waxed paper or plastic from a plastic bag (we found that the plastic bags worked best) and cut them into 8 to 10-inch squares (if you are using a tortilla press, cut them to the shape of the surface of the tortilla press).

By hand: Lay one piece of paper/plastic bag on your countertop.  Place the masa ball in the center.  Place another piece of paper/plastic over the masa ball.  Using a heavy frying pan for pressing, place the pan on top of the paper & masa ball stack.  Press down evenly and firmly with your hand in the center of the frying pan.  Keep pressing until the tortilla is fairly thin and approximately 6 inches in diameter.

For tortilla presses: Open the tortilla press and lay one piece of wax paper on the press. Place the masa ball in the center. Place another piece of wax paper over the masa ball. Gently close the press and press down, until the dough has spread to a diameter of 6 inches.

Heat a griddle or large skillet on high heat. (We found that good high heat is important for quick cooking and for some browning.  When Mandi and I used an electric griddle, we had a hard time getting it hot enough, even though it was turned up as high as it would go.  A traditional, stove-top griddle worked better.)

Working one at a time, hold a tortilla in your hand, carefully removing the paper or plastic on each side.  Allow the tortilla to rest half on your hand, and half hanging down, and gently lay the tortilla down on the skillet.  Start working on pressing the next tortilla.  Cook the tortilla on the hot pan for 30 seconds to a minute on each side (it took much longer with the electric griddle).  The tortilla should be lightly toasted and little air pockets should form.

Remove the tortillas to a towel-lined basket.  Wrap them in the towel to keep them warm and to allow the steam to soften them up (they may be rather crispy when coming off the griddle).  Serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat.

Makes about a dozen tortillas.

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