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Recipes // Side Dishes // Homemade Corn Tortillas

Homemade Corn Tortillas

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Makes twelve to fifteen 5-inch tortillas 

Preparation time: 10 to 12 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Can be wrapped in a towel, sealed in a plastic bag, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months

I didn’t start making corn tortillas at home until I moved to Washington, D.C. And though I made good tortillas, it wasn’t until I met Doña Rosa Arroyo, a lovely woman from Oaxaca with an even lovelier sazón (roughly, a talent for using just the right amount of seasoning) who works with me at the Mexican Cultural Institute, that my tortillas went from good to pretty darn amazing. It took but thirty minutes for Doña Rosa to straighten me out: “No, señora Pati, su masa esta seca y tiene que voltear

las tortillas dos veces hasta que se inflen.” My dough was too dry: adding the right amount of water was the easy fix. But I still could not get them to puff up. So Doña Rosa taught me the double-flip method, which, though it takes a bit of patience, makes the tortillas puff beautifully once you get the rhythm. If you want to make the tortillas ahead, they can be kept, wrapped in a clean kitchen towel or cloth, at room temperature. Reheat them on a hot comal or in a heavy skillet set over medium heat for at least 30 seconds on each side, until they are pliable again, before eating.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups corn tortilla flour or instant corn masa flour, such as Maseca
  • Pinch kosher or coarse sea salt
  • About 1¾ cups water

Directions:

  1. Set a comal, a flat griddle, or a cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until thoroughly heated. (If the pan isn’t hot enough, the tortillas will stick to it.)
  2. Meanwhile, cut two circles about the size of the tortilla press plates (or at least 6 inches in diameter if using a rolling pin) out of thin plastic bags, such as produce bags from the grocery store; do not use plastic wrap.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and water and then knead in a circular motion until the dough feels smooth and without lumps. It shouldn’t be wet or sticky but nice and moist. If it feels coarse when you gather the dough together, add a bit more water. Masa dries out fast, so keep it covered while you make the tortillas.
  4. Roll a piece of the dough in the palm of your hand into a ball about 1½ inches in diameter. Place one of the plastic circles on the bottom of the tortilla press and place the ball on top. Place the other plastic circle on top of the ball and clamp down the press to make a flat disk, jiggling the press a little as you get to the bottom (this makes for a rounder tortilla). It should be about 5 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Alternatively, you can place a ball between plastic sheets or parchment paper and roll out the tortillas with a rolling pin.
  5. Open the press, check the tortilla for dryness (see Mexican Cook’s Trick), and add water to the dough if needed. Remove the plastic on top of the tortilla, then lift up the bottom piece of plastic, with the tortilla, with one hand and peel the tortilla away from the plastic with the other hand. Keep at least half of the tortilla off your hand to make it easier to transfer it swiftly to the hot pan.
  6. Place the tortilla on the hot surface and don’t touch it for 30 seconds—even if it doesn’t lie completely flat, resist the temptation to fiddle with it! Cook until you can easily lift it with a spatula, about 40 seconds to 1 minute; it should be opaque on the cooked side. Flip and cook for about a minute longer, until it has begun to get brown freckles. Flip once more. After 10 to 15 seconds, the tortilla should puff like pita bread, if not all over, at least in one area. If it is not puffing, gently tease it along by poking it in the center with the tip of your finger. Once it puffs, let the tortilla continue cooking for another 15 to 20 seconds, so that it cooks all the way through. That extra cooking is what makes the difference between stiff tortillas and those that are toothy, tender, and pliable.
  7. Transfer the cooked tortilla to a clean kitchen towel or a cloth-lined tortillero (a tortilla basket, which looks just like a bread basket) and cover to keep warm while you make the rest of the tortillas.

MEXICAN COOK’S TRICK: The masa has to be as soft and smooth as Play-Doh. This has less to do with the kneading—which takes under a minute—than with the amount of water. The measurement given on most bags for corn tortilla flour is too low. Here I give you the measurement that works for me. Things will vary, however, according to climate and ingredients. One way to tell if your masa needs more water is to take a look at the first tortilla after you have pressed it out. If the edges seem cracked and rough, you need more water. The tortilla should be smooth and even along the edges, not at all ridged.

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