Saturday, May 26, 2012

Taking on Tortillas

I've wanted to try my hand at making tortillas for a while, but I've heard that to make a really good tortilla, you have to learn from someone who grew up making them. Randy wanted to hold out for a tortilla press so he didn't have to roll each tortilla out.

Tortillas now and no-one gets hurt!
And so we thought about it, talked about it, said how nice it would be, but never actually attempted making any.

Then the lower element in our oven blew out and the replacement element got back ordered. Two weeks later, we were out of bread, out of tortillas, and still a week away from grocery shopping. At that point, we decided we might as well try our hand at it, especially because Zoey – for some unknown reason – had decided that tortillas were her favorite food and kept asking for some.

I was tied down with Parker, the hungriest baby on the block, so Randy stepped up to the task.
Dreaming about his next meal

The first batch came out OK, but not great – we cooked them on the electric skillet and kind of winged it temperature-wise. The result was tortillas that were a little too stiff and a bit crispy, but that still only had light browning. Luckily, they are easy enough to make that we decided to try again.

The basic recipe is simple:
2 cups all-purpose flour, ½ tsp salt, ¼ c oil, and 2/3 c warm water. Four ingredients. Total. Simplicity at its finest.

For contrast, here's the ingredient list for Mission brand tortillas.
Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Vegetable Shortening (Interesterified Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil and/or Palm Oil), contains 2% or less of each of the following: Salt, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Sulfate, Corn Starch, Monocalcium Phosphate and/or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Calcium Sulfate), Distilled Monoglycerides, Enzymes, Wheat Starch, Calcium Carbonate, Antioxidants (Tocopherols, Ascorbic Acid), Cellulose Gum, Dough Conditioners (Fumaric Acid, Sodium Metabisulfite), Preservatives (Calcium Propionate, Sorbic Acid and/or Citric Acid).

I don't see the resemblance, personally
I will take the four-ingredient list and fresh flavor/texture over store bought, especially now that I know how easy they are to make! The texture is better, too – it's light and slightly chewy, compared to the relatively dense versions you can buy. Of course, mine don't have the nice round shape they're supposed to – Randy keeps comparing them to the Millennium Falcon – but they still taste fine! His, of course, come out nearly perfectly round, the fink. If we had a press, I could make round torts too. Probably. If someone wants to buy me a press, I'd be glad to test the theory!

Randy tried to improvise a press
Surprisingly, these are not healthier, calorie-wise, than the commercial tortillas. They run about 60 calories/tort higher. However, the absence of preservatives and additives tips the balance back in favor of homemade, at least in my book. Also, the homemade version has about half the sodium as the store bought. You can save some calories (about 15/tort) by using shortening rather than vegetable oil (vegetable oil is about 40 calories less per tort than canola oil. Olive oil doesn't work very well with these) and in fact, many recipes call for shortening rather than oil. I used oil because, well, we don't have any shortening.

Extra calories aside, these tortillas are worth the effort because of the freshness and flavor. They also cost much less to make than to buy – and you can customize the flavors however you wish. If you've ever bought flavored tortillas – even just whole-wheat – you know that any deviation from the basic flour drastically increases the price...and rarely will you find anything other than whole-wheat, tomato, or spinach. At home, however, the opportunities are endless.

I decided to play around and try some flavors I hadn't seen before. I made three batches of flavored tortillas: jalapeno/cilantro, garlic/rosemary, and honey/wheat. All three flavors came out well although the whole-wheat wasn't as exciting.

Left to right: Jalapeno, Wheat, Garlic
Even cooking three batches only takes minutes, and I was left with extras to freeze. In my two-minute google search for how to freeze fresh tortillas, I found that rolling them out and freezing them uncooked is the worst way to go – they don't cook up as well. Either freeze the dough in balls and defrost/roll out when you want to cook them, or cook them, then freeze. I opted to cook them first, just because I already had the production line going.
About 10 seconds after hitting the pan
Flipped and done

Basic Flour Tortilla
2 c all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ c oil
2/3 c warm water

Mix all ingredients until they form a soft dough.
Knead for five minutes or until dough becomes elastic
Let rest under a kitchen towel or plastic wrap for 15-30 minutes
Separate dough into 6 equal balls
Heat a skillet on high until smoking hot
Roll each ball out to approximately 8 inches in diameter
Stack, separated by foil or wax paper until ready to cook.
Cook one at a time for 10-20 seconds per side. The tortilla should puff up when it's ready to flip and should have dark brown spots on it.
Stack the cooked tortillas on a plate and cover with a damp towel.
See the steam?  That helps give them the nice chewy texture

Add ¼ finely minced nacho jalapenos and 1T dried cilantro to dough. You will likely need to add a bit more flour (up to ½ cup) to counter the extra moisture in the jalapenos. It is important to get a fine mince on the jalapeno, as the tortillas have a tendency to tear near larger pieces. Also, don't roll these out quite as thinly to prevent tearing.

Rosemary Garlic
Add 1T dried rosemary and 2T finely minced garlic to the dough. You will likely need to add a bit more flour (up to ½ cup) to counter the extra moisture in the garlic.

Substitute one cup wheat flour for one cup of the all-purpose flour. Add 1T honey.


  1. I made quesadillas when you were in the hospital. Perhaps that's what got in Zoey's mind.

    1. Maybe. I can never tell with her. I do know that she has been on a major string cheese kick since you were here. It's funny - she acts like we asked her a question and says "Ok, I want string cheese!"