Patience isn’t always my thing. I’m the queen of not reading recipes all the way through and even when I’m “really trying,” I will somehow still miss a few key steps.
I first attempted corn tortillas about a year ago. I was reading Rick Bayless’s cookbook and in it he writes, “I encourage you to make your own corn tortillas at least once, if for no other reason than to fill the kitchen with that alluring aroma and to relish the instant gratification of a toasty, pressed-baked-eaten tortilla.”
This gave me such hope. I had visions of whipping up these soft toasty yummies anytime I felt like it… taco parties with friends… Saturday morning breakfast tacos over coffee. I was going to tap into my inner Mexican lady and have the best-smelling kitchen around.
The result of this first try was a bunch of crumbly dough stuck to plastic, a whole bunch of cursing, and a few “ok” ones that stayed together but were thick and dry. I didn’t know what I did wrong: I had read all (3 pages) of the directions.
I chalked it up to my heritage… maybe Italian girls weren’t born to make tortillas.
Many months later, when my tortilla-making frustration was a distant memory, I tried again with better success. I’ll even go as far as to say that now I can make them well. They’re no Topolobampo tortillas, but of course they’re leaps and bounds better than the processed packaged kind.
So I learned 2 things in this experience:
First, and most importantly, I missed the step in the directions where once you mix your masa harina with water you need to let it sit for at least 30 minutes. The dehydrated corn flour needs time to rehydrate. This is an important step to getting a more pliable texture that won’t crumble when you go to press your tortillas. Don’t skip this step.
Second, some things just take a little bit of practice and patience. You might not necessarily get the “feel” of it the first time (or maybe you will if you’re just that good – but that’s what I had thought too).
- 1¾ cups masa harina (the Maseca brand seems to be the most popular)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water
- A few tablespoons cold water, as needed
- Mix the masa harina with the hot water. Cover and set aside on your countertop for at least 30 minutes.
- While you’re waiting on that, cut your plastic into squares just larger than the surface of your tortilla press. (You’ll use 2 plastic pieces at a time – one for the top, one for the bottom). Cut up a bunch of plastic – I can sometimes get a few tortillas out of one round of plastic, but when they start to stick, it’s easier to start fresh again.
- Have a margarita and continue to wait for your dough.
- When your 30 minutes is up, form the dough into a ball. It’ll be a bit crumbly, so add some cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough is soft without being sticky. It should be similar in texture to play-doh. If you’ve added too much water, it’s ok, just add a little more of the corn flour.
- Gently knead the dough to help it form into a semi-pliable ball (this is not pizza dough). Cut the ball in half, and half again, etc., etc., until you have about 16 pieces. Roll them in your hands to form into little balls. Place on a plate and cover with plastic or a towel so they don’t dry out as you go.
- Heat your pan or cast iron skillet to medium.
- Place your plastic on both sides of your tortilla press (I spray mine lightly with a little canola spray – I’m not sure if this is completely necessary, but it works). Place your dough ball in the center and press down. You’re trying for a tortilla that is less than ⅛-inch thick. Lift the press up, and carefully peel the top layer of plastic off. Gently pick it up, flip the dough side down in your other hand and gently peel off the other side.
- Place tortilla in your pan and cook for about 20 seconds until it releases. Flip, cook for 30 seconds more until it starts to brown. Flip again and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, until your tortilla starts to puff up. If your tortilla puffs up, you’ve done well. Be careful not to overcook your tortilla, or it’ll become dry and crack more.
- Place finished tortillas in a towel or foil and cover to keep warm while you finish the rest. I generously salt mine before serving.
Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.