I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the motto around our house is, “Everything tastes better in a tortilla.”
Truth: Halfway through a meal my better half will jump up and head to the stove to warm up a few. Scrambled eggs: in a tortilla, preferably with bacon. Roast chicken: in a tortilla with a few jalapenos. Steak slices: absolutely in a tortilla.
As for me, I’ll take a warm buttered tortilla for a snack any day of the week. And when I need an extra lift, a schmear of jam cures what ails me.
How can flour, salt, fat, and water – just four ingredients – bring so much joy? Because homemade tortillas hot off the griddle are fresh and made with love. It’s that simple. My mother-in-law made them often, joking that hers were shaped like a map of the United States. (She lied, they were round.) But really, you don’t have to be a perfectionist. You’re a home cook, not a tortilla factory!
BEST FLOUR FOR HOMEMADE TORTILLAS
All-purpose flour is the best flour to use and it’s almost always on hand. If you’re a whole grain fan, use half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour, or go the full monty with 100 percent whole wheat flour. If you do use whole wheat, you may need to add a little extra water to make a soft and supple dough.
THE BEST FAT FOR MAKING TORTILLAS
Traditional tortillas are made with lard, but it’s hard to find good quality lard, and many people just don’t want to use it.
Shortening, butter, and vegetable oil are all good substitutes. I have a weakness for tortillas made with butter, and the household aficionado highly approves of that move.
- Use vegetable shortening, oil, or coconut oil for vegan tortillas.
EQUIPMENT: NOTHING SPECIAL NEEDED!
All you need is a bowl, a rolling pin, and a skillet, and you’re in business! A cast-iron skillet retains heat and is therefore convenient to use for maintaining an even temperature. The same goes for a griddle, which gives you the additional advantage of cooking several at a time. That said, an ungreased non-stick skillet is perfectly fine, too.
HOW TO MAKE PERFECT TORTILLAS
- MIX: I’m lazy and I have a stand mixer, so I use it to mix and knead the dough for a minute or two with the paddle attachment. The next best thing is to mix the dough with one hand while you hold the bowl with the other. Turn it out onto the counter and knead it for a minute or two until soft and smooth.
- REST: After mixing, the gluten in the dough is activated and the dough will spring back when you try to roll it. It will be much easier to roll out if you shape it into flat disks and them rest for 30 minutes,
- ROLL: You can roll out the tortillas all at once then cook them or heat the pan and slap each tortilla on the pan as soon as you roll it. If you have an assistant, one person can roll while another cooks the tortillas.
I like to roll and cook each one immediately. When I have a tortilla in the pan, I start rolling another one, keeping my eye on the pan (or setting a timer.) Once you get the hang of rolling, you can roll a tortilla in about the same amount of time it takes for the previously rolled one to cook.
The Best Way to Cook Tortillas
Heat an ungreased skillet or a griddle over medium heat until hot but not blistering hot. It should be hot enough for spots or sections of the tortilla to become light brown on the bottom within about 30 seconds; if the heat is too high, the spots will blacken quickly, so adjust the heat accordingly.
Place a tortilla on the pan. After 20 to 30 seconds, air bubbles will appear on the surface and light brown spots will appear on the bottom. Turn over and cook for another 20 seconds on the other side. More air bubbles will form. You don’t have to do anything about them, but you could deflate them with the tip of a knife if you like.
Tip for the Softest Tortillas
Steaming is a final step keeps the tortillas pliable rather than dry and brittle.
- If you are planning to store them, place the hot stack of tortillas in a plastic bag and let them steam until cool.
- If you’re taking them straight to the table, wrap the stack in a napkin and let steam for a few minutes to soften.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN THE TORTILLAS ARE DONE?
- Cook the tortillas for a total of about 60 seconds. They should have mottled light brown spots on both sides, and as the dough turns from translucent to opaque, you may still see some slightly undercooked spots. They stay softer and more pliant at if cooked to the 60-second mark. This is how long I cook them if I’m making a batch to last me the week.
- If you plan to eat the tortillas right away, flip the tortilla for a third time and cook for an additional 10 or 12 seconds, or until the dough is puffed. They will still be soft and pliable, but they can get brittle if stored for too long. If that’s the case just make sure you reheat them either in a warm skillet or wrapped in a napkin in the microwave for about 10-20 seconds.
HOW TO STORE AND FREEZE TORTILLAS
To keep your tortillas fresh for as long as possible, place the stack in a sealed zip-top plastic bag and store in the refrigerator up to four days for optimal freshness. They are still edible after that. No need to separate them with parchment or waxed paper.
To freeze: Place them in a ziptop bag, remove as much air as you can, close the bag and freeze for up to two months for optimal freshness. No need to separate them with parchment or waxed paper.
THE BEST WAY TO REHEAT HOMEMADE TORTILLAS
Place a skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, place a tortilla in the pan. Cook for 15 to 20 seconds on each side or until hot. You can also microwave them for 15 to 20 seconds.
If heating several, stack them on a cloth napkin lined plate, and enclose them in the napkin to keep them warm.
MORE SCRATCH RECIPES TO TRY!
Homemade Flour Tortillas
Homemade tortillas can become brittle after storing them. To make them pliable again just wrap them in a cloth and heat them in the microwave or in a skillet for 10-20 seconds.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon fine table salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, vegetable shortening, or vegetable oil, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
1 Mix the dough: You can mix the dough by hand or in a stand mixer. I’ve provided instructions for both methods below. Choose the one that works best for you.
- To mix the dough by hand: In a bowl, stir the flour and salt until blended. Add the shortening, butter, or oil and mix with your fingers until the fat is incorporated in small bits. Add the water and mix with your hands until blended. If the dough seems stiff and dry, add a little more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. On a lightly floured work surface, knead for a few minutes, or until the dough is smooth.
- To mix the dough with a stand mixer: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour and salt on low speed. If using shortening or butter, add it in pieces to the flour and mix on low speed until it is blended. If using oil, stream it into the flour until blended.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly stream in the hot water, mixing until it forms a dough. If the dough seems stiff and dry, add a little more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Turn the mixer to medium-low and mix for about 2 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and supple.
2 Roughly form the tortillas: Sprinkle a large plate or small baking sheet with flour. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a cylinder about 6-8 inches long. Cut it into four equal pieces and cut each piece in half, to make eight pieces that are all about the same size.
Roll the pieces into balls and flatten them into disks. You aren’t rolling them out just yet. Just getting the basic shape in place. They need to rest before the final roll. Place them on the plate, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3 Roll the tortillas: Lightly flour the work surface and the rolling pin. Start from the center of each disk and roll outward from the center towards the edge and then back towards you. Turn the disk 45 degrees and repeat. Keep rolling back and forth, turning, and flipping the circle of dough over from time to time, until the tortilla is about 7-inches in diameter.
Continue to roll the tortillas, stacking them between layers of parchment or waxed paper until they are all rolled. Let rest while you heat the pan.
4 Cook the tortillas: Heat a cast iron pan, griddle, or another skillet over medium heat until hot. Line a plate with a clean dishtowel or napkin.
Place one tortilla on the hot pan and cook for about 30 seconds. Air bubbles will appear on the surface and they should have light brown spots on the bottom. Adjust the heat – you may need to lower it – so the tortillas cook gently without burning.
Turn them over and cook for another 20 to 30 seconds on the other side. The tortilla should look puffed up and opaque. If the tortilla needs a little longer, flip for a third time and cook and additional 10 or 12 seconds.
When finished with a tortilla, place it on the dishtowel-lined plate and cover it.
Continue to cook, stack, and cover the remaining tortillas. (No need to sandwich cooked tortillas between layers of paper.)
5 Steam the tortillas: If you are eating them right away, wrap them in a cloth napkin and let them steam for 5 to 10 minutes.
If you are planning to store them to reheat later, turn a plastic zip-top bag inside out. Place the hot stack of tortillas in the bag, close the bag without sealing it, and let cool.
When cool, remove the tortillas, turn the bag right side out, and slip the stack inside the bag and seal it. The droplets of steam will now be on the outside of the bag and you can pat them dry with a dishtowel.
6 Store the tortillas: Store the well-sealed bag in the refrigerator for up to four days, or freeze for up to two months.
7 Reheat the tortillas: Just before serving, heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Place each tortilla on the hot pan, and cook for 10 to 12 seconds on each side, or until hot. You can also reheat them in a microwave for 15 to 20 seconds.
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