Fresh, handmade flour tortillas are one of the great examples of cross-cultural culinary pollination.
Somewhere between a crepe and a pancake though shaped with dough instead of poured batter, the flour tortilla is a wonder of migration and adaptation.
The absolute best flour tortillas are made with lard-manteca and Pioneer White Wings flour from an old San Antonio company, just like my mother and grandmother made them in South Texas. Since lard fell out of favor because of health concerns, I have always made flour tortillas at home and the restaurants with a high-quality vegetable shortening. Although lard has made a comeback in terms of its nutritional reputation at the expense of hydrogenated vegetable products like shortening, many customers, especially those who are vegetarian, prefer tortillas without lard so I continue to make them that way. If you get good enough at making flour tortillas, try them with lard.
Flour tortilla dough can be held at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours, as long as it's tightly covered so it doesn't dry out. For best results, do not refrigerate the dough, as the overall quality of the tortilla will diminish.
For "make-ahead tortillas," lightly cook each one and place on a cool surface. Place the tortillas in a plastic bag with a zipper, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, and use as you go. Since the tortillas are only lightly cooked, you will need to fire up your comal or griddle to finish cooking. Place them on the hot surface until they are warm and puff slightly. These tortillas will be as tender and delicious as freshly cooked as long as they are stored in the sealed bag and aren't allowed to dry out.
Please, do not ruin your precious handmade flour tortillas by reheating in a microwave. The result is a rubbery texture. You'll be sorry you went to the trouble to make them if you zap to reheat.
This recipe makes 12 six-inch tortillas.
- Heavy cast-iron comal or griddle
- Pastry or cutting board
- Rolling pin
- Tortilla warmer
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco preferred) or lard
- 1 cup very warm (105 to 115F) whole milk
- Vegetable oil for cooking
In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, the salt, and baking powder. Using a pastry cutter, blend in the shortening. Continue to blend in the fat until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Add the very warm milk to the flour mixture. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, gently blend to make a soft dough, kneading a few times. The dough should not be sticky. If it is, add a little flour. If the dough is a little stiff, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Do not overwork the dough.
When the dough is the right consistency, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.
Shape the dough into twelve rounds about the size of golf balls.
Cover with towels until ready to roll out tortillas.
Preheat a comal or griddle over medium-high heat. The griddle is ready when water sprinkled on the hot surface "dances." The temperature should be around 400F.
Sprinkle the remaining cup flour on a pastry or cutting board. Roll each ball in the flour to cover entirely.
Using a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into a round inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. To achieve a round shape, flip the tortilla and rotate 180 degrees each time you press the tortilla with the rolling pin. Add a small sprinkle of flour for ease in rolling each time you turn or flip the dough. Stack the tortillas with pieces of waxed paper between them on a plate until all the dough is used. (My mother draped tortillas, edges slightly overlapping, around the rim of a large bowl, then covered them with a towel until ready to cook.)
Before cooking the tortillas, use a balled-up paper towel to apply a light coat of vegetable oil to the surface of the preheated comal.
Place a tortilla on the comal. Turn when a few bubbles appear on the surface, usually after about 30 seconds, depending on the comal and the stove burner, and cook the other side. Tortillas should have a few light brown spots on each side when thoroughly cooked.
Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas, oiling the comal as needed.
Place the tortillas in a tortilla warmer or in a bowl covered with a towel until they are all cooked.
Rolling flour tortillas:
It is important to roll tortillas thin enough. They should be no thicker than the cover on a hardbound book. If too thick, flour tortillas will take longer to cook and won't produce bubbles to signal when it is time to turn them. Have patience with yourself while you get the hang of rolling round tortillas. You will soon acquire the touch, and your tortillas will be presentably round. Even my tortillas aren't always perfectly round, but they taste great!
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