The amount of sourdough loaves baked during the first wave of the pandemic could likely have fed a large country, but the breadmaking craze just didn’t pull all of us in. While Takeout writer Dennis Lee has learned some valuable lessons from his adventures with homemade bread, I also know the experience came with headaches and frustration, and some of us just want beautiful results without tons of room for error. That’s where flour tortillas come in.
Making flour tortillas is less stressful and less time-consuming than sourdough or other homemade loaves, but it’s also just as therapeutic, because you’re still working with your hands. Everyone should give it a try.
Although the process for making corn tortillas from scratch is just as interesting and approachable as making flour tortillas (it’s actually slightly more work), we’ll focus on flour tortillas here, due to their similarity to bread. Making masa de harina (the tortilla dough) is just like making bread dough in that you mix ground wheat and liquid into a sticky substance, allow it to proof, and then then place it in a heated environment in the hopes that it will rise.
To make flour tortillas from scratch you typically need flour, vegetable shortening, warm or hot water, salt, and sometimes baking powder (depending on personal preference). There’s a good list of ingredient ratios here. The dry ingredients get mixed together first, then the shortening is cut into the mixture. Finally, the water is added.
The most delicate aspect of making tortillas is the addition of water. Rather than add the water to the mixture all at once, you should add it little by little, incorporating as you go, until the dough holds together without dry spots.
Once you have that, you’ll knead the dough as you would a bread dough and allow it to rest (again, just like bread dough). Then, depending on the quantity and size of your desired tortillas, you’ll divide the dough into smaller portions. From there, you can form the small disc shape of a tortilla by hand or with the help of a tortilla press.
Cooking the tortillas is a lot faster than baking a loaf of bread. Once you have your flat dough discs, place them on a comal over medium heat. A comal is similar to a griddle, so if you don’t have that you can always just use a nonstick pan or cast iron skillet.
Some tortillas will puff up as they cook, and I was told growing up that it means someone loves you. Don’t get too discouraged if yours don’t puff, though. Your tortilla will still taste good, and I’m sure someone out there still loves you.
Making tortillas can give you the same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as breadmaking can, but with much less trial and error for first-timers. And don’t worry about trying to brainstorm meals you can pair with your fresh tortillas. Trust me—and many other Latinos will tell you the same—tortillas go with everything.
Pro tip: If you find yourself with stacks of beautiful tortillas and little motivation to make a meal to go with them, a favorite snack of both my mother and I is a tortilla spread with a little butter and salt. So simple and so good. Happy tortilla making!