January 18, 2016

Homemade corn tortillas — a revelation

Black bean chili and sweet potato casserole from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker.

PART ONE: I was having a long video chat with my good friend Helene, and during the course of our conversation, she started telling me that she had been making homemade corn tortillas. I was surprised and impressed. I have, and do, make a lot of things from scratch, but I had never made corn tortillas. I made wheat ones a long time ago, but never corn. Never even considered it, but now that Helene was telling me how good the homemade ones were, I was all ears. Then she showed me her cast iron tortilla press and basket for keeping the tortillas warm, and my 'kitchen appliance' disease started to kick in. I could feel my body craving not only fresh tortillas, but a TORTILLA PRESS. How did I not know I needed one of those before now? Why, I even had a jar of masa harina in the cupboard. Give me strength.

The bowl will be covered and the dough allowed to rest.

I got hold of myself, as I looked around the kitchen for any spare space to store another gadget. I told myself I would have to make tortillas on a fairly regular basis using other means before I would allow myself to purchase a tortilla press, and I would have to give something away to make room for it on a shelf, should the need arise. In the meantime, I would use the bottom of a small cast iron frying pan to press any tortillas I made.

I got out my (signed but rarely used) Rick Bayless Mexican Everyday cookbook, and studied up on tortilla making. I also looked the subject up in Terry Romaro's Vegan Eats World. By the time Helene sent me the video she had watched to learn the fine art of tortilla making, I was ready to go. Like any specialty cooking skill, making tortillas is easy and fast, it is an acquired art, and not one that can be mastered in one try. The ratio of masa harina to water has to be correct, as does the temperature of the griddle and the length of cooking time. But it's easier than you think, and the results that even a beginner can achieve are worth the effort. I watched the video three times. I was ready.

Baking on the cast iron griddle.

I made half a recipe, pressing my tortillas with my frying pan, and using a rolling pin to achieve the correct diameter and thickness. I was disappointed to note my tortillas didn't puff up as in the video, but it's hard to be perfect without practice, right? The initial tortilla, shared with my husband and our three-year-old guest, disappeared in a flash — before the thought of photographing it even entered my brain. It was a revelation in flavor and texture. The three-year-old was clamoring for more, so I made another one, and it too, disappeared within seconds, as did the third. I placed the one remaining ball of dough into a plastic bag to store for the next day, as recommended in the video. (It got a little dry in the fridge and I had to add a bit more water.)

I cooked the last tortilla the next day and ate it for lunch with a bowl of leftover black bean chili and sweet potato casserole from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. When I cooked it, it started to puff a little, but not the way I wanted it to. Even though I am a rank beginner, and haven't mastered the finer aspects of making tortillas, they still tasted fantastic and had a wonderful texture.  And remember, I don't (yet) have a tortilla press. :)



This is the video my friend sent me. I'm also sharing a link to Rick Bayless' directions for making tortillas. Following Rick's directions (sort of) for heating the griddle, I shifted my round pan so one side was closer to the flame than the other. Maybe that's why I saw a little puffing action. In any case, it looks like I may be making more tortillas, and if they improve, I'll let you know.

PART TWO: I made another batch of tortilla dough after re-watching the videos and re-reading the directions. I'm pretty sure I didn't use enough water the first time, and I pressed my tortillas too thin with my rolling pin. This time I added extra water, kneaded longer, and used only my frying pan to press the dough — not the rolling pin — so the tortillas were a bit thicker. I was aiming for 1/8-inch thick.

'Puffery', as my friend Helene calls it.

Can you see the puffing up of my tortilla? Can you see it in spite of the terrible lighting? It wasn't a total puff, but it was close. I'm leery of telling just how excited I was to see the tortilla puff up lest you realize how boring my life is. Of course, if cooking success is important to you, you'll understand.

This is pretty, isn't it?

This time I cooked four tortillas and kept them wrapped in a towel and under the lid of my bamboo steamer, since I don't (yet) have a tortilla basket. Actually, the lid over a plate on the counter makes a pretty good keep-warm basket, I keep telling myself. No need to get another basket, right? Rick Bayless says that the tortillas aren't fully cooked to perfection until they've spent a little time stacked in the basket, where they improve in taste and texture, and I believe him. He must be right, because this batch was even better than the first. Not only did the tortillas taste amazing, but they were flexible and had an air pocket.

I think I will keep making corn tortillas. Now I just need a copy of The Taco Cleanse so I can put my tortillas to their best use!

I really did make four, but it's hard to just look at them and not eat one.

Do you make corn tortillas? Do you have a weakness for kitchen gadgets? Have you bought any kitchen equipment that at first seemed like excess but you now love? Any you wish you hadn't bought?

16 comments:

  1. They look fantastic! I actually have the opposite disease: if something requires a gadget (for which I definitely do not have the room), I immediately cast it out of my dreams.

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    1. Hmmm. Your disease sounds more manageable than mine, but mine sounds more fun. :D I'm still using my cast iron frying pan to press the tortillas, but the tortilla press is looking better all the time.

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  2. yes! I just started making homemade tortillas this year - but especially after I got my copy of the Taco Cleanse. The recipe in The Taco Cleanse is so easy and straight forward - I was also totally delighted about the results! I also don't have a tortilla press. I have so many damned gadgets! ha ha. I used the bottom of a big pot, and that worked really well. What fun! happy tortillas to both of us <3

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    1. Yes, indeed! I love making tortillas. I had no idea it was so easy, or that they would taste so good. I just attended a book event with two of the Taco Cleanse authors and bought myself a copy of the book. (I was asked to be part of the blog tour but it was when I was on 'blog rest', and turned it down. I had no idea it was going to be such a phenomenon!) Now I can do taco yoga before making tortillas so they will be the best they can be. :)

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  3. The tortillas you made look, and I'm sure they tasted, great! I've been making my own tortillas for over 30 years and sometimes they are good and sometimes they aren't. I suspect it must be the freshness of the masa and human error. My step-daughter showed me you can re-heat tortillas by holding them over a gas flame with tongs. Works a charm! I especially like mitad y mitad tortillas, half and half masa and flour. I use a wine bottle for rolling out....I always have that on hand!

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    1. My tortillas so far have all tasted great, though I know I didn't get the texture exactly right a couple of times. I intend to keep practicing, though. I like your wine bottle technique!

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  4. I can totally understand the excitement - I made a batch once with a plastic bag and rolling pin, and it wasn't particularly great to look at, but the flavour convinced me that it would be worth persisting with! Did you manage to find space for the tortilla press yet?

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    1. I found that pressing with the frying pan bottom worked better than the rolling pin for me. And no, I don't have a tortilla press, though I might have picked up a tortilla basket in a 2nd hand store.

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  5. I felt excitement for your puffed up tortilla :) Thanks for all the link, she is so lovely in the video. I've flubbed at making tortillas myself but realize now when people have told me 'it's easy' there's still a methodology to follow! Love your new bio pic too.

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    1. Once you figure out the water to masa harina ratio, and the correct thickness to press the tortillas, and how hot to make the pan, etc., it's a snap! And thanks!

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  6. Cool! They look so pretty. my partner and I were going to make our own recently but I remember having tried years ago and couldn't get the hang of it. Oh well.
    Tortilla presses are pretty cheap and small, aren't they? ;)

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    1. Try again! It's so easy and the results are amazing. The press I have my eye on is $20, though I think you can get a cheaper one if you live near a traditional Mexican grocery. My frying pan bottom is working well at the moment so I'm trying to get by. But they look so cool in the videos.

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  7. Great work, Andrea. I didn't know how awesome fresh corn tortillas could be until we find them in Houston and at that time, it was $2 for 100 or so, which was a steal. I am so curious to see if you can keep this up. If they are as easy to make as arepas, I might be able to convince Rob to try it out. :)

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    1. I've never made arepas but I looked them up and the process seems similar though the flour used is different. Also, tortillas are cooked on a dry skillet and only take about two minutes to cook. Now I want to make arepas!

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  8. Tortillas don't get nearly enough respect! Seriously, no single element has as much impact on a taco, and yet rarely does anyone go out of their way to actually make their own. I know from experience how incredible fresh tortillas can be- Culinary delights all by themselves- But I still find it difficult to actually go the extra mile and make them from scratch. Some day, I will make a huge batch and freeze the extras to keep the homemade tortillas coming even when I feel that typical laziness wash over me.

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    1. I know this sounds odd, but it never occurred to me to make my own — I thought it must be too hard. It's not hard at all. I was amazed at how easy it was — it doesn't even take very long. I admit that standing at the stove cooking them can get tedious if you only have one pan, but I just limit myself to not making more than eight at a time, and usually only four. I haven't tried freezing them, but then, I want them "just made"!

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