Friday, April 5, 2013

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Presenting the next installment to the Cinco de Mayo menu!

I had a good laugh recently when I asked one of my best friends if she happened to own a tortilla press that I could borrow. She thought I was kidding and responded, "The day I own a tortilla press is the day I own a wheat grinder.... and grow my own wheat."

Some things are really tough to cook, but tortillas aren't one of them. Sure it can take a bit of practice the first time around, but it's really satisfying work! Besides, I don't like the idea some have that cooking is only about being fed. I find the process of cooking very sensuous (not in the sexual way). The comforting smell and silky texture of flour. The earthy sound of the fork on the wooden cutting board as I work the salt water into the flour/shortening mixture. And few things make a place feel more homey than the site of a ball of dough awaiting its final preparations. Yes, with two young children I sometimes feel tired when I think about going through the effort to make tortillas, or bread, or whatever when I could have just picked some up at the store. But unless I'm having one of those "shoot me now" days, I want to make my family's food myself. It's too gratifying a process, and the results are too good to give up to convenience.

Anyway, like I said, it does take some practice and a bit of confidence before you feel like you've got the hang of it enough to abandon the store-boughts altogether. So, I'm going to be a bit detailed with my instructions. I don't need to be 'cause they're not that hard, but I want you to be able to put doubt aside. Here we go.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
based on these recipes by The Urban Spork
Makes 12 tortillas

2  3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling the tortillas
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup very warm tap water

Combine the flour and shortening on top of a large cutting board.

Work the shortening into the flour with your fingers until completely incorporated.  If this isn’t done thoroughly (until no particles of shortening remain visible), the tortillas will have an irregular texture. Your mixture should be able to hold together when pressed into a mountain like this.

  Pound down your mountain and create a wide crater in the middle.

The front wall of my crater was definitely weak. You can do better than I did.
 Completely dissolve the salt in the water and pour carefully into the center of the crater and immediately work it in with a fork.  

Be patient. There's more water to go around in the mixture than you think.

Scoop the dough onto your work surface and knead until smooth.  

It should be a medium-stiff consistency – not firm, but not quite as soft as most bread dough either.
Divide the dough into 12 portions and roll each into a ball.  


Cover with plastic wrap or place in plastic zip-close bags and let rest for at least 30 minutes – this makes the dough easier to roll.
Obviously, I waited to roll mine into balls until just before rolling out, but you can do it either way.

Heat an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat. (On my stove, medium is plenty hot.)
Flatten a ball of dough, flour it, then roll forward and back across it; rotate a sixth of a turn and roll forward and back again; continue rotating and rolling until you reach a 7-inch circle, lightly flouring the tortilla and work surface from time to time.

Lay the tortilla on the hot griddle (you should hear a faint sizzle and see an almost immediate bubbling across the surface).  After 30 seconds, when there are browned splotches underneath, flip it over.  Bake 30 seconds more, until the other side is browned; don’t overbake the tortilla or it will become crisp.  Remove and wrap in a cloth napkin placed in a tortilla warmer.  Roll and griddle-bake the remaining tortillas in the same manner – stack them one on top of the other in the warmer.Serve these with Cafe Rio Shredded Chicken as part of this Cinco de Mayo menu!

You got this in the bag. Now, go to it and become a tortilla-making machine.

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