Monday, December 8, 2008

Tortillas de Harina de Trigo (Flour Tortillas)

We love tortillas.

Number One has decided that we should make our own tortillas, instead of buying them at the store. He has fond memories of a Mexican babysitter he had when he was young, "Mama Tinas" who used to make stacks of the best tortillas whenever she came over. Except that Mama Tinas used her hands to form perfect circles, while Number One used a rolling pin to form imperfect circles...

One of my former roommates and I used to make tortillas, but not from scratch. We used a just-add-water "tortilla mix" from the Mexican section of the grocery store. They were easy and delicious, and we could make custom-sized tortillas. We made small (5-inch) tortillas to go along with the chorizo and eggs we took to a potluck Sunday brunch, and they were a hit. Whenever we went to the brunch, which was always hosted by the same people, it became a contest (if only in our heads) to see if we could make the best dish...and we always, always WON.

This recipe comes from Diana Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, and I'm not quite sure why we've never tried it before. Number One's tortillas will get better and more uniform with practice, but for now they are so much better than any you can buy in the store. I believe our tortilla-purchasing days just might be over...

Tortillas de Harina de Trigo (Flour Tortillas)
Makes about 10 tortillas

[Diana has about a page of notes/anecdotes about this recipe, and while very interesting, I just don't want to type them out. Please buy the book--it's a classic.]

...The recipe they gave me was "a handful of lard to a kilo of flour, salt, and water. Hot water if the weather is cold; cold water if the weather is hot." Later on I had one toasted crisp with the biggest piece of meat, cooked over the wood fire, that I have ever seen on any plate. You can make the dough either by hand or with an electric mixer.

1 pound (450 g) bread flour (from hard winter wheat)--Number One used all-purpose flour
4 ounces (115 g) softened vegetable shortening (about 1/2 cup/125 ml)--Number One used lard, of course
1 scant teaspoon salt (we thought they could have used a bit more salt)
about 1 cup (250 ml) warm water

Put the flour onto a work surface or pastry board. Rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips. Dissolve the salt in the warm water and mix into the flour, a little at a time, so that you can see how much the flour will absorb. Using a plastic dough scraper, gather up all the flour around the periphery and work the dough into a cohesive mass--about 2 minutes with the mixer, 4 minutes by hand.

Divide the dough into 10 equal parts--about 3 ounces (85 g) each--and roll into very smooth balls about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Cover with well-greased plastic wrap and set aside for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Heat an ungreased comal or griddle over medium heat. (we use a flat cast iron tortilla pan)

Flatten one of the balls on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out, with a dowel for a rolling pin, to form a 6-inch (15-cm) circle. Now it is a matter of choice about thinness and size. You can stretch the dough like a pizza to about 15 inches (38 cm) in diameter.

Carefully lay the tortilla on the griddle; it should sizzle if the heat is correct.

The dough will become opaque and the bottom slightly browned in patches. Turn the tortilla over and cook on the second side; the whole process should take less than 1/2 minute. Do not overcook or the tortilla will become hard instead of soft and pliable.

As soon as each tortilla is cooked, stack inside a cloth.

These tortillas keep well and, although I hesitate to say so, can be prepared well ahead and reheated on a warm comal.

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