Tortillas

Homemade flour tortillas! Don’t they look delightful? And these tortillas are my first try. My first try! I came across several recipes on the web and decided on a King Arthur Flour recipe. Turns out I was correct in choosing a recipe from this dependable site. I’ve been using King Arthur flour and their web site for years.

The above tortillas are made with all-purpose flour. Eventually, I plan to make them with flours other than white flour, but this is where I begin. Here is the King Arthur flour recipe: Simple Tortillas. For the ingredients, you can choose from several fats: lard (traditional), butter, shortening, or vegetable oil. I chose lard for my first try. It came from lard in a jar that I bought at Whole Foods over a year ago. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoons baking powder, but I left it out for Try 1.

Try 1: Simple Tortillas (with lard and all-purpose flour)
Begin these tortillas several hours before you plan to cook them.

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lard
  • 3/4-1 cup water

Mix the flour with the salt in a bowl. Divide the lard into chunks, then add it to the flour-salt mixture. With your fingers, carefully work the lard into the dough, until the lard is in small bits, each coated with flour. You could use a pastry blender or a food processor to do this, but I liked doing it “by hand”. From King Arthur flour: “Coating most of the flour with fat inhibits gluten formation, making the tortillas easier to roll out.”

Microwave 1 cup of water for one minute. Pour about 3/4 of it into the dough and immediately mix it in with a spoon or fork. Add more water only as necessary for the dough to hold together. Put the dough on a breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball.

Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized pieces: I used a scale. Set them out at room temperature, well-covered, for about 2 hours.

Cook the tortillas about 30 seconds per side.

Results for Try 1: The tortillas looked great, but either they didn’t have enough salt or the lard was too strong a taste. Although, in burritos, the taste was hardly noticeable.


Notes: I think the “trick” in this recipe is having the dough rest for a couple hours before rolling. While browsing the web, I found other flour tortilla recipes that called for a rest before rolling, from 15 minutes to 2 hours. I chose the 2 hours, as per my own experiences with breadmaking, especially no-knead doughs. Flour does something magical when mixed with water and allowed to sit.

Another trick is rubbing the flour with a solid fat before adding the water. This makes the gluten in the flour separated by bits of fat, and it rolls out easier. How will oil work? That will come in another try.

I left the baking powder in the KA Flour recipe out. Why? The first time I simply forgot it. Later, I read this on the Mexican Please website: “And regarding the baking powder … sometimes I use it and sometimes I don’t. It will make them a little bit thicker and fluffier. That works great if you want the tortillas to double as flatbread or pita. If you want a thinner, traditional tortilla then you can omit the baking powder.” I do like my tortillas “traditional”, but I will try baking powder in one of my sets of trials.


Tries 2 and 3: Simple Tortillas (with solid vegetable shortening, all-purpose or white whole wheat flour, increased salt)

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose OR white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
  • 3/8 to 1/2 cup water

Combine ingredients, form into balls, let rest, and cook as in Try 1.

Results: Both the all-purpose and the white whole wheat flour doughs were easier to roll into 8-inch circles than in Try 1, which was made with lard. The flavor was great in each. The whole wheat flour ones took a bit less water when mixing. They definitely have a whole wheat flavor and seem a bit heavy. I liked them better, hubby preferred the all-purpose flour ones

Notes: The pan heat: 400˚ is the target according to KA. I got the pan to 400˚ by heating on medium high for several minutes. I used the remote temperature thermometer that we use for pizzas. I found that the pan kept heating up at medium high. By the time I was on the 7th tortilla, I had the pan all the way down to 3. It was great to cook them at this temperature – no burning at all on the batch.


Tries 4 and 5: Simple Tortillas (all purpose flour with olive oil, increased salt – as in tries 2 and 3 – with and without baking powder and with salt)

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder OR without
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/8 to 1/2 cup water

Mix the flour with the salt. Add baking powder to one try and leave it out of the other try. Add about half of the hot water to each try and then all of the olive oil and mix it all together. Add more water to each “trial”, but only as necessary for the dough to hold together. Put the dough on a breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball. Divide each dough into 4 equal sized pieces, roll each into a ball, and let sit 2-3 hours at room temperature.

Results: In general, the olive oil trials needed less water. In fact, the tortillas were a bit smaller, and you might want to roll out only 3 from a small batch (1 1/4 cup flour size). Both the olive oil trials yielded tortillas that were more pliable than the lard or shortening trials. The tortillas made with baking powder really puffed up on cooking! After cooking, both types – with and without baking powder – were almost interchangeable.

Here is one of the baking powder tortillas after a few seconds of cooking:

The same one after a few more seconds. Note how high it has puffed!

Here is a comparison of a baking powder tortilla (left) verses one without baking powder (right). The sides we are seeing are the second sides cooked. Note that the non-baking powder tortilla has smaller brown spots.

Notes: The cast iron pan kept heating up as I cooked the 8 tortillas. I started with the burner at setting 6-7 to preheat to 400˚ on my remote temperature sensor. When I added the first tortilla, I turned the burner down to 6. As I continued the cooking additional tortillas, the temperature creeped up, and I turned it the burner down to 4 or 5. The pan temperature still creeped up, and was 570˚ after I cooked my last tortilla. They were not burning at 570˚, but do keep aware of temperature changes of the cast iron pan. Cooking 8 tortillas only took about 8 minutes.


Conclusions

From my tests and tastings, I like best the tortilla method that calls for olive oil, all-purpose flour, and no baking powder. This will be my go-to recipe. I’ll probably try different types of flour – cassava, barley flour, whole wheat pastry flour, perhaps others – and different mixtures of flours, like half all-purpose and half a different flour. I use more salt than in the original recipe.

The whole wheat versions are healthier, and quite acceptable, but the others are softer and my husband likes them better, so white flour tortillas are my go-to at the moment.


My modified recipe for flour tortillas

  • 2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 7/8 to 1 cup water

Mix the flour with the salt. Add about three-quarters of the hot water, all of the olive oil, and mix it all together with a spoon. Add more water only as necessary for the dough to hold together.

Put the dough on a breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball. Divide each dough into 8 equal sized pieces (by weight, if possible), form each portion into a ball, and let sit 2-3 hours at room temperature.

Cook each side of the tortillas on a pre-heated flat pan pan. If possible, use a cast iron griddle. You do not need to oil the pan for these tortillas. If possible, monitor the temperature of the griddle with a remote sensor.