These flat, corn- or flour-based breads are at the heart of almost every quick Mexican dish – and some of the more complicated ones, too! And when one food is that important in a cuisine, you simply have to learn to make it yourself. In fact, next time you go to a supermarket, pick up a packet of soft tortillas and read the back – if they have any more than three ingredients, you’re being shafted – it will be full of preservatives. Tortillas, although incredibly simple to make, do take practice. Persistence is a part of any skill, and absolutely essential to cooking – keep going, even if you fail at your first few. You’ll get there.
- 2 cups masa harina (corn flour)
- 300 ml warm water (see Note)
- a little salt (optional)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time 1 hour
Cooking time 2-3 minutes on each side
Mix about 2 cups of masa harina (dried masa flour) with water and knead until it becomes a smooth dough. Roll it into a large ball and cover for at least 1 hour.
After the dough is rested, you need to check its density. Break off a small piece, roll it into a ball, then squash it between your palms. If the edges crack it’s too dry, if it sticks to your hand it’s too wet. Or push your thumb into the dough and it should pass in easily and not crack on the sides or stick to your thumb.
Split the dough into 2 cm balls. Cover the base of a plate or circular stone with plastic wrap.
Take each ball and press it down under the base of the plastic-wrapped plate, to flatten it into a round “tortilla” shape. Heat a heavy cast iron frying pan to medium on the stove.
Carefully transfer your tortilla from the plastic to the palm of your hand and then into the frying pan. The tortilla will start to develop brown dots – once you see a few, flip it over. Once the tortilla has puffed up on both sides, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
• Masa de harina literally means ‘dough flour’ and is made from roasted corn activated with lime (the same stuff you use to whitewash walls!), soaked in hot water to give it workable elasticity, and ground between two granite rollers. Don’t confuse it with ‘cornflour’ – they are two quite different things. Do a little research to find a Mexican ingredient importer or a specialty supermarket that sells masa flour.
• The amount of water is dependant on the flour, humidity, and other elements. Start with 300 ml of water and then add it ½ at a time, to make a firm dough that does not crack when you push your finger into it, but is also not sticky.
• A tortilla press is also a great novelty kitchen tool and makes the pressing much easier. You need to make sure to press the tortilla between two pieces of plastic wrap or it will stick to your press.