Making your own tortillas probably seems intimidating to anyone that hasn’t done it before, and I won’t lie: there’s a definite learning curve involved. But once you figure it out, you’re going to question why you didn’t start doing this years ago.
The recipe itself is remarkably simple. You’ll only need three ingredients: Masa harina, salt, and water. Masa harina is very finely ground corn flour. It’s really easy to work with once you get the hang of it, and it’s delicious — which is why you only need a bit of salt to season. Also, if you have a tortilla press, it’s going to make your life a heckuva lot easier, but if you don’t, a rolling pin and some creativity will serve as an adequate substitute.
I’m going to describe how to form these tortillas, but if you’re more into the visual thing, check out this video. One thing that you’ll notice if you look at different recipes or different videos for making corn tortillas: the masa-to-water ratio will vary, sometimes quite a bit. That’s because making the mixture is a lot about feel, which is why this may take a bit of practice before you get really comfortable.
The first thing to do is mix your salt into the masa, then add about half of the water. You probably could use a stand mixer with the hook attachment, but there’s really no substitute for getting your hands dirty on this one. Start to mix the dough together, adding a bit of water at a time, until it’s smooth but still a little sticky. Again, the amount of water may vary, so don’t add too much too quickly. The package of masa may also have recommendations, based upon the type of corn they used and the milling procedure, so check that out as well.
When the dough forms into a ball that is solid but still a little sticky, you’re in pretty good shape.
Now, you can work with that immediately, but I prefer to let it sit for about 10-15 minutes, covered in plastic. That will allow the masa to finish absorbing the water, and before you form the tortillas, you can add a bit more masa or water if necessary.
Now, it’s time to form the tortillas. Get a cast iron pan or a griddle heated up to high heat, then break off small pieces of the dough and roll into balls. The recipe I gave you above makes about 10 tortillas, so separating into 10 equal pieces is a safe bet. After you form a couple, you’ll get a good idea of how big you should go.
Last step before forming: get some plastic to put on both sides of the press. Pictured below, I used a zip-top bag and split it in half. Not pictured, I actually had better success using wax paper. Play with different ideas (plastic wrap or parchment paper could work too). The point is to keep the dough off of the press itself — you’ll get a much smoother tortilla this way, and you’ll be able to easily transport it across the kitchen to the pan instead of having to press them out right by the stove.
When the pan is ready, place a ball of dough directly in the center of the press, close it, and press down hard to evenly distribute the dough. This only takes a couple of seconds, and when you lift up, you should see a nice, even, smooth disc.
If you’re one of those poor fools without a press, roll the dough out with a rolling pin til it’s fairly thin and consistent. You may not get a perfectly circular shape, but we’re not looking for that, necessarily. There’s something charming about the imperfection.
Now, to the trickiest part. Carefully and slowly peel away the top layer of plastic/wax paper, making sure not to tear the tortilla. Then slowly peel either:
- The tortilla from the paper, or
- The paper from the tortilla
I tried both ways, and failed equally the first few tries. Tearing will likely occur, and that’s okay. Depending on how much dough you made, you can either try to re-form it, or just drop the torn pieces into some oil and make chips.
Once you get a solid tortilla out of the plastic/paper and into your hands, drop it (carefully!) into your heated pan. If you’re using cast iron, you may not need to add oil; if you’re not, a little bit may be in order. Drop that bad boy in, let it cook on one side for 30-60 seconds, then flip. If it starts bubbling with air inside, don’t try to pop the air bubbles. It will naturally deflate once you flip it and/or remove it from the heat, and it’ll make for good texture.
These things should cook for about 2 minutes each, but a lot will depend on your pan and level of heat, as well as the consistency of your dough. Cook ’em until they’re firm and pliable.
These tortillas are referenced in the following recipes: