How to Make Tortillas From Scratch

Homemade tortillas are not only delicious, but are also extremely affordable and shockingly easy to master. Whether you prefer corn tortillas or flour, these simple methods will make you question why you ever bothered purchasing pre-made tortillas instead of crafting your own from scratch. 

Corn Tortillas

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When it comes to Mexican tacos, corn tortillas are king. For the most part, the flavorful tacos you’ll find being dished out around the country are served on fresh corn bases. Corn tortillas are made from a masa dough, which is created from corn that’s been nixtamalized—soaked, cooked in a natural solution, washed, and hulled—before being ground and combined with water and fat into a moldable dough. While you’re unlikely to have easy access to fresh pre-made Masa dough, you can re-create this dough at home. 

Making corn tortillas requires just three ingredients: water, salt, and masa harina. Masa harina—the dried nixtamalized masa, which when combined with water will form into your own ready-to-mold dough—can be found in many grocery stores and online. 

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Creating your tortilla dough is as simple as combining 2 cups of masa harina with 1½ cups of hot water and a couple of pinches of salt for flavor. Start by combining the salt with the dried masa, before adding in the water and kneading the dough in a large bowl with your hands. If the dough feels crumbly or dry rather than smooth and elastic, simply add another tablespoon of water at a time. Cover the dough with a towel and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. While this step is optional, it will ultimately benefit the texture and taste of the tortillas. 

When you’re ready to prepare your tortillas, roll your dough between your palms into golf ball-sized balls, a couple of tablespoons at a time. To flatten the dough, you have two options. The first is to invest in a tortilla press, which will guarantee perfectly round and flat tortillas, and the second is to simply use a rolling pin to roll your dough by hand, attempting to make them as flat as possible. 

For either method, you’ll want to cover the tortilla press—or rolling space—with a layer of plastic to prevent the tortilla from sticking. One easy method is to use a large ziploc bag that’s been cut down either side to cover the top and bottom of the dough. 

Place your ball of dough in the center of the press or surface, covering it with the top layer of plastic, and clamp down on the press or roll the tortilla out by hand until it’s about ⅛-inch thick. Then, peel back the top layer of plastic and place the tortilla in your palm before peeling back the bottom layer. If not cooking immediately after pressing, keep your tortillas in a stack, wrapped in a clean towel. 

Once your dough has been flattened, preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat and layer your tortillas in a single layer in the hot pan. If you don’t have a cast iron, brush your pan with a small amount of cooking oil between each batch. Cook each tortilla for about 1 minute per side, until they’ve developed some light brown spots on each side. Keep your cooked tortillas wrapped in a towel until you’re ready to serve. Store any leftover tortillas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. 

Flour Tortillas

Flour tortillas are appealing for multiple reasons beyond sheer deliciousness. Firstly, they’re versatile and can be used for quesadillas, burritos, and more. Secondly, most of the ingredients that go into this simple dish are already present in the average American kitchen. Not only are homemade flour tortillas cheaper than purchasing pre-made tortillas, but they also have a much shorter list of ingredients than the store-bought variety.

You’ll need all-purpose unbleached flour, salt, water, baking soda, and lard or olive oil. While lard will result in the most flavorful flour tortilla, you can also if you’d rather not for whatever reason. 

The preferred form of lard is fresh or frozen animal fat, purchased from your butcher or in the meat department of your grocery store. However, you can also use the shelf stabilized lard found in the baking aisle in a pinch. Baking soda is an optional addition to the recipe, but will result in a fluffier, thicker tortilla. 

Begin by combining 3 cups of unbleached flour—which will yield about a dozen tortillas —with a teaspoon or two of salt depending on your salt preferences and 1½ teaspoons of baking soda, optionally. Begin to integrate in ¼ cup of lard or olive oil bit by bit into the dry mixture, using your hands. Once the fat is mixed in, add 1 cup of hot tap water, mix the dough as much as possible with a spoon, and then transfer to the counter to knead by hand for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and springy. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes. 

Once your dough is rested, divide the dough into golf ball sized pieces and roll into smooth balls between your palms. Lightly flour your rolling surface and use a floured rolling pin to flatten the balls into thin, 4-6 inch circles. If you’re planning to make burritos or quesadillas, you can opt to increase the size of your balls to produce larger tortillas. 

Heat a cast-iron skillet or lightly oiled skillet over medium heat and cook your tortillas in a single layer for 30-45 seconds per side, until they’ve developed golden brown spots. If the tortilla is developing black spots, lower the heat slightly. Stack your cooked tortillas in a large plastic bag to steam while you finish rolling and cooking the remainder of your dough. Serve warm, or store leftover tortillas in an airtight bag in the refrigerator for up to a few days. 

Once your homemade tortillas are complete, the serving options are endless, from traditional Lime-Cilantro Pork Tacos and Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos, to Chicken and Black Bean Stuffed Burritos, to Barbecued Pork Quesadillas. Whichever way you choose to present your tortillas, your friends, family, and dinner guests are guaranteed to be blown away by your cooking chops. 

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