There's one reason and one reason only for making flour tortillas at home: lard, my favorite four-letter word. Why else bother with all the rolling and flour dusting if it were not for the melt in your mouth delicious flavor of lard? It's a sad reality, but commercially produced lard-based flour tortillas are impossible to find. When the craving for flour and lard hits, it's time to get rolling with the help of a few simple tips.
My recommendation for making the dough is to use a mixer fitted with a dough hook rather than knead the dough by hand. This is a dough that requires some serious kneading, and it is infinitely less tiring to do so by mechanical means. That commercial tortilleria isn't making its vegetable shortening dough by hand, and there is no reason you need to either. Once the beautiful and elastic dough is finished, it is best to keep it warm to maintain workability. And because the dough is a sticky elastic mess, the best way to divide up the dough into workable portions is with hands well lubricated with lard. The normal flour dusting of the hands isn't going to help you here.
3 cups unbleached All Purpose flour (500 grams), plus a ½ cup for dusting ½ heaping cup lard (125 grams) + 1 tablespoon 1 cup warm water 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt Wood rolling pin Cast iron skillet or comal
Place the flour in the mixer bowl along with the lard, breaking it up into 1-inch pieces. With the paddle attachment, mix on low until the lard is evenly distributed. Dissolve the salt into the water, and with the mixer running, slowly drizzle into the flour. If the dough looks too dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time. Mix the dough for approximately five minutes or until it is smooth and pliable with high elasticity. Grease up a clean bowl with a small amount of lard as well as a the palms of your hands. Shape the dough into a smooth ball and place in bowl. Cover with a damp kitchen towel, and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Once dough is rested and with lard-lubricated palms, divide the dough into even portions, approximately the size of a golf ball. The easiest way to do this is to hold the dough in your palm, and with thumb and index finger, squeeze the dough to get the desired portion.
While portioning, heat a dry, ungreased cast iron skillet or comal, over medium heat. Check the surface temperature by sprinkling water on the skillet. If the water evaporates right away, it is too hot. At the ideal temperature, the water will form into beads and dance on the surface. This is perhaps the most delightful part of tortilla-making, aside from the eating of the finished product itself.
Dust a clean work area evenly with flour, and form a small mound of it to the side. Lightly flatten a dough portion and touch on both sides to the flour. Place on rolling surface, and with a smooth motion of the rolling pin, roll from the center out, both away and towards you. Rotate the dough 180 degrees and repeat the roll. Keep rotating and rolling, adjusting the angle as necessary to get a nice round shape, about the size of a dinner plate. Use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, but not so much that it will affect the taste.
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Lay the tortilla on the cooking surface, being careful to not rip it or overlap it in the process. A happy tortilla will pouf up with steam pockets during the cooking process and it is a beautiful sight to behold. After a minute or so, flip the tortilla and cook on the other side, approximately 30 seconds.
Repeat this process, keeping the cooked tortillas between two clean and dry kitchen towels. The tortillas will keep for a few days if refrigerated, and stored in a ziplock bag. They are best reheated over medium heat on a dry skillet.
As proprietor of Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food, Minerva Orduno Rincon makes everything from mole poblano to goat milk caramel to spiced (not spicy) cocoa. She's taking a summer break from farmers markets, but she'll be back in the fall.