Flour tortillas are more commonly found in the northern states of Mexico. For decades, the people there have faithfully used a traditional recipe that calls for 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of flour, ¼ kilogram (½ pound/250 g) of shortening, a pinch of salt, and hot water as needed. These amounts are so well known, stores sell flour in a 1-kilogram bag and shortening in a ¼-kilogram package. Today, people don’t make flour tortillas at home as often as before, since you can find them at many stores as well as in tortillerias. Nevertheless, nothing beats a freshly made flour tortilla! My version of the recipe is designed for a smaller yield but has the same delicious flavor.
• Add ½ teaspoon of baking powder to the ingredients if you live at a high altitude. You can still make the tortillas without using the baking powder, but they will not puff up as much when cooking them (they will still turn out fine).
• Add the water, a little at a time, when forming the dough. In humid climates, the dough will require slightly less water, so it’s important to be mindful of this.
• The resting period allows the gluten to develop, and this makes the dough easier to stretch when forming the tortillas. Do not skip this step (otherwise the dough will shrink back when stretched).
• The comal should be just hot enough, so when cooking the tortillas, the spots that form are a light-brown color. If the spots turn dark brown too quickly, then the heat is too high; if the tortilla takes longer to cook, then the heat is too low.
• Fresh tortillas can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in a plastic bag.
• To reheat, place a tortilla on a hot comal over medium-high heat and warm it the same way you cooked them in step 8, turning them twice. The air bubbles will form again, but they won’t be as big as when the tortillas were cooked the first time.
10 large flour tortillas
- Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and mix together. With the help of a fork or pastry blender, or with your hands, incorporate the shortening until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
- Slowly add the hot water, a little at a time, until the dough starts to hold together. Do not add all the water at once.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface (do not use too much flour or the tortillas will be dry) and knead for a couple of minutes, until it has a smooth texture.
- Divide the dough into 10 equal-size pieces. Roll each piece on your work surface with the palm of your hand to form it into a ball. These balls of dough are called testales.
- Place the testales on your work surface, a baking sheet, or in a large bowl and cover them with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Set them aside to rest for 30 to 45 minutes.
- After the resting period, preheat a comal or large skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly flour your work surface and a rolling pin (do not use too much flour or the tortillas will be dry).
- To form the tortillas, place a testal on your work surface and slightly press it down with your hand. Place the rolling pin over the center of the testal and gently press forward and then backward (without making it to the edges). Turn the piece of dough 90 degrees (a half turn) and repeat this forward-and-backward pressing motion. Flip the dough again and repeat this process until you have formed a thin tortilla that is about 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter. (If you are new to rolling tortillas, be patient, it takes a little bit of practice.)
- Once your tortilla has been formed, place it on the hot comal. The following steps happen quickly, so it’s important to stay alert. During the first 20 to 30 seconds, the tortilla will form air bubbles and light brown spots will begin to show on the bottom side of the tortilla. At this point, turn the tortilla over for the first time. During the next 20 seconds, more air bubbles will continue to form. Flip the tortilla a second time. In the next 10 seconds, it should puff up and then deflate back to its normal size. The tortilla is now done.
- Once the tortilla is cooked, wrap it in a cloth napkin or kitchen towel to keep it warm. Continue forming and cooking the rest of the tortillas, and then placing them in the cloth napkin with the other tortillas. The wrapped tortillas will stay warm longer when placed in a tortilla basket made with natural fibers.