“The first time I worked with fresh masa, I was making tortillas for a Mexican feast that friends and I were preparing for New Year’s Eve. I had bought the dough from Moctec Mexican Products, the Landover company that specializes in transforming dried maize into fresh, fragrant masa. I was smitten on first sniff, even after paying nearly $10 for the five-pound bag of white corn masa.
Consciously or not, I had developed an opinion that fresh masa was virtually foolproof, far easier to turn into tortillas than dough made from masa harina, the corn flour available for about $3 for a four-plus-pound bag of Maseca. But as I pressed the dough into tortillas for the griddle, I quickly learned that this fresh product is not the masa equivalent of a Gabriel García Márquez novel, so magical that it’s immune to the physical laws of the universe…
I turned to cookbook author and television host Pati Jinich for help. I explained my New Year’s Eve masa mess and asked whether the fresh stuff requires specialized handling compared with dough made with masa harina. She said no, but then offered a confession: This native of Mexico prefers the taste of reconstituted masa harina over the full-throttle flavors of fresh masa. The former resonates deeply with Jinich; it represents home, family, childhood…”
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Tortillas de Maiz
2 cups corn tortilla flour
Pinch kosher or coarse sea salt
1 3/4 cups water (or enough for a Play Doh consistency, may vary with climate)
Set a comal, griddle or ungreased dry skillet over medium heat for at least 8 to 10 minutes, until very hot.
Meanwhile, cut 2 circles about the size of the tortilla press plates out of thin plastic bags, such as produce bags from the grocery store.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the corn tortilla flour, salt and the water and knead in a circular motion. It should feel smooth and without lumps, like Play Doh. Though, it shouldn’t be too wet or sticky. If it doesn’t feel smooth and feels coarse when you attempt to make the masa balls, add a bit more water. Masa dries out fast, so if you leave it unattended, cover it with a clean moist kitchen towel or cloth.
To make the tortillas, one by one, make dough balls of about 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Place one plastic circle on the bottom of the tortilla press and place the masa ball on top. Place the other plastic circle on top of the ball and clamp down the press to make a flat disk. As you clamp down the press, jiggle it a little as you are getting to the bottom, this makes for a rounder tortilla. It should be about 5-inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch in height.
If the edges of the tortilla seem cracked and jagged, the dough needs a bit more water. Once you have a tortilla with smoother edges, you are set. (Alternatively, you can place a ball of dough between two plastic pieces and roll the tortillas out with a rolling pin).
Open the press, take the top plastic off, lift the bottom plastic with the tortilla in one hand and peel the tortilla from the plastic with the other hand. I peel it with my right hand, as I am right handed. Lay it on the griddle, skillet or comal softly, but swiftly.
Once the tortilla is on the hot surface, don’t touch it for the next 30 seconds! Even if it didn’t lay completely straight, resist the temptation to fiddle with it. Let it cook until it can be flipped without sticking to the comal, just like pancakes, or until a spatula can easily lift it. Another sign that it is ready to be flipped, is it becomes opaque on the side that it was cooking on.
Turn over, and cook for a minute, until opaque and starting to get brown freckles on the side that is now on the hot surface. If it is opaque but it has white-ish areas, you need to leave it a bit longer until it becomes freckled with brown spots.
Turn over once more, and now after 10 to 15 seconds, the tortilla should puff up like pita bread, if not all over tortilla, at least in an area of it. If it is not puffing, gently tease it by poking with your finger softly in an area of the tortilla around the center. Once it puffs, let the tortilla cook for another 15 to 20 seconds, so that it cooks internally in the puffed up area. That is the difference between ok tortillas, and to die for, malleable, fully cooked, soft tortillas.
Transfer each cooked tortilla to a clean kitchen towel or a cloth-lined tortillero.
If eaten that same day, tortillas may be kept wrapped in a clean kitchen towel or cloth. If not, wrap in a kitchen towel, place inside a closed plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to 3 days, afterwards they will turn too hard. Reheat on hot comal for 30 seconds or so on each side before eating. They can also be frozen and kept for months.
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There are so many ways that you can have and enjoy tortillas de harina at home. You can make them the traditional way, the fast-track-modern way (if you have an electric tortilla maker such as the REVEL…), or buy them ready made at the store. Different from corn tortillas, which rule Mexico’s south and are made with a base of nixtamalized corn, flour tortillas rule Mexico’s north and are wheat flour based. The latter also have an element of fat (either lard, vegetable shortening or oil) and are milder, sweeter and softer.
Sometimes both kinds of tortillas, flour and corn, work interchangeably for a dish, say cheese quesadillas or chicken tacos, and may depend on the preference of the eater. However, beware, there are other times when either the flour or corn tortilla should be the prime choice. Take Chilorio, it needs to be tucked in a flour tortilla. Yet any kind of enchiladas, enfrijoladas, or casserole must, REALLY MUST, be made with corn tortillas because they withhold the sauce much better than wheat flour ones, and sweetness may be uncalled for.
Continue reading Homemade Flour Tortillas