It’s a wrap! Homemade flour tortillas

My dabbling in Mexican cuisine continues, this time with flour tortillas. Despite the fact that I’ve been eating flour tortillas a lot longer than soft corn tortillas, I consider the masa-based variety to be more quintessentially Mexican, which is why I tackled them first. Or maybe it’s just because the flour ones are so much easier to find in stores, and seem to have a longer shelf life, so I’m more inclined to buy them.

But I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to flour tortillas. As breads go, they’re surprisingly easy. My bread-baking skills are pretty rudimentary, but I could make pie crust in my sleep, and flour tortillas have more in common with the latter than the former. You start by rubbing fat (lard for tortillas; usually butter for pie) into flour until the mixture resembles “coarse meal.” The ratio of flour to fat, at 5:1, was a little higher than the 3:2 ratio I use for pie crust, but the action was familiar. Then water is added (warm for tortillas; ice cold for pie), and this is where the process diverges: with pie, you work the dough as little as possible, while tortillas are kneaded thoroughly. I found the kneading to be easier than with most breads, probably because the inclusion of fat helps limit gluten formation, which makes bread dough sticky.

They were also easier to form than corn tortillas are. No tortilla press required, just a rolling pin. And transferring them to the cast-iron skillet to cook was easier too, because the gluten makes them substantially less fragile than masa dough. The recipe I was using called for a small amount of baking powder, which presumably helped them puff up as they cooked, creating a tender, flaky product, but I’ll be curious to try without.

As the tortillas came off the skillet, I put them in a large plastic zipper bag, to allow the moisture to even out and to keep them warm.  Between the lard, the quality flour and the freshness, they were far more flavourful than any store-bought ones I’ve ever had, though they could have used a little more salt.

Once they were all ready, I cooked up some chorizo and eggs (using the batch of chorizo I’d made for queso fundido), made some pico de gallo, and served them for brunch, along with slices of ripe, creamy avocado and tangy sour cream. It was actually so good that it justified waking up early enough to make my own tortillas!

How to make flour tortillas

500g all-purpose flour (the flour I used was about 11% protein)
Salt (I used the highly accurate measure of “a pinch”; you may have to experiment)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
100g lard, in pieces
1 cup warm water

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder together. Rub in the lard until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add enough warm water to form a stiff dough (I used the full cup). Knead until smooth and silky. Divide into 16 portions of about 50g each, and roll each portion into a ball. Keep the balls of dough covered with plastic wrap.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball at a time until thin and about 7 inches across. Transfer the rolled dough to the skillet, and roll out the next ball while the first tortilla cooks. Cook each tortilla for about a minute on the first side, until browned in patches and beginning to puff. Flip, and cook until browned in patches on the other side, about 45 seconds to a minute more. Place the finished tortillas in a large plastic zipper bag to keep warm until all the tortillas are cooked. Serve immediately, or cool and freeze.

Which is better, flour tortillas or corn tortillas?

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8 Responses to “It’s a wrap! Homemade flour tortillas”

  1. This is awesome! Have you maybe tried frying them? We just put up a post at sciencefare about frying tortillas – would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Yeah, I just saw that post! I was wondering whether frying the dough directly, rather than starting with finished tortillas, might be the way to go.

  3. Matthew — I love the post! In fact, it inspired me to write a tortilla-chip-making post on my blog gastronomer.org. I hope you like it and keep up the good work. — Ross

  4. Hi Ross, glad you found the post inspiring!

  5. I dig it…

    I made a couple changes, due to a) a poorly stocked pantry, and b) curiosity/boredom.

    •closer to three pinches of salt
    •closer to 165g unsalted butter for fat
    •no baking powder
    •an absolutely unreasonable amount of kneeding amend stretching the dough…like, hours (with breaks to let the dough rest and recover every 15-20 minutes or so).

    I didn’t just knead it, I was doing all sorts of crazy twist and flatten and brush with bitter and fold and flatten and toss and spin and sloowwwlly stretch. I don’t know what you would call the dough I ended up with, probably closer to pizza dough, but then I fried it in an inch of canola oil…and good god, man.

    Long story short, I accidentally figured out taco bell’s chalupa shell recipe…only a million times better.

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