Tortillas: Revolutionizing a Step Back in Time

By: Emily Wolter

I live in Texas where TexMex reigns supreme. Mexican food greets you on every corner and we would have it no other way. After a long day of running around between work and school, my drive home presents many temptations. Thanks to the profession that I have chosen to pursue, my mind is overcome with scientific reasoning, which translates to heading straight home, saving myself $5 and putting all of those groceries that I purchased last weekend to good use.

Last night, I opted to grill up some onions, bell peppers and chicken for a quick and easy taco night. One problem: tortillas were not on my aforementioned shopping list and in an effort to simply use what I have, I am left with one option – to make my own. For someone who loves experimenting in the kitchen, I never turn down a challenge. Had I known that this challenge would intensify my addiction to tortillas and cause bags of flour to just about disappear before my eyes, I may have just thrown my grilled goodies on a bed of lettuce and called it a day. However, you are in luck because food scientists rarely just “call it a day”.

I started out by gathering up my ingredients…a whopping 5 of them:

  • all purpose flour
  • salt
  • baking powder
  • canola oil
  • hot water

Alrighty, the following is going to make about 10-12 good-sized tortillas. I cut this recipe in half when I make it, but the tortillas do keep well in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator once they have cooled.

Measure out 3c All Purpose Flour, 1 t salt and ½ t baking powder in a medium sized bowl. Mix them all together with a spoon or whisk and then add 6 T canola oil. Spoon the flour over the oil and lightly mix. Then put your clean hands to work. Press the flour mixture between your fingers until the oil is well dispersed.

Add ½ c of hot water (I just get it out of the faucet…no need to turn on the stove just yet). I like to have this ½ c of hot water ready to go, so I can just pour it in and keep my hands in the dough. Massage the flour and water together until a doughy ball begins to form. Now you’re in business!

There is something therapeutic about playing with tortilla dough. I remember going to the local Mexican restaurant in my hometown as a wee little tot and watching the “tortilla lady” in awe as she perfectly pressed out each succulent tortilla. After admiring her creations for what she probably construed as an excessive amount of time, she would give me a dough ball and I would run to the table where my parents had been seated to mash the dough between my tiny little fingers and make a futile attempt to create a tortilla as impressive as the master. A Mariachi band belting it out right behind me, colorful photos that should have raised a lot of questions in my 5 year old mind and a slew of people speaking in a language that I couldn’t understand never broke my focus. Then my food would be set down in front of me and I would abandon the craft. Priorities.

Massaging this giant mass of tortilla dough feels exactly like it did 16 years ago. And eating them, well nothing about that deliciousness has changed.

You should now allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes or overnight. Although, if you want to be a rebel and jump right into things, you’ll simply need a bit more non-stick spray.
Preheat a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Meanwhile, separate your dough into about 10-12 smooth balls. Grab a rolling pin, some non-stick spray or flour and a clean surface. Roll out each ball on the greased/floured surface until it’s just thin enough that it won’t tear. If the dough is at all difficult to work with shower it with a light coating of non-stick cooking spray. Peel the dough from the board and place into the hot skillet. This dough is fairly forgiving and holds its shape pretty well when moving from work surface to skillet. Heat about 2 minutes per side or until bubbles start to form. Don’t overcook or you’ll be making tostadas, not tortillas.

Remove from skillet and eat. Or cool and store in a Ziploc bag for as long as they will last.
These tortillas provide the same flavor and structure that I remember so well…with no lard being necessary. For a twist on the classic, try subbing in 1 cup whole wheat flour or go crazy and attempt to make varieties like honey wheat, spinach, and sun-dried tomato. There are so many ways to play with this recipe…How will you make it yours?

Science Meets Food

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1 Comment

  1. Thomas Siebertz

    Great post Emily! I love Latin American foods in general, especially Mexican. I am extremely lucky that my wife makes the best tortillas, probably on Earth. I wish I could make them like she does. She uses the Maseca corn flour to make corn tortillas. She mixes it with water only. She makes them a little thicker than ones you might find at a restaurant and grills them on a flat grill. SO good with rice and beans =]