Tortillas de Maiz



The process of making tortillas de maiz is a subject dear to my heart because although tortillas appear to very easy to make, they are actually very difficult for anyone that did not grow up making them.  And if you are married to a Latin man and did not grow up making these, you have probably endured tons of jokes and snide comments about not being able to make them.  Because, after all, he will callously remark, tortillas are just "so easy"!  Why, "how can anyone not know how to make them?!"  If it were only that easy!

The above dialogue used to be very common in my household.  I loved eating my mother-in-laws tortillas.  Salvadoran tortillas are also known as corn tortillas or "Mexican" tortillas to distinguish them from being Spanish tortillas because in Spain, a tortilla can also mean an omelet.  I tried desperately to make tortillas myself but even though I watched my suegra make them countless times, my tortillas never seemed to turn out quite right.  My husband would remark that they were "too dry", "too flat", "too small", or plain, just "wrong"!  As upsetting as it was, deep down I knew he was right, my tortillas were definitely not what tortillas de miaz were supposed to be like.  

So what was I doing wrong?  Well, first off, this is definitely one of those foods that is perfected by making it many, many times.  But it definitely helps to have a recipe to go by too, and that was something I didn't have.  Through enough trial and error, I eventually figured out the "secret" recipe for perfect tasting, and looking, tortillas.  The secret lies in getting the right proportion of water to corn flour, and also in adding a little baking powder to help the tortillas puff up when they are heated.  The ultimate goal is to get the masa, or dough made of corn flour and water, as saturated and moist as possible, but not so moist that the dough will crumble when you try to shape it into balls or peel it off of plastic baggies after flattening them.

Although I no longer need to measure the flour, water, and baking soda anymore, it's important for beginners to have a recipe that lays out the correct proportions of these ingredients.  This will allow one to get a feel for what correct masa dough is supposed to look like, feel like, and even taste like.  Once you understand what a tortilla masa should be like, you will be able to stop measuring things out and simply add enough of everything until you know it's "right".  But be patient, it will probably take at least 5-10 tries before you can make them without following this recipe.

Now lets talk about what you need to make these things:  If you travel to any Latin country, you will likely see women cooking tortillas on a comal, or large flat iron skillet that looks similar to a pizza pan, but without any edges - see the picture on the left.  The comal is heated up by placing it over a fire or a very large grill.  Since I have no way to heat a comal in my modernized house, and because I am not too fond of making large fires either, I simply use three regular nonstick skillets - (I use three of them to speed up the process of making many tortillas).  You can also use an outdoor grill or griddle if you have one. The advantage of cooking tortillas outdoors is that it reduces the smell.  If you have ever smelled cooking corn, you will know that it's not the most pleasant thing to smell in the world.  If you are going to cook them inside on a stove, make sure to crack open an window to help with the smoke and smell of the corn. 

Although the authentic way of flattening tortillas is with a plate or plate-like object, you can also buy a metal tortilla press which is sold at many international grocery stores in the U.S.  A tortilla press flattens the balls of tortilla masa into their characteristic thin, flat, "little cake" shapes.  Although it's true that a press will reduce the mess of the process slightly, I've never bothered to buy one of these.  Instead, I prefer to make tortillas the old fashioned way using my hands, two plastic baggies, and a clear plate.  My pictures at the bottom of this post show how I use these things to make perfectly round tortillas

Here is my recipe for THE perfect tortilla.  This recipe makes about 20-30 tortillas and can be doubled or halved if you desire to make more or less.  Although tortillas are usually eaten with other food, such as meat, rice, or vegetables, they are just as good eaten by themselves as well!

Ingredients:

-3 cups of Instant Corn Flour treated with lime, (this flour is known in Spanish as "harina de maiz". I use the "Masa Brosa" brand)
-5 cups of lukewarm tap water (agua tibia)
-Small bowl of tap water

Directions:

-In a large bowl, measure out the 3 cups of corn flour
-Add 4 1/2 cups of water and mix together with your hands until combined.
-Add final 1/2 cup of water slowly, mixing thoroughly with hands until fully incorporated.
-Pre-heat three or more nonstick skillets on high/medium high.  If you have a griddle or comal, use it instead. 
-Begin to form medium-sized balls out of the masa with your hands.
-Before you pick up a new ball of dough to mold, wet your hands in the bowl of water.  This keeps dough moist and prevents cracking when cooked.
-Place each ball of masa dough between two plastic baggies and flatten the ball by pressing down with a clear glass plate.  You want to use a glass plate so you can see through it and keep an eye on how flat you are making your dough. 
-Remove flattened dough from baggies and place onto hot skillet.
-Repeat process until all dough balls have been cooked - about 1-2 minutes on each side.
-Place cooked tortillas on metal wrack to cool or eat them hot. 

Buen Provecho!

Here are some pictures of the tortilla-making process:





















My little helper usually doesn't have the patience to wait until I have finished cooking all the tortillas before he gets to eat his. 












Here is my little helper after eating some of his tortilla.  Tortillas are definitely yummy for the tummy, just look at that smile!



10 comments:

Nancy and Vijay said...

Wonderful post! You are so right, tortillas are most definitely not easy to make. I have many times tried and ended up with thick, inedible pieces of hard dough. Ready to try again after reading this :)

Megan @ Pip and Ebby said...

I have never made tortillas, but now I am afraid to try! :) Sounds like you have put your share of effort into it.

Your little helper is absolutely adorable!

MªJosé said...

Me gusta tu blog. He tardado mucho en verlo pero me alegro. Entro muy poco por foodbuzz.
Muy buenas las tortillas. Aquí en Asturias (España) las freimos.
Un saludo

Blackswan said...

Hahaha! Your kid is soooooo adorable! Thks for sharing the making of Tortillas :)

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mjskit said...

I've tried making tortillas many times, but there always came out cracked around the edges and dry. Thanks so much for writing such detailed instructions! I think I might just have to try again. :)

Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips said...

Just found your blog and absolutely love it! I've always wondered how to make a good authentic tortilla. Thanks for posting this! Will be checking back!

Anonymous said...

I love your recipes; I am Salvadorian but never learned to cook back home - big mistake. I have learned by trial and error. You do not need to use baking powder in order to have them puff up, just keep them moist while they cook. I have a bowl of water and keep moistening them with a paper towel everytime I turned them.

Your little helper is just too cute for words. Lindisimo el nene.

Sara said...

You just made my day! I'm so excited! I have been trying to make tortillas for a while and now maybe I'll have some success. (big smile)

Nancy Fuentes said...

OH YA!

Anonymous said...

Hi I just found your blog and I wanted to know if you've ever seen anyone use just their hands to make tortillas? I live in Nova and all my salvy friends use their hands, they laughed when i asked about a tortilla press and said its mostly mexicanas that use those? I'm glad you have so many recipes because most people dont realize El Salvador has its own food, like pupusas, tamales rieguas, and nuegados. Keep on cooking!

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