Tortilla making is a satisfying, all-consuming, sweaty endeavor. It isn’t meant for humid days like these, unless you want to feel your hands grow swift as you find your rhythm, rolling each and every paper-thin expanse of soft, pliable dough into something worth tasting, worth talking about.
You start with flour, butter (or olive oil), salt, water, and maybe a little something extra, for flavor, and you end up with a pile so high it barely fits under the massive bowl you use to try to keep in the moisture as they cool. Then you fill them with something — anything — delicious, and laugh as it crumbles into a beautiful mess in your hands. No, these are not store-bought tortillas. No dough conditioners or mystery ingredients to keep these babies together. Just the gluten you build up with your hands as you knead and roll.
These are from Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb, which has the most reliable tortilla recipe I’ve found thus far. Yes, it uses a stick of butter for every 8 large tortillas, but that’s not so bad, really. Not when they’re this delicious. You can substitute other oils (safflower, canola, etc) if you like, but the tortillas will be a bit more brittle, and not quite as worth the hot oven and hard work. Besides, I made these a bit more virtuous, with the simple substitution of half whole wheat flour and the addition of whole and ground flax seed (which have the added benefit of contributing an amazing roasted flavor to the final product). You can go a bit further and use water from cooked greens for, say, spinach and flax seed tortillas, if you prefer. So they’re healthy, right?
In other words, run with this recipe. It’s a good, solid base to start with, and puts up with tinkering without much fuss. If you don’t do anything too crazy, I think it’ll give you consistent, delicious results every time. Oh, and it’ll save you a ton of cash, which is a nice side benefit, don’t you think? I think the double recipe (including expensive flax seeds) probably cost me about $5. Given that my local grocery store charges ~$4 for 4 large “healthy” wraps, I just saved myself ~$11. AND I got to throw flour all over the kitchen, which is free entertainment as far as I’m concerned.
Makes 16 small or 8 large (wrap/burrito-size) tortillas.
These freeze well and defrost quickly, so I usually make a double batch. Just be careful not to let them sit out in open air, as they will become brittle if they dry out. They are also not as pliable as grocery store tortillas, but I think that’s actually a good thing if you’re trying to avoid consuming strange ingredients.
- 3-1/2 c. (16 oz) flour. I used half unbleached all purpose, half whole wheat durum in this batch.
- 3/4 t. salt
- 1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened, or an equivalent amount of olive oil by weight
- 1 c. lukewarm water
- 3/4 c. whole flax seeds (approximately). Optional.
- 2 T. ground flax seeds. Optional. I add the ground flax because the omega-3s aren’t absorbed as well from whole flax. Besides, I have some in the fridge, and flax seeds are tasty, so why not?
Preheat oven to 550°F, or as hot as it will get. Make sure you have a few baking pans, a cast iron skillet, or a couple of pizza stones in there to start out with, to cook the tortillas on. Alternatively, you can cook these in a hot, dry skillet on the stove top (1-2 min. each side). I like using my grill pan for this, even if it does tend to smoke.
Mix all ingredients together until the flour is uniformly wet. Knead for three or four minutes, either in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface. You may need to adjust the amount of water in the recipe; the dough should be soft and pliable, not sticky. If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s not soft, add a bit more water. Wetting your hands and kneading a bit more is probably the best way to avoid overcompensating.
Cut the dough into 8 even chunks and form balls. Place under a tea towel and let sit for 20-30 minutes, until the oven’s hot and you’re ready to cook. This rest is important for developing the flavor of the tortilla, so don’t skip it.
When you’re ready to cook them, roll each ball of dough into a thin, roundish disk. Make them one at a time, cook as you go, and keep the ones you haven’t rolled out yet covered as you work. You may need to use extra flour to keep them from sticking to the counter, but the dough shouldn’t be too difficult to work with. If it is, use lots of flour, and remember to add a little less water to the dough next time you make these.
After you roll one out, slide it into the oven, onto your sheet pan, pizza stone, or cast iron skillet. Roll out another, slide that into the oven, and flip the first one. Roll another one out, take the first one out of the oven and place on a plate, under a large bowl, flip the second one, and slide in the third one. Repeat that pattern until you don’t have any more dough left to roll out.
In case that last paragraph is confusing, the basic idea is to cook each tortilla for ~1 minute on each side in a hot oven or pan, while keeping the dough you haven’t rolled out or cooked yet from drying out. I find the rhythm above works best for me, but you may have to adjust depending on your kitchen size and personal cooking style.
Oh, a peel is a nice thing to have for shoveling tortillas in and out of the oven; tongs kind of tear up the tortillas if you’re not careful. A lipless cookie pan will work nicely as well.