First of all: Sorry I Haven’t Posted. ;) Now, on to the task at hand!
When I was in a creative writing class in college, I wrote a short story about making tortillas in my grandmother’s kitchen. It was an idealistic scene for me: My plump granny standing next to me at her counter, instilling in me her wisdom about life and how to roll out a perfect tortilla, in one complex metaphor. Plus, she wore her hair in a bun and had on a frilly apron.
A girl in class said the scenario sounded too real and asked if it was taken from a memory.
Ha. Not in my grandmother’s house.
My granny consistently said that we are not Hispanic. “We are of European descent,” she would say.
“But grandma,” I once argued while sitting at the kitchen table, eating a deviled egg with a petit shrimp perched atop the sunny yellow filling, “your last name is Gonzalez. My last name is Martinez. We are Mexican!”
My grandma then went on to say that we had distant relatives who came from Spain or France or somewhere, but to always remember that first and foremost, we were Americans.
And she really was very American, or at least very much her idea of American. This is a woman who made chicken fricassee for lunch and Cornish game hens for Christmas dinner. I do not ever remember her making pots of bubbling frijoles a la charra, much less have memories of her standing at her counter, making tortillas.
I wrote that story for my class because it was something I missed out on as a kid. I wanted that kind of scene in my life.
This is what La Abuela tortillas looked like in my youth. Thanks to Gabe Hernandez for taking this photo. Please don’t sue me for using it on my oft-neglected blog.
My mother also did not make homemade tortillas. In fact, for a very long time, she only bought crappy packaged tortillas from H.E.B. that tasted like plastic. Then, she began buying some par-cooked tortillas by a brand called La Abuela. These, miraculously, did not taste like plastic. They felt kinda homemade because you had to peel the tortillas off of the stack they came in and cook them on a cast iron griddle (comal, in Spanish), where they’d puff up, just like the real thing. They were almost like granny made them (La Abuela translates to the grandmother in English).
Now, I don’t blame my grandmother for denying a part of her Mexican heritage. As the only dark-skinned girl in a family full of guero (light-skinned and blue eyed) siblings, she was teased and discriminated against by her family and the community. She once told me that she couldn’t go into the public pool because she looked Mexican. Her brothers and sisters could, though, and they made sure to let her know how amazing that cool water was while she watched from the other side of a fence.
I can’t hold the lack of tortilla making against my mom, either. She is a single mother who was constantly at work (as a teacher, then vice principal, then principal—I’m proud of her trajectory). She had three girls to raise by herself. She carted us to extra-curricular activities after long days at school. She put all three of us through college. I can’t blame her for not stopping to teach me how to make me a few flour tortillas in the middle of all of that.
I do blame myself for not sooner realizing that I, a person who loves food and has no serious hang-ups about my culture, had never made flour tortillas.
My granny is gone now and my mother still doesn’t really know how to make flour tortillas. Maybe, using this recipe, I can stand at her kitchen counter with a frilly apron on and give her a lesson.
adapted from Gourmet
This recipe is part of my quest to find the best homemade flour tortilla recipe. I was holding out to use my mom’s copy of the South Texas Mexican Cook Book by Lucy Garza (listed here on amazon.com), but I kept forgetting about Lucy, so instead I looked the recipe up on Epicurious, which is where old Gourmet recipes now reside. I’ve made the Gourmet recipe a good five to six times, once with abysmal (specifically, yellow) results, when I accidentally used baking soda instead of baking powder. Don’t do that. Some commenters on the site say to add a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour, but I feel like that gives the tortillas too much heft. The recipe works just as well without the baking powder, but I like the slight puff half a teaspoon gives the dough.
Makes about a dozen medium-sized tortillas
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
In a medium or large bowl, blend the flour, baking powder and the shortening until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal.
In a glass measuring cup, stir together the salt and 2/3 cup hot water. I usually put the water in the measuring cup, add the salt and then pop it in the microwave until the mixture is hot to the touch (I faintly remember the recipe in Lucy’s cookbook saying to use hot water).
Add the salted water to the flour mixture, and stir the mixture until the liquid is incorporated.
Form the dough into a ball and knead it on a lightly floured surface for two to three minutes, or until it is smooth.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and form each piece into a ball. Put the dough balls back in the bowl and let them sit, covered with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel, for at least 30 minutes and up to one hour.
Heat a cast iron skillet or a nonstick pan over medium high heat. Test the heat of your skillet by dropping some water on the surface. When it sizzles and quickly evaporates, it’s ready for the first tortilla.
Grab one of the balls of dough and use your hands to slightly flatten it out. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a seven-to 10-inch circle. A good method to use is to start from the middle of the dough and roll upwards, then give the disc a 1/4 turn, and repeat. This method is more of a goal of a method for me, since I try to do this and it NEVER WORKS. My tortillas are usually crazy looking blobs. I love them anyway.
Place the tortilla on the griddle and cook it for 30 seconds to one minute, turning it once, until it puffs and is lightly browned. Oh, and when your tortilla puffs, use a spatula to push down on it. I’ve suffered more than one steam burn while feeling overconfident in my tortilla making skills and pushing down on the pocket with my bare hand. Leave that to professional abuelas. Also, in my experience, the hotter the comal, the less likely the tortilla is to get hard. Try to only turn it one time as well.
Wrap your finished tortilla in either a kitchen towel or place it in a tortilla warmer with a napkin or paper towel inside to absorb any excess moisture and continue rolling out and cooking the dough until you’ve used up all of it.
The tortillas can be cooled and placed in a zip-top bag in the fridge and re-warmed on a comal. They’re good for about three days.