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Jmahl

Making Tortillas at Home

173 posts in this topic

Ok so I just made corn tortillas for the first time using this very helpful guide and they turned out pretty well. By the time I made my last tortilla I had something of a setup going. I had a 10-inch fairly well seasoned cast iron frying pan well heated on medium heat. I would take a piece of masa dough and roll it into a 1-inch diamater ball before flattening it into a patty and placing it in the tortilla press. I would then place the tortilla in the pan and flip as soon as it would slide freely, I would then cook it on that side for about a minute before flipping it, at which point it would puff up immediately.

Sounds ok right? It seemed pretty good to me but I still have some question I am hoping someone can help me with. The biggest problem for me seemed to be aesthetics. My dough seemed to crack very easily and I was never able to press out a very uniform, clean looking tortilla. I am also curious as to whether or not the indentations in Jmahl's picture (the one just before the masa ball is pressed) serve a purpose. I would very much like to one be able to turn out pretty tortillas like that. The other things were that my seemed to pick up a few more brown spots than the tortillas in the demo, and they never puffed quite so voluminously all the way out to the edges of the tortilla.

Anyone have any advice/tips or detailed information that might help me solve these problems? A detailed description of pressing (I know, I know it's simple but any information at all is usually helpful to me) would be great.

Happy tortilla making!

gabe

Dear gabe,

My resident expert says that your dough is probably a little too dry, also use very hot water when mixing your masa. Mix your masa with a spoon so you will not get burned. As far as looks go I'm told it just takes practice. The more you make the better they come.

Good tortilla making.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Hi Jmahl!

I have a couple of questions if you don't mind...

1.) Do you have to knead the dough or just mix it until it comes together?

2.) If you do have to knead it, how long should you knead it for and what kind of consistency are you looking for?

3.) Do you let the dough rest after mixing/kneading it? If so, for how long?

Thanks, and keep up the good work! :-).

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Hey Infernoo,

I'm not Jmahl and no tortilla expert but I will answer to the best of my knowledge, and hopefully those more knowledgeable than I will correct any mistakes I might make.

1) No kneading is necessary. Masa is not really like a flour dough at all, it contains no gluten and wouldn't really knead so much as fall apart.

2) See above

3) No resting period is necessary either, the more the dough rests the more it dries out.

Remember as Jmahl said to use very hot water to mix your dough, in my experience the dough should be fairly moist, pretty much completely saturated with water. If you have not yet bought your tortilla press, look for one like Jmahl's where the force is applied to the center of the press. I made the mistake of purchasing one whose handle presses down off center and produces tortillas of uneven thickness (I now just usually apply force with my hands in the center).

Please feel free to ask any other questions if you have any! I am still learning myself but I can now produce tortillas of the size and thickness I want and have them puff 95% of the time, the next thing I want to learn is how to get rid of those pesky cracked edges if possible. Additionally, you might want to try adding a scant amount of salt to your masa, preference varies but I like them like this.

Good luck,

gabe

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Thanks for the speedy reply Gabe!

I have a few more questions for you (and Jmahl) if you don't mind. I noticed that some of mine didn't puff up... judging from the above posts, this is most likely due to the mixture being too dry?

The other problem was that even though I used a tortilla press and they came out pretty damn thin and uniform, the insides on them were still a bit pastey/uncooked even though I cooked them for longer than recommended. They were all cooked on an ungreased cast iron pan (and I also tried greased, but it didn't make much difference).

Also, I am pretty sure I had the temperature spot on, so I don't think it was a matter of the pan not being hot enough (I can tell this because they came out with nice brown marks).

Finally, should the dough feel very different to normal bread dough? For example, when I was "kneading" it, it would just sort of squish against the bench top and not hold together as a single piece.

Thanks again!

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Thanks for the speedy reply Gabe!

I have a few more questions for you (and Jmahl) if you don't mind. I noticed that some of mine didn't puff up... judging from the above posts, this is most likely due to the mixture being too dry?

The other problem was that even though I used a tortilla press and they came out pretty damn thin and uniform, the insides on them were still a bit pastey/uncooked even though I cooked them for longer than recommended. They were all cooked on an ungreased cast iron pan (and I also tried greased, but it didn't make much difference).

Also, I am pretty sure I had the temperature spot on, so I don't think it was a matter of the pan not being hot enough (I can tell this because they came out with nice brown marks).

Finally, should the dough feel very different to normal bread dough? For example, when I was "kneading" it, it would just sort of squish against the bench top and not hold together as a single piece.

Thanks again!

No problem infernoo, always happy to help. I made a batch of about ten today and discovered a number of things. Firstly, the dough shouldn't really feel at all like bread dough. Normal bread dough has gluten which forms long elastic bonds which makes bread dough stretchy. To the best of my knowledge, masa doesn't really share any of the properties of bread dough. The only real variable is how saturated the masa is with water, so as long as you used hot water to mix your masa and add enough to pretty much completely saturate it, I don't think you can go wrong.

I am guessing the ones that seemed "pastey" and uncooked are the ones that didn't puff yes? I have discovered that the puffing is essential to making a good tortilla, if it doesn't puff the middle layer never really gets cooked and the the inside of tortilla is raw and pastey as you described it. In my experience the only reason a tortilla won't puff (assuming you are using the proper method to cook them) is if there is a hole or crack somewhere in the tortilla. It is essential that the air stay trapped inside the tortilla so it will puff up. After you have pressed your tortilla check for cracks or little holes or indentations, if they are any bigger than pin-sized or have any depth to them, chances are your tortilla won't puff. I am still working out the details as to how to ensure that there are no cracks or holes post pressing but I have discovered a few things.

Check the eveness of your tortillas, are they of uniform thickness? If one side is too thin chances are it will crack from the heat and allow the air to escape.

Don't press your tortillas too thin, I find when I press mine too thin they end up cracking from the heat and not puffing.

Make sure your dough is moist, I often rehydrate each individual ball of masa with a little bit of water as I am working with it. I have had the best luck with masa that is essentially fully saturated with water.

Check both surfaces of your tortilla press, are there any lumps or indentations? These may contribute to cracking or holes in your pressed tortillas.

Use thick plastic sheets that are more or less unwrinkled and hole/tear free. Replace the bags you are pressing with if they get too worn.

Additionally, if you find that your tortilla is not puffing when it should be or only part of it is puffing look for cracks or holes where steam is escaping. Often I am able to get them to puff simply by blocking the hole with a cloth or paper towel and holding it there until the tortilla puffs.

Try playing around with the forming and pressing of the masa balls and find out what works well for you. I have only been making tortillas for a month and have learned a lot just by paying careful attention.

Hope this helps! Mine have gotten a lot better in a short time, but are still a little too thick and have too many cracks along the edges for my liking. I think my tortilla press may be partly at fault but I am not sure. One day I hope to have tortillas that are aesthetically just like the ones from the tortilla factory near my house - a perfect circle of uniform size and thickness with no cracked edges (mine still taste better as they are fresher).

gabe

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Brilliant!

Thank you so much for your help & advice Gabe, I will take into account your advice and practice, practice, practice.

I shall report back after I have played around some more :-).

There also seems to be a divide as to whether or not to grease the comal/skillet, some say do it (as in this post and some books I have read), whereas others say don't (e.g. rick bayless). I guess as long as it doesn't stick it shouldn't make much of a difference except perhaps the oil would be better at conducting heat to the surface of the tortilla.

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Your very welcome! I have struggled with many cooking tasks like this before and know how much of a difference a little help can make. In fact, I find it very satisfying to know that someone finds my knowledge helpful.

I'm still on the fence on whether or not to grease. If I grease heavily the tortilla will move freely almost immediately after I place it on the comal, meaning that I lose (what some people consider) an indication of when to flip. On the other hand if I don't grease sometimes things seem to go fine, but other times they stick terribly and almost invariably the tortilla is ruined. However, I think it is really dependent on what kind of pan you are using, how well seasoned it is etc.

I am thinking that I will spend a whole day or soon just making tortilla after tortilla. This way I hope gain a good understanding of the different variables involved such that I can tweak them to perfection. And of course I too will report back with whatever I may learn.

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Dear Gabe,

Good for you. I think you are on a roll and are getting it down. Just keep at it.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Dissatisfied with the quality of store-bought tortillas, I just bought myself a tortilla press and some 100% stone ground corn flour (imported from Mexico and cooked with lime).

The recipe I used was:

2 cups masa flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 - 1 1/3 cups warm water.

The dough came together well, rolled into balls nicely and when pressed peeled easily off the tortilla press (I think it's cast iron coated with aluminium).

I started with a non-stick pan but found that the heat need to cook them was too high so swapped to cast iron which I put on high heat over a wok burner (inside from a domestic supply rather than an industrial one).

Once I'd played around with it a bit, they came out as would be expected with some puffing and small burn marks.

After cooking them (why not before? :wacko: ) I checked threads here on eGullet and saw a pictorial on how to make them that corresponded to what I did.

The taste was quite unlike any tortilla I have ever had (I'm in Australia and we're not so big on Mexican food as some of you folks are). I wound up making some chicken enchiladas which were delicious.

My question is are there any special techniques or kitchen lore about making tortillas that I may have missed?


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog

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Dissatisfied with the quality of store-bought tortillas, I just bought myself a tortilla press and some 100% stone ground corn flour (imported from Mexico and cooked with lime).

The recipe I used was:

2 cups masa flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 - 1 1/3 cups warm water.

The dough came together well, rolled into balls nicely and when pressed peeled easily off the tortilla press (I think it's cast iron coated with aluminium).

I started with a non-stick pan but found that the heat need to cook them was too high so swapped to cast iron which I put on high heat over a wok burner (inside from a domestic supply rather than an industrial one).

Once I'd played around with it a bit, they came out as would be expected with some puffing and small burn marks.

After cooking them (why not before? :wacko: ) I checked threads here on eGullet and saw a pictorial on how to make them that corresponded to what I did.

The taste was quite unlike any tortilla I have ever had (I'm in Australia and we're not so big on Mexican food as some of you folks are). I wound up making some chicken enchiladas which were delicious.

My question is are there any special techniques or kitchen lore about making tortillas that I may have missed?

I put this on a different forum. Thanks for Chris Hennes for moving it across here and thanks for all the people above who had already more than answered my query :biggrin:


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog

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Dissatisfied with the quality of store-bought tortillas, I just bought myself a tortilla press and some 100% stone ground corn flour (imported from Mexico and cooked with lime).

<snip>

The taste was quite unlike any tortilla I have ever had (I'm in Australia and we're not so big on Mexican food as some of you folks are). I wound up making some chicken enchiladas which were delicious.

My question is are there any special techniques or kitchen lore about making tortillas that I may have missed?

I think you nailed it.


Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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My question is are there any special techniques or kitchen lore about making tortillas that I may have missed?

Looks like you've got it.

But try this, - Just put a fresh tortilla back on the grill with some melting cheese on top. Let the cheese melt, add sliced avocado and pico de gillo. Heaven. You have just made quesadilla.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Thanks Jmahl, they are wonderful.

On technique, I've worked out a number of things.

First my tortilla press has its contact point on the edge rather than the middle, which can lead to uneven thickness. I read on one other post that someone who has this type presses with his hands in the middle. I couldn't get enough pressure doing this to get the tortilla to the correct thickness. Instead, I pressed once, flipped the tortilla over so the end that was under where the pressure was applied was now on the opposite side and pressed again: this led to a much more uniform thickness.

The second thing is to have plastic that fits exactly under the press; any bigger and it can wrinkle which leads to it digging in and making a spot where the tortilla breaks while puffing up.

Third, if the puffiness seems to be coming up a bit uneven, take a tortilla that you have already made and press it gently on the one that is cooking; this seems to release the bits that are sticking and allows it to puff up evenly (thanks to Rick Bayless for this one).

I'm never going back to store bought ones again :biggrin:


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog

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A couple of questions.

What size press should I get? When I get tortillas in the store, they are the 6" sized ones. Would a 6 1/2 inch press be big enough? I don't want anything really big, as I don't really want to make big tortillas.

What kind of plastic? When I see someone calling for plastic film, I think of Glad pastic wrap or Seran wrap or whater. The stuff we all have to cover bowls, wrap food, etc. But what I see on TV and what I see in pics here seems to be a very different plastic. It appears thinker and looks like it wouldn't stick to itself.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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I think mine is around that size, and I've never needed anything larger. For plastic I use cut up freezer bags, which are thicker and easier to work with than plastic wrap.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I've been using plastic cut out from zip-loc bags, which is a bit thicker than freezer bags.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog

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lol, I use Ziploc-brand freezer bags because they're thicker than their regular bags... I agree, they are just about perfect for making tortillas. :smile:


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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sweet... Thanks for that tip, guys. Now, I just need to get my tortilla press.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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Does anyone know what the perfect thickness dimension should be? My press is kinda large (25 ton) and I can set the thickness. I just love multi-purpose tools.

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Does anyone know what the perfect thickness dimension should be?  My press is kinda large (25 ton) and I can set the thickness.  I just love multi-purpose tools.

Around 3mm which is just below 1/8 inch. This is for the normal sized one. With that sort of equipment if you decide to do a bigger one, you might need a thicker tortilla (I'd love to see the frying pan you'd cook a really big one in and how you'd turn it :wink: )


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog

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Latest update.

When putting the tortilla on the pan, I've found that to keep it flat, it is better to use a sweeping motion level with the cooking surface. Problem is that my cast-iron frying pan has about 2-inch sloped sides. Anyone who cooks can see what's coming...

burnt wrists!

After a number of burns on my wrist due to miscalculated drops, I've invested in a comal (you can see one in the excellent instructional pictorial provided above by Jmahl). Smart people these South Americans [edited in light of Jmahl's comment below], they've made a cooking instrument ideally suited to the task! I even got it for $9.95 here in Australia (from this company for any Australians who might be interested). US based people could be able to get it for even less.

Now to those enchilada cook-off recipes...


Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four.
Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
My eG Foodblog

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Latest update.

When putting the tortilla on the pan, I've found that to keep it flat, it is better to use a sweeping motion level with the cooking surface. Problem is that my cast-iron frying pan has about 2-inch sloped sides. Anyone who cooks can see what's coming...

burnt wrists!

After a number of burns on my wrist due to miscalculated drops, I've invested in a comal (you can see one in the excellent instructional pictorial provided above by Jmahl). Smart people these Mexicans, they've made a cooking instrument ideally suited to the task! I even got it for $9.95 here in Australia (from this company for any Australians who might be interested). US based people could be able to get it for even less.

Now to those enchilada cook-off recipes...

Thanks for the complement but our comal was made in Columbia - actually any rimless cast-iron griddle will do.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Hi all,

Nice thread. Just a couple of questions. Jmahl, do you mean Colombia or actually Columbia? Is it Pico de Gallo that you put on your quesdaillas? Just trying to be sure. Sounds great! Thanks for the tutorial!

Best

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Hi all,

Nice thread. Just a couple of questions.  Jmahl, do you mean Colombia or actually Columbia? Is it Pico de Gallo that you put on your quesdaillas?  Just trying to be sure.  Sounds great!  Thanks for the tutorial!

Best

Thanks for pointing that out. Yes our parilla was made in the Republic of Columbia. As to toppings, I checked with the expert, top your quesadillas with hot salsa or Pico de Gallo or whatever else you like to give it a little fire.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Okay, dumb questions from a tortilla beginner:

Masa, maseca, masa harina, and corn flour. How do they differ? Or do they? Masa is a fresh product, right? But is there any difference between maseca, masa harina, and corn flour (not corn meal or corn starch)? I'm bringing a small selection of Mexican ingredients and a copy of Kennedy back to China with me this fall for my winter cooking projects.

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