Soft Flour Tortillas
Any Mexican dinner (and almost any dinner, in fact) can be elevated with the addition of a fresh flour tortilla. Fajitas and tacos are the most usual applications of tortillas, but my favorite unusual application is to wrap one around a roasted vegetable pesto, a roasted vegetable, and a few slices of avocado. Even a plain tortilla hot off the skillet has even been known to make me swoon. I’ve also enjoyed them with reheated leftovers (it reinvents yesterday’s kale salad or stir fry).
In case you couldn’t already tell, I’m not a purist when it comes to tortillas or their ingredients. If I had been raised in a family that made and served tortillas, perhaps I would be opposed to tampering with that history—but I wasn’t. In fact, I never even tasted Mexican food until I was in high school, but even then I was eating hardshell Old El Paso tacos with ground beef at a friend’s house. Most of my exposure to “Mexican food” has been far from authentic. So while I respect tortilla purists who are opposed to using baking powder in their tortillas, that respect is more cultural than practical (I believe tortillas rise better with baking powder). I really begin to step away from tradition with my inclusion of potato flour. This small addition makes for a softer and more pliable tortilla, which retains its pillowy texture regardless of overcooking (yes, I’ve done it… multitasking has often been my downfall). I find that the potato flour (and the baking powder) works a bit like an insurance policy against stiff, flat tortillas.
Traditionally, the fat in flour tortillas is good old-fashioned lard, often with a touch of butter for flavor. I’ve made tortillas with various combinations of fats, but the combination below is my favorite. There are many kinds of lard, and unsurprisingly, the more natural forms are better for you. My good friend, Karen, is a big believer in healthy fats, so she goes the extra mile to procure natural fats. Luckily, she keeps me well supplied. On more than one birthday, Karen has handed me a gift (wrapped and all) of fats. Everyone who loves to cook should be so lucky. Thanks to Karen, I have a block of tallow in my freezer. No tallow? Simply substitute any form of fat you wish. Your tortillas will be wonderful regardless.
I do like my flour tortillas on the larger side, as they are so much more capable of handling a large quantity of fillings (that’s my thing). Fish tacos are the exception. I prefer to roll out my tortillas on a floured surface with a rolling pin (save the tortilla press for corn tortillas), as a press just doesn’t get the dough thin enough.
Flour tortillas can be cooked on various cooking surfaces such as a griddle, a frying pan, or ideally a comal. I use my cast iron skillet; it’s one of my favorite pieces of cooking equipment because it’s so good at retaining heat. Reheating them directly on a gas flame is the best way to rejuvenate leftover flour tortillas, but if you have an electric cooktop, a hot skillet should do the trick.
Lastly, do not overcook your tortillas. Flip them as soon as they bubble, and remove them from heat when they develop brown spots. If you leave them on long enough to blister and char, you will lose some of the soft, pillowy texture.
Soft Flour Tortillas
Makes 8 large tortillas
2¾ cups bread flour - 11.7 ounces — see note on accurately measuring flour here
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon potato flour (not potato starch) - 1.3 ounces*
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
⅓ teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons tallow, cold (or lard/crisco/additional butter…) - 2.5 ounces
2 tablespoons butter, cold - 1 ounce
¾ cup hot water (+ 1 tablespoon, if needed)
*Potato flour is available at Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur Flour.
In a food processor combine flour, potato flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add cold fat (butter and tallow or substitutes, if using) cut into small cubes. Process until crumbly. Slowly stream in hot water (always avoid using hot tap water due to contaminants in pipes - rather heat up cold water) just until the dough forms a ball (depending on the humidity, you may not need all of the water; however, if you’re in the middle of a dry winter, you probably will). Remove and knead until smooth and satisfied with the dough’s consistency, adding water as needed until the dough is soft and pliable. Divide the dough into 8 equal size balls (or 12 balls for a smaller tortilla), cover with plastic wrap and rest for ~1 hour (give or take… I’ve rushed it in the past without any problems).
Heat a 12” dry iron skillet (or other skillet or griddle) over medium-high to high heat. Warning: make sure that the skillet’s been wiped clean in order to avoid smoke and a potential fire alarm (speaking from experience). On a lightly floured surface, roll out one dough ball, moving it as needed to prevent sticking until large and roundish (ideally, your tortilla will be round; mine never are). I aim for a diameter of 8-10 inches. Gently lift the roundish tortilla and gently lay it onto the very hot skillet (it’s important that it’s very hot). When it starts to bubble and then puff, gently flip it over. Give it a minute or two to cook on side two and remove it, laying it on a clean dish towel or a sheet of parchment paper. Cover with another clean dish towel. Continue making tortillas and stacking them under the dish towel to stay warm.
Oftentimes when making tortillas, I become a little overzealous and leave some scorched dough behind on my iron skillet. A paste composed of kosher salt and water quickly remedies this; just rub with a damp paper towel until removed. Reheat your pan and lightly oil.