Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Flatbread Heaven

My family's carb loading food of choice is flatbread.  They look forward to the corn scent of tortillas or a whiff of grilled chapati.  As soon as the weather gets warmer, it makes sense to stop using the oven and start using the griddle or grill to make flatbread.
This is Diane's well used, ten year old tortilla press.
About ten years ago, I started making tortillas and it began in the clearance section of Williams-Sonoma.   The Beachwood store had a Imusa Victoria Cast Iron tortilla press on sale for $10.  I thought, 'why not' and bought it.

The hard part was finding masa to make tortillas.  Since we don't live in Chicago (which has the third largest Hispanic population), I didn't have a source for fresh masa so I had to locate some masa de harina (powdered masa).  The closest source for masa de harina was actually my local Super Kmart.  Our grocery stores back then didn't have a great selection of ethnic foods.

I found Maseca masa de harina which can be reconstituted with water and salt.  At first I used chicken broth instead of water to give the tortillas some depth of flavor.  I later switched back to plain water since Mike would complain to me about using all of his homemade chicken broth.

It is important to follow the prescribed ratio of masa de harina to water.  You want the dough to have the consistency of Play Doh.  Once the dough is made,  it is suggested to cover the bowl with a damp towel.  I don't bother since  I am a lazy cook.  It is also recommended to portion all the dough into golf ball-sized units.  I however make them up as I go along.

Once the dough is made, it's time to heat up the griddle.  In the beginning I was using a stove top nonstick griddle by All-Clad.  Mike bought me an Presto electric griddle to save stove space.  I now cook six tortillas together.  If I make a double batch, this process takes me about twenty to thirty minutes.

Since the tortillas require a hot dry griddle, I set the temperature to 400 degrees.  After a few minutes, the griddle is ready to go.  No oil is necessary for cooking tortillas.

While the griddle is heating up, a piece of plastic must be found to prevent the dough from sticking to the press.  I customarily cut up a quart sized zip top bag for this purpose.  Just snip off the top and slice open the sides of the bag.  The long rectangle is a perfect shape for pressing masa into tortillas.

In the open press, I lay the plastic down and place the ball of masa on top.  Make sure the masa is covered on top and below with the plastic before closing the press over it.  With gentle pressure,  compress the masa into a disc.  Open the press and rotate the tortilla a quarter turn clockwise.  Re-close the press a second time with light force to ensure an even layer of tortilla.

The tricky part is releasing the tortilla from the plastic and laying it onto the griddle.  After opening the press, peel the top layer of plastic away from the tortilla.  Flip the bare tortilla onto your palm.  Carefully strip the plastic away from the rest of the tortilla.  With a sweeping motion, lay the tortilla onto the griddle.  I repeat this process another five times to fill the griddle with tortillas.

Cook the first side of the tortilla for 30 seconds.  Flip with a spatula and cook the second side for 60 seconds.  The tortilla will start to puff up.  Turn over the tortilla once more to cook for an additional 30 seconds.  After flipping the tortilla for the third time, I press down on it with a folded up paper towel.  This step helps the tortilla to inflate and become airy.

 Here are tortillas cooking on the electric griddle. 
Once the tortillas have been cooked three times a piece, I place them on a plate and wrap them up with a tea towel.  This keeps the tortillas fairly warm for about an hour.

You may ask me why I bother doing this when I can purchase tortillas at the grocery store.  Well, you haven't experience life fully if you haven't eaten freshly made tortillas.  My family nine times out of ten prefers homemade tortillas.

They also enjoy having leftover tortillas (if they haven't eaten them all at dinner).   The next day, we use leftover tortillas to make great chips in the oven or quesadillas on the stove top.  My family never gets tired of eating tortillas.

I hope that you now consider making tortillas a simple pursuit.  I encourage you to try it.  Buy a press, get some masa and use your griddle.  You will get to experience firsthand, flatbread heaven.


  1. These look easy, I really need to start making my own tortillas. I make my own taco seasoning or carnitas shred my cheese (if you have never tried cabot extra sharp cheddar cheese give it a try!) But then I put in all on a store bought corn tortilla I forced myself to like. All I need is a tortilla press now.

  2. I tried these for the first time this evening. By the way, I found you by way of your husband's blog....I am a huge fan.

    Anyway, as it was my first time I struggled a bit. The tortillas were difficult to separate from the plastic and were tending to split and break as I separated them. Is it possible my dough was too wet? Or, did I possibly press them too thin?

    Curious just how much dough you use per tortilla?