Once you make them, you won’t ask why make corn tortillas, you’ll ask why you never made them before. There’s a seriously delicious (and gluten-free) reason why making tortillas is worth it. The good news? It’s super easy to do. Let’s get started!
Corn tortilla ingredients
You need precisely 3 ingredients to make 16 corn tortillas that are about 4 inches across:
- 2 cups masa harina
- ½ teaspoon salt (which is optional if you are salt free)
- 1 ½ cups lukewarm water
Simple enough? Absolutely. One thing I’ve learned in making my own corn tortillas is that the dough is very forgiving. I usually just mix the masa harina and salt in a bowl and then add the water. And I always end up doing the same thing: mixing it with a spoon, giving up quickly and using one hand to knead and the other to add more water if it’s too dry or more masa harina if it’s too wet.
Ah, but I digress. Let’s first talk masa harina because if you are going to make corn tortillas, that’s the first step.
What is masa harina?
Masa harina (flour dough in Spanish) is a traditional flour used in Mexican dishes and it’s made from specially treated corn (maize). There’s a process making this stuff which includes soaking dried corn husks in water and calcium hydroxide (‘slack lime’). The kernels are removed from the husks, ground into a dough and then dried and ground into masa harina. Sometimes, the kernels are just cooked up, call it a day and become hominy.
Is masa harina gluten free?
Yep. It’s just ground corn and that means that if you are using masa harina, you are definitely getting something that gluten free. In fact, the bags usually have that blasted across them in case you might be wondering and don’t have your specs handy.
Where do I find masa harina?
It’s funny, when I lived in the Southwest of the US, masa harina was in every store, big and small. I rarely used it because I never made corn tortillas. Wonderful homemade tortillas were everywhere. I was off making my favorite tacos de cauliflower or tempeh tacos and not thinking a thing about those tortillas.
Flash forward 10 years, move me to another country and I faced a serious problem. No corn tortillas (ok, nothing I would consider a corn tortilla). When I could find them, they were outrageously expensive, frozen and just not great.
Fortunately, I’ve had more success with the masa harina, although I’ve had to look for it, but it’s always in stock. Masa harina, like corn tortillas are distinctively Mexican, so that’s where you want to begin the search. The most common, global brand is Maseca and it’s the one I use (the one with the big yellow and green letters); however, Bob’s Red Mill makes a golden one and Gold Mine has a white one.
If you’re local store doesn’t have it, try a specialty store. There is of course, always the online option, but if I can find it in The Netherlands, in a story that’s fairly close to my house, then here’s hoping you have the same luck. And by all means, don’t substitute traditional corn flour or corn meal. You will be disappointed. Whichever brand you use and whatever words are on the label, it needs to say ‘masa harina’.
The corn tortilla press
When I decided I couldn’t go on without a steady supply of corn tortillas, I decided to invest in a tortilla press. I was pleased to discover that you can get them online and they are inexpensive. My favorite combination. Tortilla presses come in different sizes, so there is an option of finding a bigger one so you can do giant tortillas or even nice wraps. Mine is smaller and perfect for corn tortillas.
How to use a tortilla press
Tortilla presses are cast iron and seriously heavy. I experimented with covering the press with plastic wrap and using big baggies, but I’ve decided I like using squares of parchment paper. I find it easiest to place a parchment square on the press, add the tortilla dough ball, then layer the other parchment square and close the lid on the press, grab the lever and go to town.
The other reason I like using the parchment paper is that I can just take the paper with the tortilla right off the press and peel it into the hot pan. Then I just put the paper back on the press while one is cooking and repeat the pressing process.
You’ll know if you have your dough too dry or too wet right after the first press. Too dry? The tortilla will crack or fall apart after pressing. If you’re dough balls didn’t fall apart when you rolled them, the likely the culprit is that they started drying out before you got them pressed and cooked. Be sure to wrap them in a damp cloth to prevent this. I messed about with this and you can revive the dough balls by adding a few drops of water and reforming them. Not ideal, but no one wants to throw out a potential corn tortilla.
If the dough is too wet, it will stick to the parchment paper or plastic if that’s what you’re using. The good news is that tortilla dough is really forgiving, so you could add more masa harina and try to re-knead it (I’ve not tried this one) or if it’s not too bad, unwarp the dough from the wet cloth and see what the air does.
What if I don’t have a press?
I also used a workaround absent press that takes a bit more muscle but is equally effective. On your work surface, place a parchment square, add the tortilla dough ball, cover that with the other parchment square and press it into a tortilla using the baking dish. This method takes a bit of pressing, but it really does work, so don’t let your vow of not adding another kitchen gadget stop you from making your own tortillas.
Make sure the pan is hot!
I use a cast iron pan to make corn tortillas, but the kind of pan is less important than making sure the pan is a little higher than medium hot before you add the tortilla. Otherwise, it will stick to the bottom. Use a spatula or tongs to gently lift the tortilla and if it sticks, give it a few seconds longer before you flip it. They usually take 1-2 minutes per side.
Necessity or scarcity are seriously motivating forces. A remedy might be as simple as do-it-yourself when and making your own tortillas or gluten free bread. But sometimes the remedy can be a bit more complicated. When, for example the necessity is making a serious life-change, like adopting new approaches to food, the remedy can be more complex. Those changes require persistence in learning how to meets our needs, but we also need to know why. Knowing why we’re doing something gives us the resilience to keep moving forward. It’s the force that picks us up when we fall back and helps us push down the path. Peace.Print
Stop reading labels or being disappointed with store-bought. Make corn tortillas and enjoy gluten-free, oil-free discs of deliciousness any time you want!
- 2 cups masa harina (do not substitute corn flour or corn meal)
- 1 ½ cups lukewarm water
- 1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
- In a small mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of masa harina and ½ tsp. salt.
- Stir in 1 cup of water and then using your hands, start kneading and add the rest of the warm water.
- Separate the dough into 12-18 pieces, depending on how big you want your tortillas (I made 16 that are about 4 inches across). Form balls that are about the size of a large walnut.
- Wrap the tortilla balls in a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.
- If you are using a tortilla press, cover the top and bottom with plastic wrap or cut a baggie to fit. My preferred method is to us 2 parchment paper squares. Alternatively, you can use a heavy baking dish or flat-bottomed pan to do the pressing.
- Pause before you start pressing to heat a heavy-bottomed skilled over medium high heat.
- Take on of the dough balls and place it on the parchment paper on the bottom of the press. Place the second parchment square over the ball and flatten it slightly with your hand to keep it from rolling. Lay the top of the press down and use the level to make the tortilla. Alternatively, place your heavy baking dish or pan over the top and press down.
- Remove the tortilla from the press. If you are using the parchment paper, you can pick it up using that and then slide it into the hot pan.
- Toast the tortilla for 1-2 minutes on the first side check that it isn’t sticking before flipping it. To do this, gently slide a spatula underneath or use tongs to see if you can pick it up. Flip the tortilla and toast another 1-2 minutes until it starts to form a few brown spots.
- Transfer the tortilla to a plate and cover or wrap it in a dry cloth.
- Repeat the process until you have a nice stack of fresh, warm tortillas.
- Cook time depends on the number of tortillas you are making and if you can fit 2 or more in your pan.
- To freeze tortillas, separate them with parchment paper and place them in a freeze bag. They keep well up to 3 months. Keep them in the fridge for a week.
- If the dough is too wet, it will stick to the pan. Uncover the other dough balls to help them dry out. If the dough is too dry, it will fall apart or crack when you press it. You can re-knead the dough adding more masa harina or water if necessary.
- To reheat the tortillas and form taco shells, sprinkle each with a few drops of water and lay them through the rungs of your oven rack in a heated oven. You can also reheat them in the oven wrapped in foil for flat tortillas.
- Category: Tips & Techniques
- Cuisine: Mexican
Keywords: make corn tortillas