In which I master the humble tortilla


I claim victory over tortilla mastery

Ok, it’s not rocket surgery but tortillas have eluded me for YEARS. I know that people all over make them every day with little issue but for me it’s been a huge hurdle. Firstly, I wanted to make an 100% whole wheat tortilla (purists are now closing their browsers) and I didn’t want to use oil or lard, instead opting for the MEH option of vegetable shortening. Vegetable so that I can entertain vegetarian friends, and not oil because oil doesn’t provide the mouthfeel that a good saturated fat provides.

Given that tortillas here are often $2.99 for 10 here, I have pushed on even though the constant experimenting has left me with numerous batches of subpar bread stuffs. BUT, I have pressed on and because I have you get to benefit by not having to figure out the myriad of ways it doesn’t work. So without further ado, here is the basic recipe that I have pieced together after trying a bunch of different recipes that didn’t work.

2 C whole wheat flour (yes, you can use white flour if that floats your boat)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 C shortening
1 C very hot water (hot tap is fine, boiling will be too hot to mix it up with your hands)

Of course, if you have mastered the pie crust this recipe will be easy for you. Essentially, you mix the salt/baking powder with the flour and then add the shortening & mash that with a fork for a while until the shortening is the size of small peas or less. Once all those things are well incorporated, you add the hot water, ½ cup at a time. Mix with a fork until all the water is in and then abandon the fork for mixing with your hands. The key here is that the dough needs to be fairly wet but not overly sticky. I have found if you use 100% whole wheat, 1 cup is pretty much perfect.

Not too wet, not too dry

Once it’s all incorporated, get out your kitchen scale and determine the weight in grams, then divide and piece out 10 pieces. I have found 450 – 550 grams is about the average for this recipe so 45-55 grams per tortilla. Roll into balls, place into a bowl, cover and let rest for ½ hour. Conversely, you can say SCREW CONVENTION and just eyeball and divide the ball into 10 pieces.

If you have a silicone baking mat (roulpat), here is a good time to use it. With the palm of your hand, smoosh and pound your balls into (approximately) 10-inch flat rounds. I tried a rolling pin but I couldn’t control the thickness all the way through. It’s easier to use your fingers and your palm and stretch the dough until it’s 10-inches around. Just smoosh and pound the dough in small circles stretching and pushing the dough out from the centre as you move around the diameter.

I will sometimes use a rolling pin but mostly you can get it perfect with your hand

As soon as you have about 4 tortillas ready to be cooked, put a cast iron pan (preferably) on the stove and heat it up on medium-high for about 5 minutes. Once you throw on your first tortilla, you will want to turn the burner down to medium.

Once you toss on your first tortilla, you will want to cook it in this order: one side for about 45 seconds, flip and do the other side for about 45 seconds, flip a third time for about 10-20 seconds and then remove the tortilla and place it in between a folded kitchen towel so the entire tortilla is covered. It may or may not puff up, as 100% whole wheat ones rarely puff like a white flour tortilla does. Repeat with the next tortilla (etc.). Spread out a new ball of dough where the empty spot is on your roulpat. That way you can keep your tortilla factory going. After a few batches, it will be instinctive to know when the tortilla needs to be flipped and when it is done.

This is as dark as the spots should get, lighter is even better

If your tortillas are getting too black, you will need to turn down the heat. You want small dark brown – almost black – marks but you do not want black spots with holes, that means when your tortilla cools down it will have crunchy parts and will be too hard to roll.

Once your tortillas are done, you can either eat them right away or once they have cooled you can place them in a large Ziploc for up to a week.

Some tips:

– The key is to make the tortillas more moist than dry. You don’t want a sticky dough but you want it a little wetter than a traditional bread dough.
– Get to know your stove! Mine gets way too hot so after doing the first tortilla on med-high (about 8 or 9), I turn it down to 5 for the rest of the batch and adjust heat as I go along.
– Wait until the tortillas have cooled before placing them in a plastic Ziploc bag or else the condensation will make them soggy.
– Practice, practice, practice! It took me about 2 months of nailing out this recipe with experiment after experiment. Eventually it will be a habit and you can knock out 10 tortillas with only about 20 minutes of hands-on time!
– I like to make a batch of these on a Sunday for wraps for lunches. I will make a double batch of tortillas if we are having fajitas or tacos during the week as well.