Flour tortillas are a staple food in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. They are made from wheat flour, water, fat, and salt. The basic ingredients are simple, but perfecting the technique takes some practice. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients and process for making perfect flour tortillas at home.
Here are the main ingredients needed to make flour tortillas:
- All-purpose flour – The basis of the tortilla is wheat flour. An unbleached all-purpose flour works best.
- Water – Water is mixed with the flour to form the tortilla dough. The amount of water affects the texture.
- Fat – Some type of fat is essential for flaky tortillas. Lard, vegetable shortening, butter, and oil are commonly used.
- Salt – A small amount of salt enhances the flavor.
- Baking powder (optional) – While not traditional, a tiny amount of baking powder can make the tortillas a bit fluffier.
The exact measurements can vary depending on humidity and the size of the eggs. But in general, a good starting recipe for 12 tortillas calls for:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening
- 1 cup warm water
Making homemade flour tortillas requires minimal equipment. Here is what you’ll need:
- Mixing bowl – To mix the dough ingredients.
- Mixing implement – A spoon, dough blender, or pastry cutter to mix the fat into the flour.
- Rolling pin – To roll out the dough balls into tortillas.
- Tortilla press (optional) – A press can make quick work of flattening the dough.
- Cutting board or clean counter
- Plastic wrap or wax paper – To prevent sticking while rolling out tortillas.
- Skillet or griddle – To cook the tortillas. Cast iron or other heavy pans work best.
Now that we have our ingredients and equipment, here are the steps for making flour tortillas:
- Mix the dry ingredients – Whisk together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Break up any lumps in the flour.
- Cut in the fat – Use a pastry cutter, spoon, or two forks to cut the cold fat into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. The fat should be thoroughly incorporated but still visible in pea-sized pieces.
- Make a well – Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour about 3/4 cup of the warm water into the well.
- Form the dough – Use a wooden spoon to incorporate the liquid into the dough starting from the center and working outward. Add more water 1-2 tablespoons at a time if needed. The dough should come together into a shaggy mass.
- Knead briefly – Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it just until the dough comes together into a smooth, pliable ball, about 1 minute. Try not to overwork the dough, which can cause the tortillas to be tough.
- Rest the dough – Place the dough ball back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This hydrates the flour and allows the gluten to relax.
- Divide the dough – Pull off golf ball-sized pieces of dough, about 1.5-2 ounces each. Roll them into rounds between your palms.
- Roll out the tortillas – On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out each dough ball into a thin 8-10 inch circle. Add flour as needed to prevent sticking. Alternatively, press each dough ball in a tortilla press between two sheets of plastic wrap.
- Cook the tortillas – Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle to medium. Cook the tortillas one at a time for about 1 minute per side until lightly speckled and puffed. Keep the cooked tortillas warm in a clean towel until ready to serve.
Once you get the basic technique down, you can experiment with different types of fat, flour, or additions to make specialty tortillas.
Key Tips for Perfect Tortillas
Follow these tips for the best possible homemade flour tortillas:
- Use the right flour – An all-purpose flour works best. Bread flour is too high in gluten, while cake or pastry flours won’t provide enough structure.
- Keep the fat cold – Cold, solid fat is key for creating flaky layers. Make sure your lard, shortening, or butter is chilled.
- Mix minimally – Handle the dough gently and mix just until combined to prevent overworking the gluten.
- Let the dough rest – A rest period allows the flour to fully hydrate for easier rolling.
- Roll thinly – Strive for thin, delicate tortillas. Add just enough flour when rolling to prevent sticking.
- Cook quickly – Cooking briefly over high heat creates steam to puff the tortillas up.
The Science Behind Flour Tortillas
While flour tortilla ingredients are simple, there is some complex science happening beneath the surface. Here is some of the science behind what makes great tortillas:
- Gluten development – Mixing the dough forms long gluten strands that stretch as the tortillas are rolled out, creating structure.
- Fat layers – The bits of fat get flattened into sheets between layers of dough, giving tortillas their characteristic flaky quality.
- Steam leavening – Water in the dough turns to steam during cooking. This causes the puff and steaming hot interior texture.
- Maillard reaction – Heating the starches and proteins on the tortilla surfaces triggers complex flavors and golden-brown speckled appearance.
Controlling these reactions through proper ingredient ratios, mixing, and cooking is the key to tortilla mastery.
Common Types of Flour Tortillas
While wheat flour is the basis of most tortillas, there are many variations that use different grains or flavorings:
|White flour||Made from refined all-purpose or bread flour. Mild in flavor.|
|Whole wheat||Nuttier taste from whole wheat flour. Denser texture.|
|Yellow corn||Sweet flavor from corn flour. More crumbly than wheat.|
|Spinach||Made with added spinach for color and extra nutrition.|
|Tomato||Tomato powder or paste gives a reddish hue and tomato tang.|
|Chile pepper||Spicy kick comes from minced jalapenos, chipotles, or other chiles.|
The possibilities are endless for experimenting with flavored and specialty tortilla varieties!
How Thick Should Tortillas Be?
Ideally, flour tortillas should be rolled out very thinly. Here are some guidelines for thickness:
- Taco tortillas – 1/16 inch thick
- Burrito tortillas – 1/8 inch thick
- Fajita or taco salad tortillas – 1/16 to 1/8 inch
- Sopapilla tortillas – 1/8 inch thick
Thinner tortillas allow for more thorough cooking while still having a soft texture. If tortillas are too thick, the inside can remain raw and doughy while the outside burns.
When rolling out tortillas, add just enough extra flour to keep them from sticking to the work surface but not so much that they become dry or stiff.
Common Tortilla Shapes and Sizes
While most tortillas are round, they can be made into different shapes and sizes for different uses:
- Taco tortillas – 6 inches round
- Fajita tortillas – 8-10 inches round
- Burrito tortillas – 10-12 inches round
- Tostada tortillas – 5-6 inches round
- Flautas – Rolled extra thin and cut into skinny 2 inch wide strips
- Tortilla chips – Triangles cut from 5-6 inch rounds
Larger tortillas work well for burritos and fajita wraps, while smaller ones are perfect for tacos.customize your tortilla size as needed for the application.
How Are Corn Tortillas Different?
Corn tortillas have some key differences from their flour counterparts:
- Cornmeal is used instead of wheat flour
- There is no added fat
- More water creates a soft, pliable dough
- Cook in a dry skillet instead of on a griddle
- Faster cooking time with more frequent flipping
- More crumbly texture
- Stronger corn flavor
The same basic principles of mixing, resting, rolling, and cooking apply. But corn tortillas require a more gentle touch and faster cooking over higher heat.
Are Flour and Corn Tortillas Interchangeable?
Not exactly. While they are both flatbreads, flour and corn tortillas have significantly different textures and flavors. Some guidelines:
- Flour tortillas are better for burritos, fajitas, wraps, and sopapillas.
- Corn tortillas work best for tacos, tostadas, flautas, and chips.
- Most enchiladas and tamales are made with corn tortillas.
- Flour tortillas hold up better to wet fillings.
- Corn tortillas have more authentic flavor for Mexican dishes.
So while they can often substitute for each other, each excels in different applications based on texture.
Tortilla Storage and Leftovers
To maximize freshness, flour tortillas are best eaten right after cooking. But here are some storage tips:
- Store cooled leftover tortillas between sheets of wax paper in a resealable plastic bag.
- Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
- Reheat wrapped in a damp paper towel at 300°F for 5-10 minutes.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Thaw frozen tortillas in the refrigerator overnight.
- Reheat thawed tortillas on a hot skillet or griddle.
With proper storage, leftovers can stay fresh and be revived by reheating.
Serving Ideas for Flour Tortillas
Homemade flour tortillas are versatile for serving with all types of dishes:
- Use for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, fajitas, and wraps
- Make tortilla chips by frying wedges
- Top with cinnamon-sugar to make sopapillas
- Serve with salsa, guacamole, beans, and other dips
- Create bowls with rice, meat, beans, and fixings
- Roll up with fillings for flautas
Any Mexican, Tex-Mex, or Southwestern dish can be served with warm flour tortillas right off the skillet. Their versatility matches their delicious, comforting flavor.
Here are the key points to remember about making flour tortillas:
- The basic ingredients are flour, fat, water, and salt.
- Minimal equipment is required beyond a rolling pin and skillet.
- Mixing technique impacts gluten formation and texture.
- Resting the dough allows for ease of rolling.
- Rolling thinly and cooking quickly are essential.
- Many variations can be made with different flours or flavors.
- Store cooled tortillas between wax paper sheets.
- Reheat leftover tortillas on a hot skillet.
With the proper ingredients and technique, you can make restaurant-quality flour tortillas at home. Their wholesome flavor and versatility make homemade tortillas well worth the effort.
Flour tortillas may seem simple, but creating the perfect flaky homemade version takes thought and care. Paying attention to ingredients, proportions, kneading, rolling, and cooking techniques will reward you with the ultimate warm, fresh tortillas to accompany your favorite Tex-Mex and Mexican fare. So tie on an apron and get ready to enjoy from-scratch tortillas hot off the press!