Homemade flour tortillas. Kate Williams
Homemade flour tortillas. (Kate Williams)

DIY: Get the Best Tasting Flour Tortillas by Making Them at Home

DIY: Get the Best Tasting Flour Tortillas by Making Them at Home

I have never been much of a flour tortilla person. Give me a freshly made corn tortilla (or even a decent re-heated one), fill it with crisp carnitas or fried fish, and I’ll be beyond happy. Flour tortillas always seemed too fluffy, too bland, too chewy. But here’s the thing — I rarely ever find great flour tortillas. I’ve really just eaten far too many half-stale, poorly heated flatbreads.

Making tortillas at home is a good first start. Just like with corn tortillas, the flour version is always better fresh out of a skillet. But here’s the real secret to truly great tortillas — lard.

Use high-quality lard for the best results.
Use high-quality lard for the best results. (Kate Williams)

Yes, lard. It’s not only the most traditional fat to use for tortillas, but is also the most delicious. I think that it is important to choose a high-quality lard here; you really want to taste that hint of pork flavor. Plus, the remaining ingredients — flour and salt — are cheap, so you may as well go big here. I buy my lard from The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley.

If you want to make the tortillas vegan, you can substitute vegetable oil for the lard, but I would only recommend doing so if absolutely necessary. (Some recipes call for vegetable shortening, but I don’t like to cook with it. Tortilla dough made with vegetable oil is slightly stickier than that made with lard. You can cut back on the water by a dribble or two, or simply use a little extra flour for rolling out the tortillas.) Remember, flour tortillas aren’t exactly a health food, so you might as well make them taste as great as possible.

Rub the lard evenly into the flour.
Rub the lard evenly into the flour. (Kate Williams)

Using your fingers, rub the lard into a mixture of flour and salt until it looks like a coarse meal. You’re going to be kneading the dough, so don’t worry about keeping pebbles of lard in the flour like you would when making pie crust.

Tortilla dough before kneading.
Tortilla dough before kneading. (Kate Williams)
 Tortilla dough after kneading.
Tortilla dough after kneading. (Kate Williams)

Now mix in warm water. Continue to use your hands to bring the mixture together into a shaggy dough. Dump the whole mess onto a flour-lined counter and knead. You don’t need to go too crazy here, just get the dough to the point where it is smooth and springy. This takes me about 2 or 3 minutes of kneading time.

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In order to roll out the tortillas with ease, it is important to let the flour hydrate and the gluten relax. I like to rest the dough in two stages. First, I let the whole thing rest, covered in a clean kitchen towel, for 15 minutes right after kneading.

Divide the dough into eight or twelve rounds and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into eight or twelve rounds and let it rest for 15 minutes. (Kate Williams)

After those 15 minutes are up, I divide the dough into separate, tortilla-sized pieces. The number of pieces depends on how big you want your tortillas. Divide the dough into 12 pieces if you’re going for small soft taco sized tortillas. If you want larger tortillas that look more like what you’d find at the grocery store, divide the dough into eight pieces. Roll each piece into a small ball and then let the dough rest for another 15 minutes, covered with the kitchen towel.

Let the skillet heat for at least 10 minutes before cooking the tortillas.
Let the skillet heat for at least 10 minutes before cooking the tortillas. (Kate Williams)

During this second resting phase, begin heating your cooking device. I use my large cast iron skillet, but you can use a griddle or a nonstick skillet. (Reduce the heating time if you’re going this route.) Set the skillet over medium heat and let it get hot. Line a plate with a second clean kitchen towel while you wait.

Once the dough has rested, you’re ready to roll. There are dedicated tortilla rolling pins out there in the universe, but I just use my regular rolling pin. It’s a little big, but works fine.

Perfectly round tortillas aren’t necessary.
Perfectly round tortillas aren’t necessary. (Kate Williams)

Roll one piece of dough at a time into as round of a tortilla as you can manage. It’s actually easier to get a circular shape with a larger piece of dough, but with practice, you can make nice mini tortillas as well. I like to work by first patting the dough ball into a flat round using my fingers. Then I use the rolling pin in short strokes, rotating the dough about one-eighth of a turn each time. I shoot for around five inches in diameter for small tortillas; eight inches for larger ones. The most important part is that the tortilla is of an even thickness; the shape doesn’t really matter.

Let the tortilla cook on the first side until it begins to bubble.
Let the tortilla cook on the first side until it begins to bubble. (Kate Williams)
Each side of the tortilla should have golden brown spots.
Each side of the tortilla should have golden brown spots. (Kate Williams)

Transfer the tortilla to the hot skillet. It should sizzle just a bit. Once it starts to bubble and puff, lift up the edge of the tortilla with a rubber spatula or your fingers. The bottom should be covered in golden brown spots. Flip the tortilla and let it cook on the second side for the same amount of time. The total cooking time should only be 1 to 2 minutes; you want to make sure that you’ve cooked the flour all the way through, but you don’t want to end up with a stiff, crisp cracker.

Remove the tortilla from the skillet and transfer it to the prepared towel-lined plate. Continue to roll and cook the tortillas. Once you’ve got a rhythm down, you should be able to roll out a second tortilla while one is cooking.

Serve the tortillas warm, preferably filled with beer-battered fried fish and spicy coleslaw.

Homemade flour tortillas.
Homemade flour tortillas. (Kate Williams)

Recipe: Homemade Flour Tortillas

Makes: 8 medium or 12 small tortillas

Note: You can substitute equal parts vegetable oil (I like safflower) for the lard. The dough will be slightly stickier than dough made with lard. You will likely have to compensate by increasing the amount of flour used on the counter to roll out the tortillas.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (284 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and rolling
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ cup lard
  • ½ cup warm water

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Instructions:

  1. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Use your fingers to rub the lard into the flour until the mixture is uniform and resembles a coarse meal.
  2. Add the water and mix to form a shaggy dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured countertop. Knead the dough until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Divide the rested dough into 8 (for medium) or 12 (for small) equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and cover with the kitchen towel. Let rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat. Line a plate with a clean kitchen towel.
  5. Working one dough ball at a time, roll the rested dough into an even round on a lightly floured countertop. Medium tortillas should be 8 to 10 inches across; small tortillas should be to 5 to 6 inches across. Transfer tortilla to the hot skillet.
  6. Cook the tortilla until it begins to bubble and brown on the first side, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Flip the tortilla and cook until browned on the second side, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to the prepared towel-lined plate and keep warm.
  7. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Serve warm.

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