Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Homemade Corn Tortillas

My husband Olie spent a month in Mexico when he was in college, and ever since then, he has raved about homemade corn tortillas.  Having never had a homemade corn tortilla,  I have been completely content with the store bought ones and had no idea why Olie kept suggesting we try making them.  About a month ago, I gave in and made my first attempt.  Let me just say, there is no going back.

Here is the thing about making corn tortillas at home: if you don't know what they are supposed to taste like, they are almost impossible to make.  The directions are absolutely no help at all.  Thankfully, I had someone who was in the know, and I made Olie eat tortilla after tortilla until they were right.  Since that night, I have continued to make them about once a week and every time they get even better.

Some helpful tips: a corn tortilla should be pliable and strong.  Homemade corn tortillas don't tear apart like the store-bought ones.  Olie always rolls them into a tight roll and then unrolls them to test their strength.  If they don't tear, you know you're on the right track. Also, homemade corn tortillas are a bit thicker than the store-bought ones.  They are almost like a hybrid between flour tortillas and corn tortillas.  This should help you judge whether or not you have made them correctly.

I'm completely hooked on these, and honestly, they aren't very hard to make.  In Mexico, everyone makes them from scratch.  So it can't be that hard, right?

Here's how you do it.  First you need to buy Masa Harina.  This is a type of corn meal.  You can probably buy it in nicer grocery stores (like Whole Foods or Fresh Market), but save yourself a little money and go to a Mexican grocery store.  I paid $3.50 for a bag of Maseca, which is the brand that most people suggested online.
Now, on the back of the bag, there will be directions for corn tortillas.  However, as aforementioned, these are not very helpful.  But use them to get you started.  I generally make 8 tortillas, which (according to the back of the bag) takes 1 cup of masa harina, a pinch of salt, and 2/3 cup water.  Use hot water (it doesn't say this in the recipe, but you should do it).  Mix this together.
Once this is combined, turn it out onto a clean surface and begin to knead.  Now, this stuff doesn't want to knead, cuz it's all crumbly, but just keep at it.  The directions say to add water if the dough is too dry (thank you, recipe, that is extremely helpful).  What you are looking for is a slightly sticky dough.  So you will have to add more water, and probably a lot more water.  As you are kneading, add more hot water to the dough a tablespoon at a time.  Keep kneading until the dough comes together and is just a little bit sticky.
QUICKLY cover your dough with a wet towel.  Masa harina dries out really fast.  This will prevent that from happening.  Now it's time to shape the tortillas.  Pinch off a bit of dough and form into a golf-ball sized ball.  Place into a gallon ziploc bag.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a thin sheet.  Mine are never perfectly round, but they still taste fine.  If you want round tortillas, you can use a bowl like a cookie cutter and trim the edges.  I'll choose speed over prettiness any day.

Heat a cast iron skillet up to a medium/high heat and place tortilla on it.  Now, roll out a second tortilla. You should be rolling tortillas and cooking tortillas at the same time, you don't want to roll them out in advance or they will dry out.  Cook each tortilla for about one minute on each side.
Your tortillas should puff up while they are cooking, but if they don't, that's ok.  Mine don't always puff up and they still taste great.  Once your tortilla has cooked for one minute on each side, place it on a plate and cover the plate with a clean towel.  The tortillas will steam under the towel and get soft and moisten a little bit.
And there you have it!  Homemade corn tortillas!  They will stay warm under the towel for about 30 minutes, so make your tortillas before you make the rest of your meal.  I'm telling you, you will not regret trying this.  And every time you make them, they just get better and better.  I now see why Olie was so eager to make them.  They are worth the extra effort.


  1. I know, right?!

    I have already heard rave reviews from someone who is in the know.