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This page is in the process of being updated. The first part should be correct.

I've been making Mexican tortillas since about 2009. Initially I had lots of problems. See below for some of the pain. In particular, the tortillas tended to fall apart before I could bake them. As of October 2020 I'm relatively satisfied with my method.

You can find many videos online showing how to make tortillas. They're typically made by experienced Mexican housewives who can make the things blindfolded. They show how easy it is—for them. What they don't show is how things can go wrong. That's what this page is for.

Choice of masa

Tortillas are made from masa. Where do you get fresh masa? I don't know any source in Australia. Instead I use second best, “masa harina”, dried masa flour, mixed with water. For reasons I don't understand, the makes keep changing. As of October 2020, the source I have is called “El Maizal”:


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That's what I'm using here. They're so well-known that they don't even have a web site.

Over the course of time I have used other kinds of masa, initially Maseca and Minsa. The latter have “blue” masa as well as the more conventional yellow masa. Here are the proportions for four tortillas. “Minsa mix” is 50% Minsa blue and 50% Minsa yellow. “Masa lista” is a brand I found at Casa iberica, which I don't particularly like. And El Maizal, made in the USA but without a web site, is about the only real maize masa that I have been able to find since 2020. Compared to others it looks dirty, it requires much less water, and it has less aroma.

Ingredients

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Work in progress
I'm currently (March 2022) revisiting my methods. The quantities below are good guidelines, but they don't seem as critical as I thought. Probably the real difference is that after mixing the dough should be left to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before pressing.

For four tortillas. The different quantities mainly reflect my experience. I'm leaving them here for historical reasons, but in principle it seems best to use 25 g of masa per tortilla, though El Maizal's packaging suggests a portion size of 30 g. The ratio is the important bit, and I'm still having trouble with that. El Maizal has changed from 1:1.45 to 1:1.6 from one package to the next:

Brand       Masa       Water       Ratio       Date
Maseca       120 g       175 g       1:1.46       7 October 2011
Minsa yellow       120 g       200 g       1:1.67       13 July 2012
Minsa blue       120 g       155 g       1:1.29       12 July 2012
Minsa mix       120 g       200 g       1:1.67       13 July 2012
Casa iberica       120 g       180 g       1:1.5       11 April 2013
Masa lista       140 g       252 g       1:1.8       9 April 2019
El Maizal       100 g       145 g       1:1.45       16 February 2021
El Maizal       100 g       160 g       1:1.60       25 May 2021
El Maizal blue       120 g       190 g       1:1.58       21 September 2021

The recipe

The short version is:

Simple, isn't it? There are plenty of videos showing how to do it.

The problems

The two biggest problems are: how do I keep the tortilla together until it's in the comal? And how do I cook it correctly?

The problem with masa is that, well, it's maize. It has no gluten to hold it together. The process of making the masa helps a little, but it's still relatively crumbly. Even the experts cheat here: this video and this one both add wheat flour, and the second one even adds oil:


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But that's not correct, and it's not necessary.

The other problem is the cooking. It seems that if you do it right, they will inflate like a balloon, but that has never worked for me. More to the point, how do you cook them so that they stay soft and don't brown, but are cooked through? This is still an issue for me.

So: here's my detailed procedure. In this example I'm making two tortillas, because that's what I normally do.

1: Make the dough

The ratio of water to flour depends on the brand of masa harina and also the kind. Over the years I've written down some proportions below, but I'm not overly confident. Currently I take 25 g of masa per tortilla, and 1.5 times as much water for blue masa, and 1.38 times as much for yellow “El Maizal” masa. I have no idea how this compares with the instructions on the package, which use volumetric measure: “Two cups of masa and two cups of water”. They don't differentiate between the ratios for blue and yellow masa, which doesn't work for me.

These illustrations were taken with yellow Masa Lista, with a ratio of 1:1.8, so I have 50 g of masa and 90 g of water:


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Leave to stand for about 10 minutes. I don't know if this is crucial—the instructions don't mention it—but in my experience it seems to make subsequent processing easier.

2: Roll out the tortillas

Mix the dough into a ball and weigh again. Hey! 4 g are gone!


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I don't know why this is, but it happens every time with different scales. Yes, a little will probably get lost during mixing, but 4 g seems excessive.

Tare the scales and break off the weight of one tortilla, in this case 68 g. Roll into a ball and place on baking paper in a tortillador:


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Place another sheet of paper and press until the tortilla is the size of the top plate:


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Gently peel the top sheet of paper, pulling straight back parallel to the tortilla:


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If you pull upwards, there's a very good chance of pulling chunks out of the tortilla.

Turn over the tortilla and place it on a third sheet of paper. Peel the bottom (now top) sheet off in the same fashion. The third sheet is necessary because the first one will be moist, and the tortilla will stick to it.

3: Bake the tortilla

I'm cheating here. Instead of a comal, I use an electric roti maker. I still can't make up my mind if that's a good idea or not. Preheat the roti maker, turn the tortilla, still with its third sheet of paper, and place it on the plate:


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The paper, being dry, should peel off quickly and easily.

Leave the tortilla with the roti maker open for about 30 seconds before closing it. The tortilla is initially very soft, and if you close it earlier, you can tear the tortilla:


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4: Rest

When the tortillas are cooked, put them into a tortilla holder:


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Close it and let them rest for at least 10 minutes. Maybe due to the way I cook them, they can be somewhat hard when they come off the roti maker, but after a while they become softer and more flexible. I then heat them in a microwave oven before serving (10 seconds at 1200 W per tortilla).

History

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Work in progress

This is the remains of the old page, dating back to 2009. In the course of time I'll overhaul it.

Preparation

Mix the masa and water and knead long enough to ensure that it's uniform. You don't need to wait like you do with wheat: maize contains no gluten. If the dough is sticky, it's too moist. If it tends to break up, it's too dry.

Then proceed as with fresh masa: place a lump on a tortilla press (sometimes called tortilladora) and press out to a circular shape. Put baking paper between the tortilla and tortilladora to prevent sticking. With the Maseca dough this probably won't be enough: it'll stick anyway, and you need a little oil to get the tortilla off in one piece. Don't leave the tortilla in contact with the paper for too long: it will soften the paper, causing it to stick to the tortilla.


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Dry-fry with medium heat in a comal, a cast-iron frying pan with an inconveniently short handle. Other frying pans will do, of course, as long as they're not teflon-coated, but the thicker they are, the better they will maintain their temperature.

Discussion

(which have nothing to do with Spanish tortillas)

The biggest problem with maize is that it contains no gluten. You can mix up wheat and water, and it will get sticky. Mix maize flour and water and it's a mixture of solid and liquid, and doesn't hold together. For this reason, you can't use normal maize flour for making tortillas. It first must be subject to the process of Nixtamalization, effectively a treatment with alkalis or bases such as calcium hydroxide (lime). After grinding, the result is called masa (de maíz). If you live in an area where there are many Mexican people, you may be able to get fresh masa. Otherwise you will need to look for masa (de) harina, which is also not easy to find.

I've had success with three kinds of masa, but they're definitely very different:

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