Corn tortillas are made with a type of specially treated corn flour called masa harina. You can find dry masa harina at many supermarkets. At specialty stores and Mexican grocers, you may even find fresh masa, which needs to be used right away.
Making Corn Tortillas
For corn tortillas, divide the dough into small balls--about the size of a walnut. Keep the dough wrapped in plastic while you work with one piece at a time.
The best way to bake the tortillas is to use a cast iron griddle--the kind that stretches across two burners of your stove. Two cast iron skillets will work, as well.
- Heat one burner to medium-high and one to medium. No oil is needed.
- If you have a tortilla press, flatten the dough and begin baking. If you're using your hands, flatten masa balls using a gallon-sized plastic freezer bag to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter.
- Flatten the dough in between the sheets of plastic into a round as thin as you can without tearing. Peel it from the plastic and transfer it to the hottest griddle.
- To lay the tortillas in the pan, your knuckles will be close to the heat source--avoid getting burned by working from left to right, laying the left-hand edge of the tortilla onto the griddle, and gently sweep your hand away--don't jerk it. The edge of the tortilla will stick to the griddle, so as you move your hand, the tortilla will fall into place in the pan.
- After about a minute on the hot griddle, flip the tortilla over into the cooler skillet.
- Using tongs--or your fingers, if you're brave and heat-tolerant--gently touch the center of the tortilla until it starts to puff slightly.
- The tortilla should be done, developing brown spots after 30 seconds to a minute.
- Wrap the hot tortillas in a clean kitchen towel while you shape and bake the rest of the dough.
Making Flour Tortillas
Flour tortillas contain wheat flour rather than corn flour, and include shortening or lard and sometimes a pinch of baking powder. They are usually made larger and thinner because the gluten in the wheat flour allows the dough to be stretched without falling apart, plus the fat in the dough keeps them from cracking and tearing. They can be flattened with a rolling pin. To bake them, follow the process outlined above for corn tortillas.