Sunday, June 24, 2012

Extra Large Flour Tortillas at Home

Fascinated by the skill in which cooks of large flat-breads wield the dough so deftly from hand-to-hand, creating a perfectly round and thin bread that cooks in a matter of seconds on a hot plate, I was determined to create a method that allowed a home cook to do the same. I've been cooking smaller tortillas and pitas with no problem on either a pizza stone or cast iron pan, but trying to lay a 12 or 13-inch wet, delicate dough on either one of those posed problems. It's just too difficult to lay that dough down and retain it's shape, assuming you even have a cooking surface large enough to handle it.

Cooks in the Middle-East and in Northern Mexico use a convex metal surface resembling an inverted wok, heated either over burning wood or gas. The domed shape allows the cook to drape the bread easily over the hot surface, allowing a slight stretch so the dough doesn't gather on itself. Look how thin the dough is in the photo below!

Sonora, Mexico

If you'd like to see them form the dough and cook them, check out these links. They're pretty amazing.

So, how do I replicate this method at home? I couldn't find a source for the Sonoran disks or a Middle Eastern saj. Well, actually someone on Ebay sells a saj from Israel, but it's too expensive, after shipping. I tried an inverted regular wok, but it was too domed, and the tortillas just slid off. I recently ordered a "street-style Thai wok" which is large and somewhat flatter, which I used today, and with good results. In a perfect world, the dome would be even flatter, but you take what you get at times. I wanted to have a waist-high, large surface area that could heat the 18" wok properly and be large enough to accommodate it. My large Weber gas grill fit the bill.

After rolling out the dough very thinly, then doing a little stretching by hand, I was able to drape the tortilla over the very hot wok (centered so it wouldn't slide off) and it cooked beautifully!

Extra-large home made tortillas

So, problem on it's way to being solved! Extra-large hot, fresh tortillas (WAY better than pre-packaged store-bought) are just a large wok away. These tortillas measured out at 13" diameter, which is perfect for - you guessed it - large burritos. They are thin, very pliable, a little chewy and hold the ingredients in without breaking open. I made Sunday morning breakfast burritos with eggs, potatoes, chorizo, avocado and cheese.

I like making tortillas now. I used to pretty much hate it. Not so much because of the cooking aspect - that part is fun, watching the bubbles form, flipping, getting it "just right". No, the tricky part is forming and rolling. Getting them thin enough so they aren't too thick after cooking, using the right amount of bench flour so the dough doesn't stick while rolling, but not so much that the finished tortilla tastes "flour-y", and lastly, rolling so the tortilla is fairly round, and not amoeba-shaped. The last point is probably one that everyone who attempts tortillas worries too much about. Who really cares whether the thing is round, oval, or something irregular? It gets folded, rolled or torn apart at some point, so try not to worry so much when it's imperfect. Round comes with practice (and you get to eat the failures!)

Thirteen-inch extra-large home made tortilla

 The recipe I adapted from Guy Fieri of Food Newtwork - see original here

I changed a few things, like only using white flour. Here's my version:

Homemade Flour Tortillas

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup lard, cold
  • 2/3 cup warm water, about 98 to 100 degrees F


In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the bottom blade, add the flour, salt and pulse 2 to 3 times to combine. Add in the cold lard and pulse until the mix resembles cornmeal-like texture, 5 to 6 (20-second) pulses. Add the warm water and pulse until a dough ball forms. (I like to do this by hand also. I think it yields a softer dough).

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead until the dough is elastic and smooth and no longer sticky, 3 to 4 minutes. Form into a small loaf shape, about 6 by 4-inches. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Cut the dough into 4-5 equal pieces. Working with one at a time, form into a ball, then flatten into 4-5" disk. Set aside for 10 minutes, covered with a cloth.

Place the wok upside-down on your gas grill, making sure it sits flat on the grates. If it has handles that get in the way of doing this, remove a grate or two until this can be achieved. Close the lid and heat to medium high.

Take a disk, dust in a plate of flour, both sides, then place on a lightly floured board or counter-top. With a small-diameter rolling pin, roll the dough out as thinly as possible, turning the dough 45 degrees at a time. You should have about a 10-inch tortilla at this point. Drape the tortilla over an arm, and with the free hand, pull and stretch the tortilla out on all sides to achieve the diameter and thickness desired (see the Sonoran video above).

Open the gas grill and drape the tortilla over the wok, centering it. Quickly close the gas grill for about 10 seconds (you'll determine the actual time as you do it more), then open it, checking for bubbles forming on the tortilla. With tongs, spatula or fingers, quickly flip the tortilla over, cooking for several seconds or more. When the tortilla starts to puff again, flip it once more if necessary. It should be cooked, with spots of brown, but not dried out. 

Fold and place in a large towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining dough.

Note - I wouldn't use this recipe for every day tortillas. While delicious, they have a lot of fat in them. I use these only for big burritos or barbecues on occasion (or when I can't get to Rosa Maria's). For regular eating you can get good results using just regular shortening instead of lard, or a combination, and no added butter. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. You say add lard and butter but your ingredients don't include butter.