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Premiere Date: July 9, 2002

(This article appears courtesy of

To make tortillas, you will need patience and a little bit of time.

The ingredients for tortilla making are incredibly, and somewhat deceptively, simple. There are only two: corn flour and water. We could get so basic as to detail the process of making corn flour with parched corn and slaked lime, and grinding the resulting product ourselves, but for this recipe, we will keep it simple. And besides, there is a product made by The Quaker Oats Company called Masa Harina that makes an excellent corn tortilla.

Whatever you do, don't confuse corn flour with corn meal. Corn meal is made from a completely different process, and it won't work for tortilla making.

You'll need a big cast-iron skillet or griddle and a tortilla press, too. Tortilla presses have become pretty easy to find in kitchen-supply stores. If you pay more than $20 for one, you've paid way too much. If you can't find a tortilla press, it is possible (but not preferable) to press out your tortillas on a flat surface using a heavy, flat-bottomed dish. You'll also need some plastic bags of the sandwich or freezer variety.

This is the basic process:

1. Combine 2 cups of Masa Harina with 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups of water.

2. Knead to form your masa (dough)

3. Pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of masa and roll it into a ball

4. Set the masa on a piece of plastic in the tortilla press; cover with another piece of plastic

5. Press the masa

6. Transfer the tortilla to a hot, dry skillet

7. Cook for about 30 seconds on one side; gently turn

8. Cook for about 60 seconds (it should puff slightly); turn back to the first side

9. Cook for another 30 seconds on the first side

Remove and keep the tortilla warm

Sounds simple enough, but there are several crucial considerations along the way and, until you have made a batch or two and get the hang of it, a few tortilla-making tips will ease the way.

When mixing the masa, mix all the Masa Harina with 1 1/4 cup of the water. You can work it with your hands, if you like. If it seems too dry, add additional water, a teaspoon at a time. Too much water, and you won't be able to peel the plastic off the tortilla; too little and your tortilla will be dry and crumbly. Unlike pastry dough, masa does not suffer from being over-handled.

The masa will dry out quickly. Keep it covered with a piece of plastic wrap while making your tortillas.

Cut up sandwich or (my favorite) freezer bags work better than the flimsier plastic wrap or waxed paper.

Hold the pressed tortilla (with the plastic on both sides) in one hand. Peel away the top plastic from the tortilla (not the tortilla from the plastic). Flip it over into your other hand, and peel away the other piece of plastic.

Gently place the tortilla on the hot skillet or griddle. It should make a soft sizzling sound when you do. If your tortillas are not perfect circles, don't worry; they will still taste wonderful.

If your skillet or griddle is at the right temperature, a tortilla can be cooked in no more than 2 minutes.

The use of cast-iron utensils is important. You are cooking at high heat on a dry surface, and a lighter-weight utensil could warp.

Brown spots on your tortillas are good‹an indication that they are handmade, rather than punched out of a big machine and cooked assembly-line fashion.

he experienced tortilla cook need not turn out tortillas one at a time. You can get your own assembly-line process going by using two big skillets. Another pair of hands in the form of a kitchen helper can hasten the process, as well.

Put your hot tortillas in an aluminum foil pouch wrapped in a kitchen towel or napkin. You want them to stay hot and tender. Corn tortillas can be made 2 hours in advance, wrapped and reheated. Bake, in a 350°F oven for about 12 minutes.

There are many brands of tortillas available at most supermarkets--some better than others--but, nothing beats the taste and satisfaction of a home made corn tortilla.

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