Growing up in Mexico, I knew freshly made tortillas would always be on the table. There was a tortilleria in every neighborhood; this one food is so integral to the Mexican diet that there were protests when the cost of a kilo of tortillas went up 2 pesos. Even when we moved to Texas, if we wanted good tortillas we’d get them from across the border.
But I no longer live just 15 minutes from the border, and the supermarket bagged tortillas are closer to Frisbees than real, fresh tortillas. Luckily, making them at home is far easier than people realize. It has a short ingredient list and an easy-to-make, very forgiving dough, and for equipment you just need a tortilla press and a griddle (a cast-iron or nonstick skillet will also work).
Tortillas are also easy to troubleshoot: If your first tortilla has cracked edges, add a bit more water to the dough. If your first one sticks to the griddle, you can let the dough sit uncovered for a minute to let it dry out a bit. But the real trick for soft, pliable tortillas is to let the tortillas steam inside the cloth once they come off the griddle. And my last tip: The best fresh tortilla is the one at the bottom of the stack.
Tortillas have a very basic ingredient list: masa harina, warm water, and a little salt. You can find masa harina in the international aisle of grocery stores or near the flour. Tortilla presses (we use an 8-inch press) are available online for less than $20. For the press, cut open a small zipper-lock bag along the two sides, but not the bottom, so that it hinges open, then place the bag inside your press with the hinge facing the back. The bag will keep the dough from sticking. Line a large plate with a clean kitchen towel and dampen a few paper towels to put over the bowl of dough to keep the dough from drying out. Finally, start heating the griddle over medium-high heat (cast iron is the classic choice, but any griddle will do).
Because of tortillas’ simplicity, it’s important to get the proportions right. I like to use 1 cup water and ¼ teaspoon salt for each cup of masa. This combination should give you a dough with the texture of Play-Doh. Sometimes the humidity (or lack thereof) can affect the dough; if the first tortilla you cook cracks around the edges and is dry, work a tablespoon of water into the remaining dough. Or if the tortilla sticks to the griddle, leave the dough uncovered for a few minutes to dry out.
For perfect taco-size tortillas, I break off about an ounce of dough (if you want a slightly bigger tortilla, increase the amount of dough to 1½ or 2 ounces). Roll it into a smooth ball (it’ll be about the size of a walnut) and transfer it to the lined tortilla press. The smoother the ball, the more even your tortilla will be, so roll with care.
Press the tortilla gently and evenly until it is about 1/16 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Gently peel back the top layer of the bag and transfer the tortilla to your hand.
Transfer the tortilla to a hot griddle. You know the tortilla is ready to flip to the second side when the edges curl up enough to grasp them with your fingertips and the bottom is spotty brown. If you’re nervous about grabbing a hot tortilla with your bare hands, you can use a spatula to flip it. (You’ll just look like less of a seasoned tortilleria pro.) If you’ve heated your griddle properly, your tortillas should cook in about three minutes total, 90 seconds per side.
The griddle step actually only cooks the outside of the tortilla. To finish cooking and soften the tortillas, as soon as they come off the griddle, transfer them to your kitchen towel–lined plate and cover them up. The heat from the growing stack of tortillas will gently steam them until they are soft and pliable. If you’re patient, let the whole stack rest wrapped in the towel for at least three minutes after you’ve finished griddling. If you’re not, simply grab from the bottom.
Find other great DIY recipes in The America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook.