From the Back to Basics article in the May 2017 issue.

Flour Tortillas
Makes about 8 tortillas, approximately 7 to 8 inches in diameter

In Southwest culinary circles, flour tortillas are most closely associated with the cooking of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. New Mexican versions—thicker, smaller in diameter, and chewier than most others— actually probably predate these better-known cousins. Spanish settlers preferred wheat to corn, so they used it to produce a flatbread similar to a Pueblo tortilla, a tradition that has persisted in Hispano families for centuries now. Cheryl Alters Jamison’s Little Sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Lenore Tapia-Baker, with other members of the Tapia family, taught her how to make these 30 years ago. Experienced practitioners can flap and slap and pull the dough out into perfect rounds, but for the rest of us it’s usually easier to roll them out with a pin or use a press.

  • • 2 cups low-gluten pastry or biscuit flour, or all-purpose flour
  • • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder (reduce by 1⁄4 teaspoon at altitudes above 5,000 feet)
  • • 1 teaspoon salt
  • • 1 tablespoon lard, vegetable shortening, or vegetable oil
  • • 3⁄4 cup lukewarm water
  • • unsalted butter or your favorite salsa
  1. Sift together into a large bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt. Work in the lard with your fingers. Add the water, working it quickly until a sticky dough forms. 
  2. Knead the dough vigorously on a floured board for 1 minute. The mixture should no longer be sticky. This will sound a little odd, but if the dough is the same softness as your earlobe, it’s ready. If it remains more firm, knead a few more strokes until it’s earlobe soft. Cover the dough with a damp, clean dish towel and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and form into balls. Cover the balls again with the damp towel and let them rest for another 15 to 30 minutes. (The dough can be refrigerated at this stage and kept for up to 4 hours. Bring the dough back to room temperature before proceeding.)
  4. On a floured surface, roll out each dough ball, from the center, into a disc no thicker than 1⁄4 inch. Turn the dough a quarter turn after each roll, to help shape the tortilla as you go. Trim off any ragged edges and discard them.
  5. Line a basket or plate just larger than the tortillas with a cloth napkin or several layers of paper napkins. Warm a dry griddle or large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Cook the tortillas 30 seconds on each side, until the dough looks dry, slightly leathery, and speckled brown in a few spots. Place each tortilla immediately in the basket as it is cooked. Savor the tortillas warm, with butter or salsa, or reserve for another use.