Corn tortillas ("tortilla de maiz") date back several centuries, but flour tortillas ("tortilla de harina") are cited in the 19th century and are believed to have been first made in northern Mexico. The flour tortilla burst into popularity in the mid-1900s, when it was used as a convenient wrap for burritos.
The flour tortilla is cited in print from a San Antonio writer by at least 1940.
In Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada, a tortilla is a type of thin, unleavened flat bread, made from finely ground maize (corn) or wheat flour. A similar bread from South America is called arepa (though arepas are typically much thicker than tortillas). This form of bread predates the arrival of Europeans to America, and was called “tortilla” by the Spanish from its resemblance to the traditional Spanish round unleavened cakes and omelettes (originally made without potatoes, which are native to South America). The Aztecs and other Nahuatl-speakers called their tortillas by the name “tlaxcalli”: these have become the prototypical tortillas. The maize version is the original North American tortilla and is regarded by many as the “authentic” tortilla. Flour tortillas originated in regions of Mexico unsuited for growing corn.
The flour tortilla is probably best known in the USA as the tortilla used to make burritos, a dish originating in northern Mexico. Wheat tortillas are also a traditional staple of the peoples of northwestern Mexican states (such as Sonora and Chihuahua) and many southwestern US Native American tribes. As an easy solution to both the problems of handling food in microgravity and preventing bread crumbs from escaping into delicate instruments, wheat flour tortillas have been used on many NASA Shuttle missions since 1985.
Flour tortilla are a simple mixture of flour, fat (lard or vegetable shortening), salt and water. Despite what you may have read, flour tortillas are NOT made with a tortilla press. The dough is too soft and sticky and will not flatten without the assistance of skilled hands or (for the rest of us) a rolling pin (palote).
Traditional Flour Tortilla Making
Flour tortillas are from the northern region of Mexico where wheat is grown rather than corn. Many skilled Mexican woman can toss the dough from hand to hand until it is almost 20” in diameter and paper thin. The tortillas are then heated on a hot comal the folded twice to form triangles. The folded tortillas are then eaten for either breakfast or the midday meal.
Even in Mexico the proper “fat” is controversial. Some say pork lard makes the best tortillas and more contemporary cooks say vegetable shortening. A combination of vegetable shortening and beef lard makes a flavorful combination.
California Pastoral, 1769-1848
By Hubert Howe Bancroft
San Francisco, CA: History Company
Some used bread made of wheaten flour, others a kind of bread made of maize, of a circular shape, flattened out very thin, baked over a slow fire on a flat, earthen pan, and which was known as tortilla de maiz, to distinguish it from the one made of wheaten flour with a little fat, which was called tortilla de harina.
By John Reed
New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company
Breakfast consisted of heaping platters of red meat with chile, bowls of frijoles, stacks of cold flour tortillas, and six bottles of Monopole Champagne.
The Fighting Fool: A Tale of the Western Frontier
By Dane Coolidge
New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Company
There were stewed beef and white-flour tortillas, and coffee — and more, and more, and more!
Your Mexican Kitchen: A Compilation of Mexican Recipes Practicable in the United States
By Natalie V. Scott
New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s sons
Flour tortillas are favorites in the north of Mexico. They may be used to make tacos (see TACOS) or toasted, and served with butter and jam for tea.
24 November 1940, San Antonio (TX) Light, American Weekly, pg. 19, cols. 4-5:
Here is a favorite Mexican bread recipe in my section of the country. I make it as follows:
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup lukewarm water (about)
Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening and mix thoroughly. Add water, roll dough, make balls as big as a biscuit. Roll each ball uniformly about 1/8 inch thick. Make them as round as possible; occasionally turn dough while rolling. Put tortilla in a hot griddle as you do for griddle cakes. When tortilla is golden brown turn on other side. Makes about 20 tortillas and they are delicious. Serve hot with butter. I love to eat them with ham and eggs.
Mrs. A. Urrutla,
San Antonio, Texas.
4 December 1947, Corpus Christi (TX) Times, “Brownsville Church Women Publish Mexican Recipe Book,” pg. 12, col. 8:
Tacos are simple, too. First, you have to get tortillas, which might be a problem in some cities. (Otherwise, make a flour tortilla, which the book tells you how to do.)
Texas Highways (March 2003)
Yield: 12 tortillas
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3 T. lard, shortening, or canola oil (or 1 1/2 T. each of lard and butter)
2/3 c. water
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl (or combine in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade). Heat lard and water in a small saucepan over low heat until lard has just melted. Allow mixture to cool for a minute or two, then gradually stir it into the flour mixture. Form into a dough by hand (or pour mixture into the bowl of the food processor with the motor running). The result should be a dough that is neither wet nor dry and crumbly. If too wet, add a little more flour; if too dry, add a little more water. Knead dough briefly, and divide into 12 pieces. Roll the pieces of dough into little balls between the palms of your hands, place on a flat surface, cover with a slightly damp towel, and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes (up to 1 1/2 hours). Preheat a large, heavy skillet or griddle. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into rounds about 6-7 inches in diameter. Place a dough round on the cooking surface; within about 30 seconds the dough should start to bubble, and some little brown spots should begin to form on the bottom. (Stove settings vary, so you’ll have to experiment with the amount of heat.) Flip tortilla, and cook another 30 seconds. By this time it should start to puff a little more, and the other side should develop light brown spots. Flip tortilla again; it should immediately begin to puff, sometimes into a large, nearly round ball. When tortilla has fully expanded, remove it from the heat, and place it in a tortilla warmer or wrap it in a thick towel. Adjust heat as necessary as you cook remaining tortillas.
The Tex-Mex Cookbook
by Robb Walsh
New York, NY: Broadway Books
Corn tortillas are among the oldest foods in Mesoamerican culture. They are made of the corn dough called masa. Flour tortillas were invented in the Mexican state of Sonora, that nation’s largest wheat-producing region. Many grocery stores stock a wide variety of tortillas these days. There are plain and flavored four tortillas, fluffy white corn tortillas, and old-fashioned corn tortillas. The old-fashioned corn ones, sometimes called enchilada tortillas, are somewhat leathery but hold up well in cooking. Use these for frying (Pg. 15—ed.) and save the flour tortillas and fluffy white corn tortillas for serving at the table.
The amounts given here will vary dramatically depending on the dryness of your flour and the hardness of your water. San Antonio’s drinking water percolates through the Edwards Aquifer and yields the fluffiest flour tortillas in the state. You will probably have to tinker with the mounts given here if you don’t live in San Antonio.
Monday, March 19, 2007
An end to my quest: flour tortillas
Many people say flour tortillas are strictly gringo, but that’s not true. You can find them in Northern Mexico, especially the state of Sonora. But the varieties eaten there are different from the ones I prefer. While the Mexican version is thin, smooth and flat, Texan flour tortillas are thick, soft, puffy and chewy.
Texas Flour Tortillas (adapted from The Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison)
Two cups of all-purpose flour (can make them whole wheat by substituting one cup of whole-wheat flour for white flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3/4 cups of warm milk
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and oil.
Slowly add the warm milk.
Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed.
Knead for two minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft.
Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.
After the dough has rested, break off eight sections, roll them into balls in your hands, place on a plate (make sure they aren’t touching) and then cover balls with damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. (It’s very important to let the dough rest, otherwise it will be like elastic and won’t roll out to a proper thickness and shape.)
After dough has rested, one at a time place a dough ball on a floured surface, pat it out into a four-inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it’s thin and about eight inches in diameter. (If you roll out pie crusts you’ll have no problem with this.) Don’t over work the dough, or it’ll be stiff. Keep rolled-out tortillas covered until ready to cook.
In a dry iron skillet or comal heated on high, cook the tortilla about thirty seconds on each side. It should start to puff a bit when it’s done.
Keep cooked tortillas covered wrapped in a napkin until ready to eat.
Can be reheated in a dry iron skillet, over your gas-burner flame or in the oven wrapped in foil.
While you probably won’t have any leftovers, you can store in the fridge tightly wrapped in foil or plastic for a day or so.
Makes eight tortillas.
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, August 30, 2008 • Permalink