Rev 0.40, last revised: 06-Jan-10
[Caution: This recipe is still under construction & testing--steal at your own risk!]
I LOVE tortillas! Corn tortillas are okay, but I really, really like the flour kind. Thanks to the influence of my wonderful son-in-law's family, the staple of Mexican cuisine, the tortilla, has become an important part of our eating experience as well. For more, click here.
Mix starter, flour, and water. Set in a warm place and allow to ferment at ~85F for 6-10 hours until at least doubled or even tripled. Due to the relatively small volume of dough and the relatively high starter hydration, this recipe can be started early in the morning for use that evening.
In a large bowl, dry mix the salt and flour with a whisk. Add the lard, cutting it in with a pastry cutter or a couple of knives until it resembles a fine meal.
Add in the entire sponge created in the previous step and the remaining water. Stir/mix/knead well. Add flour if it's too sticky, or water if it's too dry.
Turn out and knead gently. I prefer to roll it into a roughly inch thick roll, and cut it into chunks, so that when they're rolled like a marble, they form a ball about golf-ball size. Allow them to rest...for up to 4-hours if you like. The longer you wait, the slacker the dough becomes and the more easily the sourdough balls will roll out. Alternatively, you can let the dough rest/proof, whole, and then partition and roll them out as you get ready to bake them (which is what I do).
Preheat a large cast iron pan, wiped with an oiled towel--but otherwise dry, to medium-high heat. Flatten the balls, one at a time, to the thickness desired. Most any rolling device will do: rolling pin, wine bottle, a clean broom handle, whatever...
Put each freshly rolled tortilla into your pan, and gently brown on both sides. Depending on the temperature of your pan, this will take around a minute...maybe a bit less. Set aside when done on a clean, towel covered plate. If your flattening attempts don't yield a relatively "round" tortilla, you can use your fingers in those first few moments in the pan to adjust the shape.
If your pan is TOO HOT, the tortillas will puff up like a pocket bread. Turn it down a bit, and permit each tortilla to gently brown in a few spots; a few bubbles are okay. Too little heat or cooking time, and they'll taste raw inside.
To be properly finished, the tortilla should show some darker to black, even charred spots on the surface. You can bake them in the pan to that extent and eat them like that directly from the pan.
However, to be an authentic accompaniment (at least with the folks I hang with) to their meal, the Mexican tortilla is flame roasted to finish. To do this, I recommend that you take the tortilla out of the pan when they show a few small brown spots--not black or charred--and set them aside. In fact, they can be put into a re-sealable plastic bag and refrigerated for many months like that...although they're so good that they're not likely to last that long.
Just before you we sit down to eat, we fire up a small gas stove. Quickly heat/grill the tortillas made previously until they're hot and charred just a bit. A most marvelous way to finish a wonderful accompaniment to a Mexican meal. Click here for the "proper" method for gas-firing your tortillas.
We enjoy our tortillas with my own, special, Mexican style beans, spicy grilled-chicken, Pico de Gallo, and a good cerveza (beer). If you like, you can jazz things up with a dollop of sour cream and/or guacamole.
The tortilla, much like other flatbreads, has most likely been around for a long, long time--probably since pre-history (BCE). I have been searching for an accurate and historical tortilla recipe (if anyone reading here has any relevant information, I would be most grateful to get it). Unfortunately, while I did find a few unleavened tortilla recipes, most of the ones I found were baking-powder tortilla recipes. But baking powder wasn't invented until the nineteenth century (around about the same time that commercial baking yeasts were developed); so it stood to reason that if some form of leavening was used, it was going to be some form of sourdough. In my attempt to recreate an original recipe, a friend suggested that I start from my sourdough Pita bread recipe. I mean, after all, besides size and thickness, what's the difference?
Flame on, and set to med-low (varies according to your stove, s/b about 15-30 seconds/side).
Gather up TWO tortillas, and toss onto the flame grid. When side #1 is done, flip BOTH over as one tortilla, then flip the top one (the one that was just on the bottom) over to its uncooked side.
As the bottom one gets done, repeat the previous step. Do 2 more times to cook all sides of both tortillas.
While this sounds unnecessarily complicated, trust me, it's easier than it sounds and makes handling the hot flatbreads much easier than doing them one-at-a-time...