Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cook, making homemade tortillas is surprisingly easy. The trick is using the right ingredients, like all-purpose flour with a moderate protein level, which makes the dough pliable and soft. You can also customize the recipe by substituting whole wheat flour for some or all of the all-purpose flour, adding a little bit of cornmeal for a coarser texture, or herbs and spices for flavor. Other optional additions include fat (lard or vegetable shortening) which helps keep the tortillas pliable for longer and adds a hint of flavor; salt, which enhances the flavors; baking powder, which makes the dough lighter and fluffier; and antimicrobial agents and acidulants (citric, fumaric, and phosphoric acids), which prevent fungal growth and extend shelf life.
When making tortilla, it’s important to let the dough rest and knead it until it’s smooth and elastic. You can do this in a large bowl with your hands or in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. If you’re kneading by hand, use hot water; the steam from the heat will help the gluten develop. Using lard is traditional, but vegetable shortening works well. Avoid using butter, which is liquid at room temperature and will throw off the ratio of fat to flour.
After kneading, let the dough rest for ten minutes. Divide the dough into even pieces and, on a lightly floured surface, shape each piece into a smooth round ball. Roll each ball into a thin tortilla shape. Preheat a skillet over medium-heat. Cook each tortilla for about one minute on each side. Keep the cooked tortillas warm by wrapping them in a towel until you’re ready to serve.
The best way to keep tortillas fresh and pliable for up to two days is to store them in an airtight container at room temperature. To make the tortillas last even longer, you can wrap them in a damp paper towel and then in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer. The key to freezing tortillas is to get as much air out of the bags as possible: use a straw to suck the air out, and the tortillas will stay pliable for months. They also reheat very well in the microwave. If you do decide to freeze the tortillas, be sure to let them thaw completely before reheating. Freezing them too soon can cause them to shrivel and become tough. For longer storage, place the tortillas in an airtight freezer bag and, if desired, seal the bag with a layer of wax or parchment paper between the layers to prevent sticking. This way, you can pull out a few tortillas at a time when you need them, and they’ll be ready to eat in just a few minutes.