The best kind of present is one that arrives out of the blue, a package on your doorstep when you are least expecting it. A couple of weeks ago the mailman left me a tortilla press, a thoughtful early birthday gift from my sister-in-law. I'd never made fresh tortillas before, but now I had a mission. It turns out that corn flour and water are lots of fun to mix, squishing between your fingers, especially if you are four.
Although at first it seems like a crumbly mess, the mixture comes together into a smooth, soft dough. The tricky part is handling it after it has been flattened. You need to line the press with plastic wrap, and avoid pressing the dough too thin. Here again, being four comes in handy because your maximum strength produces a tortilla that's just sturdy enough to peel off intact from the plastic wrap and place onto a hot griddle.
The resulting hot tortillas were pliant and flavorful. We piled them with this tomatillo pork and beans made with Arikara beans from Lonesome Whistle Farm, accompanied by crunchy slaw with cabbage and radishes from Open Oak Farm, and this roasted delicata squash. Making these tortillas is really quite easy and quick, even feasible on a weeknight as a little surprise gift for the whole family.
adapted from Rick Bayless, makes about 12 tortillas
1 3/4 cup masa harina (fine corn flour, I used Maseca brand)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water, or a little more
1. In a bowl use your hands to mix the water into the masa and salt, adding the liquid in several steps, until it comes together into a smooth dough. Cover and let rest for a few minutes.
2. Heat a large two burner griddle or two skillets, one medium and one medium high.
3. Check that the dough doesn't feel to stiff and add another 1-2 Tbsp of water if necessary. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, roll into balls, and cover with plastic wrap.
4. Cover both faces of the tortilla press with plastic wrap (or use a plastic bag cut to fit). Place a ball of dough between the sheets of plastic and gently press to form a 1/8 inch thick disc.
5. Gently peel the plastic wrap from the dough, positioning you hand so that it supports the tortilla with your index finger at the top of the center. Hold the tortilla over the medium hot griddle with your hand underneath. Tilt your hand so that the edge of the tortilla parallel to you hand sticks to the skillet and then gently lay the tortilla onto the skillet as you roll your hand out from underneath it.
6. Cook the tortilla for about 30 seconds until it no longer sticks and the, using a metal spatula, flip it over onto the medium hot part of the griddle. Cook for about 30 seconds and flip again. Cook for another 30 seconds, until both sides browned in parts. Transfer to a basket with a towel to keep the tortillas warm. Keep cooking all the tortillas in an assembly line, stacking them on top of each other to keep warm. Enjoy immediately.