The stack in this photo was eaten over the next two hours by three people. Now, I would tell you that they are perfectly sane people with ordinary appetites but to see them hoeing into these tortillas and rolling their eyes in appreciation was a revelation. Not only were they easy to make, ridiculously easy in fact, but they were so intensely good. They were soft, pliable and light. They didn’t taste of uncooked flour. They didn’t taste of cardboard. They were incredibly moreish.
To make tortillas, you will need to head into your supermarket and buy some lard, which you will find next to copha and beef dripping and solid vegetable shortening. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, lard sounds like the worst product in the world to work with. It is rendered and solidified pig fat and there’s nothing in its appearance that endears itself.
However, the fact is lard makes the lightest of pastries and flatbreads imaginable. It adds the flakiness to flaky pastry and it imparts a slight unami flavour to the pastry, as you would expect from something so closely allied to bacon. It is invaluable in any pastry where you want crunch and lightness at the same time. I use it in hot water pastry for pork pies, in flaky pastry for pasties, in shortcrust pastry to cover a meat pie, even in chinese style dumpling pastry.
And in Mexico, it’s used extensively in tortillas. If you don’t like lard – and let’s face it, you wouldn’t be on your own – simply substitute it for butter. It won’t give the same textural lightness, but it will give you a far better result than anything you can buy and for a far cheaper cost.
I used ordinary plain flour, however for a more traditional result or if you want a gluten-free option, source masa flour, which is imported stoneground maize flour. One smell of it will remind you of every taco you’ve ever eaten. It’s not cheap – a local specialist deli sells it for $12 a kilo – but for an authentic or gluten-free option it’s unbeatable.
Makes 12 tortillas, about 18cm in diameter
- 500g (3½ cups) plain flour;
- 1 tsp sea salt;
- 100g lard* or butter, cut into small dice;
- 250ml (1 cup) boiling water.
- Place the flour and salt in a large heat-proof bowl. Make a well in the flour and place the pieces of lard or butter in the centre.
- Add the very hot water, about a quarter of a cup at a time, directly over the top of the lard and use a wooden spoon to stir the flour through it. Add another quarter of the water and stir again. Continue until you have pulled in most of the flour from around the sides of the bowl.
- At this stage you will have to discard the spoon and use your clean hands to knead the pastry lightly in the bowl until the pastry comes together leaving the bowl clean. The dough will be quite sticky and very soft. Continue kneading it lightly for another three minutes until the pastry relaxes under your hands and is silky soft.
- Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with clingwrap or a clean cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough evenly into 12 to 15 small balls about the size of a golf ball.
- Heat a nonstick frypan over medium heat. If you don’t have a nonstick pan, line the bottom of a fry pan with a sheet of baking paper. While the pan is heating, lightly dust a benchtop with flour and roll out each ball of dough into a circle about 15 to 18 cm in diameter.
- Gently fry each tortilla in the dry pan for about two minutes on each side. The tortillas will puff up – use a spatula to turn them over and press them down slightly so they cook evenly. Try to keep a low to medium steady heat under the pan so the tortillas don’t cook too quickly or burn. Keep them on a warm plate while you finish the remaining tortillas.
Serve them warm with your favourite ingredients for tacos, burritos or quesadillas. You can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. Warm them again in the microwave or individually in a frypan.