Sunday, July 3, 2011

Experiment #1: Maseca! - Making Corn Tortillas


I am initiating my blogging experimentation with the rather uninspiring tortilla. The tortilla has earned this honor because of the sheer number of tortillas consumed at our house. My husband eats them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One package of 8 lasts about 2 days. So the choice became buy the cheapo tortillas that look the same whether they are 2 days or 2 years old, or spend a fortune on fresh ones.

Back in the day, I spent a semester living with host families and conducting research in rural Costa Rica. Amid the tropical heat, suffocating humidity and diesel buses, I fell in love with the country, the people and their homemade corn tortillas. My host mother in Guápiles (who was a single, working mother of two) always found time to pull out her bag of Maseca corn flour and make her own tortillas, over the stove, without air conditioning. Inspired by her dedication and compelled by their crack-like addictive flavor, I bought a small bag of Maseca corn flour to bring back with me to my dorm room. I imagined padding down to the dorm kitchen for midnight study breaks of warm tortillas dripping with melted cheese. Five years later, as my husband and I were packing our apartment to move across the country, I rediscovered my slumped Maseca bag, abandoned, unopened and long since expired. The dream of the homemade tortilla was lost until a couple months ago when my eyes happened to graze a bag of Maseca in the grocery store. The memory was jogged. I was intrigued. Now, almost a decade after my introduction to these delicious snacks, I am finally attempting to make my own corn tortillas. They are pretty healthy and darn tasty.

Goal: To make 8 homemade corn tortillas (4 servings)

Time to Completion: 20 minutes, including setup and cleanup. Time is less if you have a larger pan. Each additional tortilla adds between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. 

Cost Comparison: 
1 package of 8 corn tortillas cost $1.75 - $4.50. That's $0.22 - $0.56 per tortilla.
 8 homemade Maseca corn tortillas cost $0.22. That's under $0.03 per tortilla. One 4.4 lb bag of Maseca flour costs approximately $3.60 and makes 132 tortillas. 

Tortilla making is mostly kid-compatible (except for the cooking part) for kids 2 years and older and allows for only minimal, if any, multitasking.

Equipment:
Large mixing bowl
Rolling pin (or if you are fancy shmancy, a tortilla press)
Plastic wrap
Measuring cups and spoons
A fork for mixing
A damp towel or paper towel
At least a 10 inch frypan of some sort. I use an enameled cast iron frypan similar to this one.
Stove or some hot, cooking surface

1 cup of Maseca corn flour
2/3 cup + 3 tablespoons of water
1/8 tsp salt
¼ lime (optional – add a few cents to the total cost)
        
Directions:
For the most part, I followed the directions on the back of the bag. Turn on your burner (I set it between the 6 and 7 - medium high) and, if you are using a cast iron pan, put your pan on to heat up. I found out the hard way that you cannot put the tortillas on my pan until it is hot enough or they will stick and burn.

Preparation is the perfect time to involve kids, especially tactile ones. Dump all the ingredients (except the 3 tbsp of water) into the mixing bowl and mix together with the fork. The flour should form little crumbly balls. If you still have powdery flour along the sides, add the extra 3 tbsp of water. If you want, you can add the water one tbsp at a time as indicated on the bag. I have found that in the multitude of times I have made the tortillas, the 3 tbsp is a perfect extra amount of water, even if I am making more than 8 tortillas. I am not sure why, but there you go. I add lime juice to mine, because I love the flavor. If you forgo the lime, you may need extra water.

Then you (or your eager mini-chefs) can smoosh the dough together and knead it until it sticks into one big blob. To make 8 tortillas, I break the blob in half, each half in half again, and again until you get 8 relatively even blobs. Roll the blobs in to balls and put them in the bottom of your mixing bowl and cover the balls with a scantly damp towel. NOTE: Here is where you can modify the moisture of the dough. If your dough is too crumbly, place them under a more damp towel for a few minutes. If they get too wet, take the towel off and let them air dry for a bit. I learned the hard way that having tortillas too damp makes them stick to the pan and too dry makes them crumble when you eat them.

Place a ball in a long sheet of plastic wrap and fold the plastic over. Smoosh the ball down with your hand to make it pancake-like then roll with a rolling pin until it is about 1/16 inch thick, or about the thickness of a DVD. If you get it too thick, it will be less pliable when eating it. They aren't beautifully round without a tortilla press, but they taste just the same.

Carefully pull the flattened dough off the plastic wrap and put it on an ungreased pan for around 50 seconds. My tortillas just start to curl up on the edges and sometimes slide easily on the pan when done. Then flip the tortilla over and cook for 45 seconds on the second side. You may have to adjust the time as you go. Usually by the end, I am cooking them for less time. Mine usually have very light golden spots on them. You can even wash out the bowl and wipe down the counter while your tortillas are cooking.

They are most pliable when warm, but are great cold, too. You can keep them in a sealed container or bag for a week in the fridge. Ours never last more than two days. In fact, they were gone before I could get a finished product picture.