I had been putting off dealing with flour tortillas for a while. I had mistakenly though it would be fiddly work also the tortillas available in the shops here are great so I never took the time. They are small and dense, savoury with a speckling of small golden brown islands. They are nothing at all like the bready hubcaps that I was used to from home.
They are very easy, and making them is the kind of kitchen work that involves a mix of routine and technique that is very satisfying. They require resting for a half an hour between kneading and rolling, however this is not as much of a nuisance as it sounds, it is short enough that preparing a batch of flour tortiallas on a whim is not a problem, and it is just long enough to go about preparing something to put in them when they are done!
The conventional wisdom is that flour tortillas are most popular in the north of the country, I haven't seen enough of the country to contradict this, the only thing I have noticed is that flour tortillas seem to be more popular for breakfast tacos filled with things like chicharron or carne desherbrada, with corn tortillas being served at larger meals.
I have tried using lard, vegetable shortening and butter. Rick Bayless recommends using a mixture of lard and vegetable shortening. Personally I find using lard alone gives the best taste and is what I use. Vegetable shortening is easy to work with but doesn't give the savoury taste lard does. Butter gives a slightly softer texture and (obviously) a nice buttery taste. I think in balance it is the better substitute if you don't have lard to hand.
The basic proportions are 5 to 1 of flour to fat. I work in 100g batches of flour, which would give 8 tortillas of about 7 inches diameter. So for 100g of flour 20g of lard, a pinch of salt and enough warm water to bring the dough together. You won't need much water at all, just less than a quarter cup in this case, as you are aiming for a relatively tight dough, certainly nothing like the stringy mess you would have before you begin kneading a bread dough. Some recipes include some baking powder. There really is no point, the tortillas will puff up beautifully without it.
The quickest method is to cut the fat into the flour using a food processor, you can rub it in too, but the processor is much quicker. After combing the flour and lard, either in the processor or by hand, turn the mixture out into a bowl, add the water (with the salt dissolved in it) and bring together into a dough. Add just enough water to barely bring the dough together and knead the dough for a few minutes. Like I said earlier, it's not a bread dough so there is no need to break you heart kneading it, there is probably not enough water in the dough to create a lot of gluten anyway. A few minutes of kneading until you have a cohesive, homogeneous dough is plenty.
Roll the dough into a log, divide the log into eight pieces. Form each piece into a ball, roll the ball between your palm and the counter top to even it out, then flatten the ball slightly into a disk. Cover your eight little disks and leave to rest for about a half an hour.
Rolling the Tortillas
There is a knack to rolling, but it's still nothing to be intimidated by. Keep a small dish of flour in front of you as you work, keep the surface lightly floured. Take your first disk of dough and dip both sides of it into the flour, then you can begin to roll it.
The secret is to work from the centre of the disk, firstly away from you, then towards you. Work lightly, just a couple of inches at a go and rotate the disk about 1/8 of a turn each time. That's all there is to it - away a small bit, towards you a small bit and rotate a bit. Keep the board lightly dusted and flipping the disk over now and again as you work helps too. Don't go nuts, just work lightly but without hesitation. If you try to push the dough too much in a pass, you will find it impossible to make a round tortilla. You are aiming in the first full rotation to increase the size of the disk to about 3 or 4 inches then repeating the process to arrive at the final size.
Cooking the Tortillas
The tortillas cook fantastically quickly over a medium high heat, less than a minute each side depending on how hot the pan is, and often closer to 30 seconds. I use a cast iron comal, however any heavy pan would do fine. You will hear a sizzle as the tortilla is dropped on the pan and in a few moment blisters begin to form on the underside. It is very satisfying to see the tortilla begin to puff up, however I find it better to better to turn the tortilla before the smaller air bubbles begin to grow into each other and the tortilla balloons. This gives the speckling of golden brown spots that is most attractive. If you allow the tortilla to inflate completely then there will be just a single spot in direct contact with the heat. Like as with a corn tortilla you turn it twice.
You must also be careful not to allow the tortillas to overcook. You are looking for the spaces between the golden spots to retain a certain translucence and to look ever so slightly pasty.
Stash them in a tortilla warmer or wrapped in a tea towel to keep them warm. They keep pretty well in the fridge in plastic, although a small batch can be knocked together so easily there is little reason to have leftovers. I'm sure they can probably be frozen too, not that I ever had the opportunity to find out!