How to Make Flour Tortillas

published Feb 20, 2023
How to Make Flour Tortillas (Tortillas de Harina) Recipe

You needs just a few ingredients to make great homemade flour tortillas from scratch.

Makes12 (8-inch) tortillas

Prep30 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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tortilla on napkin
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If there’s something that marks a distinction between the gastronomy of Northern Mexico from the rest of the country, it’s the region’s pride in flour tortillas. Even though they’re available in almost every supermarket, trust me when I say that once you taste homemade flour tortillas you’ll wonder why you didn’t start making them sooner. Their mild, slightly sweet flavor — like biting into a soft, buttery cloud — goes with everything and anything!

In this step-by-step guide, I’ll walk you through making the fluffiest, most delicious homemade flour tortillas. You’ll never want to buy them from the store again!

How to Make Homemade Flour Tortillas

Traditional flour tortillas from Mexico are a mix of four simple ingredients: all-purpose flour, water, fat, and salt. The homemade process is very similar to artisan bread making: The combination of kneading, shaping, and resting fully hydrates the dough and encourages flavor development. After stretching the dough and placing it on a hot pan, in less than a minute you’ll have a tortilla that puffs up and fills your home (and sometimes your neighborhood!) with an irresistible, toasty aroma that beckons you closer.

The northern practice of making homemade flour tortillas is the gift of our Mexican grandmothers (and all our ancestors that came before us) of feeding their young, a tradition that started almost 500 years ago.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The History of Flour Tortillas

The story of how flour tortillas became part of Mexico’s culinary landscape starts with colonization. As opposed to central and southern Mexico, where corn species abound, the northern regions have a noticeably drier climate where corn has difficulty thriving.

With the arrival of conquistadors in 1521 and eventually expanding their domains to the vastly underpopulated north, the Spanish needed a reliable food system that could sustain them. Wheat was brought to the Americas and quickly introduced to the region.

Although there is no absolute certainty, many believe that flour tortillas are based on a flatbread from the Zaruki region (present-day Iran). This food was very familiar to the Spanish settlers, as Spain was under Islamic rule for 700 years, which left a deep, cultural footprint in their food traditions. Spanish settlers adapted the Zaruki flatbread, copying the round, flat shape of corn tortillas and added pork lard for flexibility as well as flavor.

And from then on it has become its very own thing, slowly but steadfastly finding a home in every northern Mexican kitchen, and breaking the stigma that flour tortillas aren’t Mexican. Because in truth, they have fed its people at historical events like the Mexican revolution, and have been a part of every family gathering and celebration for generations.

The Best Way to Make Homemade Flour Tortillas

There is no one way to make flour tortillas, as recipes vary from region to region (and, of course, from household to household). Some states, such as Baja California Sur, like them a little thicker. Some regions stay true to lard as the traditional choice of fat, while others use vegetable shortening, and in some families they prefer unsalted butter, which was the case for my grandma Alice. Some recipes call for baking powder and some use milk instead of water.

Flour tortillas also vary in size; some are smaller, measuring about 7 to 8 inches, while others are so large that they measure close to 20 inches (roughly the distance from your hand to your armpit), which is the case of the famous tortillas de agua or tortillas sobaqueras from the state of Sonora, which many agree is the birthplace of flour tortillas.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Ways to Use Flour Tortillas

There are several ways to enjoy flour tortillas; all of them are delicious. Some of the most popular ways I’ve come across are:

  • Quesadillas: Of course, quesadillas. These are filled with cheese, folded in half, and served plain or sometimes with a filling.
  • Burritos: These are filled with a wide array of guisados (Mexican stews) and fillings such as papas con chorizo (potatoes with chorizo), carne deshebrada (stewed shredded beef) or machaca con huevo (northern Mexican dried beef with eggs).
  • Tacos de Asada: These grilled beef tacos are always delicious.
  • Quesatacos: A cross between a quesadilla and an asada taco. They’re very popular in my hometown of Ensenada.
  • Gringas: A cross between a quesadilla and an al pastor taco, sometimes served with pieces of pineapple.
  • Sincronizadas: A snack which is a sort of sandwich made with two flour tortillas, filled with soft, melty cheese and ham, then cut into four equal pieces.
  • A spoon: Tear a piece of tortilla and use it to scoop up delicious refried beans, your favorite guisado, or any remaining sauce left on your plate. In Mexico we don’t let anything go to waste!

Tips for Making Perfect Flour Tortillas

  • The first handmade flour tortilla is always enjoyed warm and slathered with butter.
  • If your dough is too tough to knead or it’s hard to roll out, it’s likely you added too much flour.
  • Avoid adding too much flour to your work surface when rolling out your tortillas, as this can make your tortillas come out dry.
  • Don’t worry if your tortillas don’t come out as round as store-bought ones. Making tortillas is an art that needs practice; the more you make them, the rounder they will come out. More than the shape, it’s the taste that matters.
  • Make sure you give your pan plenty of time to preheat before you start cooking your tortillas. Medium heat is best.
  • The first tortilla is more of a tester, sort of like the first crêpe or pancake. As you continue to cook your tortillas the pan will become more hot and will result in more even browning.
  • If you notice that your tortillas are taking too long to cook or aren’t browning, increase the heat.
  • If eating right away, keep them covered with a kitchen towel inside a tortilla basket or over a plate. If making them for later or another day, lay them in a single layer on a countertop, kitchen towel, or cooling rack to cool down.
  • Allow the tortillas to cool down completely before storing in the refrigerator.

How to Freeze Flour Tortillas for Later

You can freeze flour tortillas by storing them in a freezer-safe zip-top bag, placing a piece of parchment paper between each tortilla to prevent them from sticking together. This also allows you to take only the amount of tortillas needed while the rest remain frozen.

How to Make Flour Tortillas (Tortillas de Harina) Recipe

You needs just a few ingredients to make great homemade flour tortillas from scratch.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Makes 12 (8-inch) tortillas

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup

    fat, such as vegetable shortening, unsalted butter, or pork lard

  • 1 cup

    water

  • Vegetable oil or cooking spray

Equipment

  • Large bowl

  • Medium bowl

  • Rolling pin

  • 2 kitchen towels

  • Plastic wrap (optional)

  • Griddle, large cast iron skillet, or large nonstick frying pan

  • Spatula or spoon

  • Stand mixer (optional)

Instructions

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  1. Combine the fat and dry ingredients. Place 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Melt 1/2 cup fat in the microwave or on the stovetop. Add the fat to the flour mixture and mix with your hands until it resembles sand.

  2. Mix in the water. Heat 1 cup water until hot but not boiling. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot water to the flour mixture and mix with a flexible spatula or spoon until the dough feels less hot. Slowly add the remaining water a little at a time (you may not need all of it) until the dough feels sticky but not loose. As the dough comes together, pay close attention to how the dough feels in your hands, as it may need more or less water. This has to do with how fresh your flour is and the humidity in your kitchen.

  3. Knead the dough. Transfer the dough to a work surface. Knead by hand until it feels soft, slightly oily and elastic, neither dry nor loose and when you make indentations with your fingers, and slightly bounces back when pressed, 7 to 10 minutes. The dough will feel very sticky at first and might stick to your hands and work surface, so avoid the temptation to add more flour - it will become less sticky as you continue to knead.

  4. Make the dough balls. Divide the dough into 12 lime-sized portions (about 60 grams each). Next, pinch the bottoms. Cup your hand over each dough ball and roll on the counter (bottoms facing down) until the top is smooth and tight.

  5. Coat a medium bowl lightly with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Add the dough balls and cover with a kitchen towel, plastic wrap, or both. Let rest for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour to hydrate.

  6. Roll out the tortillas. Heat a griddle, large cast iron skillet, or large nonstick pan on medium heat while you shape the tortillas. Lightly dust a work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll out 1 dough ball at a time, keeping the remaining covered to prevent drying out.

    Place on the work surface and flatten the ball slightly by pressing with your hand. Begin rolling from center to top (away from you) using light to medium pressure to start, then roll center to bottom (towards you). Rotate the dough disc 45 degrees counterclockwise, then continue to roll from center to top and then again from center to bottom. Flip the tortilla and continue to roll and flip several times until you have a round about 1/8-inch thick and 8 inches wide. To make any last adjustments, lay the tortilla in the palm of one hand, and with your opposite hand using your fingers stretch any uneven ends.

    Place the tortilla on a kitchen towel and repeat rolling out the remaining balls, placing them on a single layer on the towel. If you’re having a difficult time rolling, place the dough balls in the refrigerator for a few minutes, then take out and try again.

  7. Cook the tortillas. Gently place the tortilla in the pan. If the tortilla lost some of its shape, quickly stretch the ends with your fingers. Cook until the edges of the tortilla slightly change color and no longer look translucent, 10 to 15 seconds. Flip with your fingers or a spatula and cook until the bottom is lightly browned spots and some bubbles start to appear on the surface, 25 to 30 seconds. Flip once more and wait until you notice the air bubbles are more pronounced or it puffs (to encourage puffing, press along the edges of the tortilla using your finger, a clean kitchen towel or a spatula), 15 to 20 seconds. Flip and wait a few more seconds if needed to allow any last minute puffing or browning.

  8. Continue cooking the remaining tortillas. The tortilla is ready when the color has changed from translucent to white and both sides have light to medium brown spots. Transfer to a tortilla basket, or a large plate lined with a kitchen towel. Cover to let steam. Continue cooking the remaining tortillas, stacking them on top of the first.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: You can partially cook the tortillas up to 1 day ahead, then fully cook them when ready to serve. Do this by cooking them lightly on both sides on medium-low heat, not allowing them to puff, to only develop light brown spots and removing them sooner from the heat. Cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.

When ready to serve, heat the pan on medium heat for at least 5 minutes. Add a tortilla and wait 10 to 15 seconds. Flip and wait 10 to 15 seconds more. Do this a couple more times, or until both sides have medium brown spots and some air bubbles appear or puffing occurs.

Storage: Let the tortillas cool completely before refrigerating in a plastic zip-top bag or airtight container for up to 7 days. To reheat, place in a griddle or pan on medium heat and heat until warmed through, a few seconds on each side.

How to freeze: Freeze flour tortillas in a freezer-safe zip-top bag. Place a piece of parchment paper between each tortilla to prevent them from sticking together.