Mexican Tortilla Press

Mexican Tortilla Press

If you’re a fan of tortillas you may or may not have discovered the wonders of a traditional Mexican tortilla press. It’s an inexpensive and extremely worthwhile investment to add to your kitchen appliances. It simplifies making homemade tortillas by offering an easy alternative to a rolling pin. They are quicker, much less messy and pump out the tortillas to perfection. The fact they produce a uniform shape and size every time makes the tortillas easier to cook and cooks them more evenly.

Wood or Metal Press?

Manual tortilla presses come in wood, cast iron and aluminum. Wooden presses look and feel more traditional and some say the wood preserves the flavor of the tortilla much better but they are generally bigger and more cumbersome and will take up a lot of room in your kitchen. Metal presses are more durable as the wood ones also tend to crack. The main advantage of the cast iron press being its leverage and weight, which give it great pressing power and longevity. The aluminum press is light and easy to handle but the down side to this is you have to press a lot harder and too much pressure can often snap and break them. My recommendation without a doubt would be an 8 inch cast iron victoria tortilla press!

Victoria 8 inch Cast Iron Tortilla Press

The History of the Tortilla

As an ancient Mayan legend tells, the tortilla was invented by a poor peasant as a present for his King. Corn tortillas were a staple for the Mayans and Aztecs and date back to as far as 10,000 BC. They were originally called ‘laxcalli’ in Mexico’s native language ‘Nahuatl’ and were then later referred to as ‘tortillas’ (little cake) when the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the mid 1500’s. Traditionally tortillas in Mexico were made of corn. The Aztecs first made them with just ground cornmeal and water, using a process called nixtamalization. This is where the corn kernals are soaked in water and lime (from limestone) to remove their skin and then they are ground into ‘masa’. The flour tortilla was a variant later invented by the Spanish.

Corn v Flour

There is a debate as to which of the tortillas is best. I personally think they are both delicious and have their pros and cons.

Corn Tortillas were passed down from the Aztecs. The nixtamalization process is what gives them a distinctive texture and flavor. They are best used for dishes that require a smaller size tortilla such as tacos, tortillas chips, taquitos or enchiladas, as they tend to fall apart if too big or stuffed too full.

Flour tortillas were first made when the Spaniards introduced wheat to Mexico. They use oil, lard or vegetable shortening to bind the dough together, giving the tortillas a more stretchy and sturdy consistency. This makes them best for burritos, fajitas, quesadillas and tortilla dishes that require a bigger size tortilla.

Corn tortillas would be considered as the healthier option of the two since they are gluten free and made out of 100% whole grains. Whole grains are more natural as they have not been refined, hence higher in nutrients and fiber.

Homemade Corn Tortillas

Basic Corn Tortilla Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup (115g) Masa Harina*
½ tsp sea salt (aprox to taste)
1 cup (120ml) warm water

Method

1. Mix the masa harina and salt together until blended.
2. Slowly pour the warm water into the mixture and mix with your hands or a spoon. Add just enough water to hydrate the dough (you may not need to use it all).
3. Once the dough can be pressed together, transfer it to a work surface and knead for a few minutes. This helps the masa harina to rehydrate. If it seems too dry add a little more water, if it seems a little too sticky add a bit more flour.
4. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and roll them into balls.
5. Cover with a damp cloth to keep them moist, whilst you get your tortilla press ready !!!

*Masa Harina is not a substitute for corn flour. It is dried and ground corn that has been previously soaked in an akeline solution of water and lime (what the Aztecs called nixtamalization). This process gives the corn its yummy flavor and makes it more easily digestible.

Basic Flour Tortilla Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup warm water
5 tbsp of fat (oil, melted lard, shortening or butter)

Method

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl and slowly stir the oil (or melted fat) into the flour with a fork until it looks crumbly.
2. Add the salt to the warm water, stirring until it has dissolved and slowly add this to the dough until it comes together. (Add more water if the mixture seems dry or a little more flour if it is too sticky).
3. Knead the dough for two to three minutes on a floured work surface, until it becomes nice and smooth. Then cover it up with a clean dish cloth for between 15 minutes and an hour.
4. Divide the dough into 10 even sized portions and roll them into small balls the size of golf balls.
5. Get ready to use your press!!!

USING YOUR PRESS

Simple Steps

- cut up squares of parchment or wax paper the size of your press
- open your press and put one square on top of the bass press
- put a ball of dough on the paper and another square or paper on top
- lower the lever and press out your perfect tortilla

Making tortillas with a victorian tortilla press

A little more detail

To prevent the dough from sticking to your press it is best to use a protective layer, such as parchment or wax paper cut into squares just large enough to cover the diameter of the press. Alternatively you can just cut up a plastic grocery bag into squares and recycle it!

Grab a ball of dough (roughly the size of a golf ball, depending on the size of the tortilla you want to make) and place it in-between 2 squares of protective paper/plastic on-top of the base plate of your press. Lower the top plate on to the base plate and firmly press down on the handle for 1 second.

Grab both layers of paper/plastic and turn them over to press the tortilla again. This will fully extend the tortilla and ensure it has an even shape. You can then peel it off the paper and put to one side whilst you make the rest.

This is the easiest and most fun part. Once you start using your press there is no going back. Your tortillas will be the perfect shape, size and thickness every time!

Cooking and Storing the Tortillas

Cook your tortillas on a hot skillet or pan. They only need 1 or 2 minutes to cook. You should start to see the tortilla puffing up after about 30 seconds. When you start to see brown spots appear on the tortilla, flip it over to cook the other side. Transfer each tortilla to a dish cloth or tortilla warmer whilst you cook up the rest.

Leftover tortillas can be stored in a sealable plastic bag for 1 or 2 days. They can also be frozen but will be best when warmed up again on a skillet or pan to make them nice and pliable.

Yummy Fillings!

Now there are just so many amazing fillings to choose from for your homemade tortillas. They can make a healthy snack or a filling and nutritious dinner. You can stick to the classic and more authentic fillings for your tortillas or get creative and have fun trying out new combos! Here are a few ideas to get started:

1. Tofu, spring onion, cucumber, watercress and hoisin sauce
2. Avocado, roasted pepper, pesto sauce and mozzarella
3. Chicken, grated carrot, cucumber, lettuce, peanut butter mixed with ginger, chili, sesame oil and lime
4. Prawn, avocado, chives and lettuce with a mix of mayo, ketchup and tabasco sauce

Delicious fillings in tortilla wraps

Fun Tortilla Fact!

Before we go, here's a little fun fact about tortillas. They started as a staple for the Aztecs back in 10,000 BC and are nowadays a staple for NASA as a favorite option on the menu for Astronauts when they travel up in space. They are easier to manipulate than fresh bread and create less crumbs. They are also a lot easier to store and don’t take up much room and stay fresher for much longer.

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