¡Ask a tortilla judge! : How do I inflate my tortillas?

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Welcome to ¡Ask a Tortilla Tournament Judge !, the world’s premier column on everything tortilla-related. Each week throughout the 2021 Tortilla Tournament of Champions, Judge Gustavo Arellano will answer your hottest (but never burnt) questions. Grab your butter and salsa macha, because things are about to go downhill.

I’ve been making homemade tortillas on my cast iron comal for a few years now. I notice the pros get a good puff on all the tortillas when they make them, but I only get about 25% of the ones I make. What could I be doing wrong? I just use lukewarm salt / water and masa in my mixture and sometimes add a little oil. Thanks in advance!

Puff the magic tortilla

I would love to know how to make tortillas – I actually don’t, because then that might deter me from eating as many tortillas as possible in Southern California. So I forwarded your question to Patty Garcia, chef and author of Keto Mexican Recipes. Take it away, Patty!

The perfect puff

The reason corn tortillas are due to science. If you know me, you know how much science and cooking I am, so it’s even more fascinating.

Tortillas expand when the moisture in the dough reaches boiling temperature and steam tries to escape, creating a bubble inside. If you have followed all of the correct steps, your tortilla will undoubtedly puff up.

So how do you do that? It’s all about technique and the right conditions for the steam to inflate your tortilla. You can reach this level by practicing and using the right ingredients and practices, like these:

Seriously, I know most people who are trying to learn how to make tortillas at home tell you it’s super convenient and readily available, blah, blah, blah. No. Using this product will result in an inferior quality that you don’t want to serve your family (or your worst enemy, really). Plus, since it’s a dry product, it will lack the moisture steam needs to puff up the tortilla. If you make masa with this, it continues to absorb water and it never stops drying out, so your paste will never reach the optimum consistency that is needed for all intents and purposes.

Masa harina constantly demands that you keep adding water, and as a beginner it will be frustrating because sometimes you put too much of it, which makes it sticky; Other times you won’t put in enough and it will be dry and the tortilla will crack around the edges and it will not be soft and pliable. So please skip the masa harina. You’ll thank me later.

  • Do not add other ingredients.

I’ve seen recipes that use a bit of wheat flour, baking powder, powdered milk, sugar, etc. It’s not necessary and these are shortcuts people use to get that coveted bulge, but I’m telling you, you need to practice.

  • Make sure your dough has the right consistency.

Sometimes if the masa has pieces of corn, or the masa is a bit coarse, then this texture will make the dough a bit torn and it will make a hole for the steam to escape and we don’t want it. We want a smooth and even masa.

Again, you want the texture and consistency to be even for this delicious corn bubble. If the masa is not kneaded properly, there may be gaps and will not be uniform.

  • Make sure your masa is not dry.

Remember we are trying to steam up here. If your masa is dry, there will be no moisture to form the vapor, and the dryness also affects the final product. You don’t want a dry tortilla because it will have dry edges and it will be tough and a bit toasty. No bueno. Keep it covered as much as you can.

  • Your tortilla should be uniform.

If you are using a prensa (tortilla press), make sure the amount is correct (for a six inch tortilla, a 1 oz ball of dough will suffice). Once you place your ball inside the prensa, it will most likely be tilted, making one side bigger than the other. This will not work because the steam will start to bubble on the thinner side, but it will not be strong enough to inflate the thicker side.

After pressing the masa, turn it over and press again. It may take a few tries, but you’ll get there with practice. Touch the tortilla with your hands. You’ll feel a thicker / thinner side, and that’s what makes cooking from scratch a glorious experience.

The comal temperature is the key here, and I could give you a number, but I won’t do you a favor. Every comal is different – the thickness, the material it’s made of, the flame you use. Not all lights are the same, so play around with them until you find the right temperature. If your flame is too low, the tortillas will take longer and they will still taste like raw. If the fire is too hot, then it will dry them out, burn them, grill them, etc. All the things. I recommend a medium-high heat, but it’s up to you to determine your own.

  • Handling the tortilla in its raw form.

Be careful with your fingernails, fingers, tools, etc. If you tear the raw tortilla apart or cut or fold it by mistake, it will prevent bubble formation. Just be gentle when you pick it up and pull it apart from the plastic and when you place it on the hotplate.

The tortillas are only turned a few times. Not over and over again for no reason. Once your comal is at optimum temperature, place your tortilla. The first round will happen when your edges start to dry. The second will take place when the tortilla begins to change color all over. Turn it again.

Now: the moment you’ve been waiting for! The moment of truth. In this turn is when the puff will or will not occur. If your tortilla starts to bubble all around, and then so many bubbles start to rise and then they all become friends and form a single bubble inside your tortilla … you did, my friend . Congratulations!

Hope this guide helps you, but it’s not a recipe. It’s a technique, and like everything else, to get optimal results, you have to practice, practice, practice!

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