White bread was forbidden in my household as a child. We only ate whole-grain bread, the coarser, tougher and browner the better. I hated it. Especially since all the other kids brought their sandwiches to school on Mrs. Baird’s lily-white bread, so soft it practically melted in your mouth. I felt like such an oddball. But my mother told me that eating white bread was like eating poison, and that half the diseases in the world could be prevented from not eating refined grains. Yes, I realize she was acting out of concern for my health, but it still didn’t make me like whole-wheat bread any better.
There was, however, an exception to the no-white-flour rule: flour tortillas. Unlike today where you can find whole-wheat flour tortillas at the store, when I was young there was only one kind: the thick, tender and chewy flour tortilla made out of white flour. And as Tex-Mex is unthinkable without flour tortillas, there was always an ample supply on hand.
I should prefer corn tortillas over flour—they have more depth of flavor and are a better complement to most Tex-Mex ingredients. But because I once viewed them as something decadent and a chance to partake in something forbidden, I still always opt for flour over corn. Many people say flour tortillas are strictly gringo, but that’s not true. You can find them in Northern Mexico, especially the state of Sonora. But the varieties eaten there are different from the ones I prefer. While the Mexican version is thin, smooth and flat, Texan flour tortillas are thick, soft, puffy and chewy.
I’ve mentioned before my failed quest to make homemade flour tortillas. And since Whole Foods now sells a decent approximation of a Texas-style flour tortilla, if I squint I can pretend that I’m eating the real thing. But my failure nagged at me, especially after I successfully made corn tortillas. Why couldn’t I do it? I can bake excellent breads, biscuits and pizzas, so why did delicious homemade flour tortillas elude me?
I’m not a quitter, but recently, after a few more wrong-tasting batches, I was ready to give my obsession a rest. It all felt so futile, not to mention the pigeons were starting to take up permanent residence outside my kitchen window as I threw out the crumbs of flour-tortilla failure. But then, when flipping through The Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, I glimpsed a recipe simply called “Texas Flour Tortillas.” I was dubious—it was such a departure from the others I’d read. While every recipe I’d ever made used almost a quarter cup of lard or shortening, this one called for a scant two teaspoons of vegetable oil. Likewise, where I’d always used water for a liquid, this one used milk. So slightly resigned yet slightly curious, I decided I had nothing to lose except some flour, milk and time. If it didn’t work, I could at least tell myself I had tried everything.
So how were they? Let’s just say, I am over the moon with the results—yes, these are the one! They have the proper heft, are malleable and so toothsome I almost ate the entire first batch in one sitting. They are perfect for sopping up beans, wrapping around fajitas, grilling with cheese or just eating warm with butter and salsa.
Purists may sniff at the recipe and argue that leaven and lack of lard make these inauthentic. Perhaps. But remember, we’re talking Tex-Mex. And in Texas, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating flour tortillas hot off the griddle at a restaurant, or bought the fresh ones made by local tortillerias sold at the grocery store, then you will agree: these are the real deal. Oh yes, these are Texas flour tortillas, indeed!
I am so in love with these tortillas that I found myself just staring at them with a silly grin plastered on my face, amazed at what I had made. My friends think I’m a little nuts for my obsession, and maybe I am, but who cares? It may have taken me many years, but at last I have cooked homemade flour tortillas I am pleased and proud to not only eat myself but to share with the world.
2 cups all-purpose flour (can make them whole wheat by substituting one cup of whole-wheat flour for white flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cups warm milk
Instructions:Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oil. Slowly add the warm milk. Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed. Knead for 2 minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft.
Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes. After the dough has rested, break off eight sections, roll them into balls in your hands, place on a plate (make sure they aren’t touching) and then cover balls with damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. (It’s very important to let the dough rest, otherwise it will be like elastic and won’t roll out to a proper thickness and shape.)
After dough has rested again, one at a time place a dough ball on a floured surface, pat it out into a four-inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it’s thin and about 8 inches in diameter. (If you roll out pie crusts you’ll have no problem with this.) Don’t over work the dough, or it’ll be stiff. Keep rolled-out tortillas covered until ready to cook.
In a dry iron skillet or comal heated on high, cook the tortilla about thirty seconds on each side. It should start to puff a bit when it’s done. Keep cooked tortillas covered wrapped in a napkin until ready to eat.
Can be reheated in a dry iron skillet, over your gas-burner flame or in the oven wrapped in foil. While you probably won’t have any leftovers, you can store in the fridge tightly wrapped in foil or plastic for a day or so.
Adapted by Lisa Fain from The Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison