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11/03/2011 02:59 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Make Corn Tortillas

Chef Iliana de la Vega of The Culinary Institute of America has a simple method to transform masa -- corn that's been ground and treated with lime -- into fresh corn tortillas. First, she adds water to a bowl of masa flour, mixing lightly until she achieves a Play-Doh-like consistency. She gathers the dough up into a ball, and leaves it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap to rest for 15 minutes. After the dough has rested, it should be soft and pliable, with no visible cracks.

She heats a griddle to a low heat, about 195F, then makes golf-ball sized balls from the larger ball of masa, rolling the smaller dough balls in her hands to smooth them. She places one small ball of dough in a plastic-wrap-lined tortilla maker and presses. After one press, she opens the maker, flips the tortilla over and rotates it 180 degrees, then presses a second time to create a perfect tortilla. Removing the plastic wrap, she places the raw tortilla on the griddle, cooking each side for about 40 seconds. When finished, she places it in a tortilla basket lined with a kitchen towel or cloth napkin to keep it warm.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Iliana de la Vega from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to make tortillas.

Corn tortillas are basic for Mexican cooking. Here we have masa; the corn has been ground, and treated with limestone. I have a cup of masa here. Then I need two-thirds of a cup of water. I will slowly add a little bit of water and start working with it, and then I will add more later. This is the easiest way, stirring with your fingers, because you have to feel it, you have to touch it. That is important: the feel of it is the most important thing. It shouldn't be sticky, it shouldn't be be too wet - the texture you want is exactly like play-doh.

Tortillas are essential in Mexican cooking, especially corn tortillas. For hundreds and thousands of years they have been the base of Mexican culture.

This dough in my hand is almost done, but I still have more masa here in the bowl, so let me add a little bit more water and see if this is enough. Gather all of it in just one ball. When it's ready, it should feel like play-doh: exactly like that. Then you need to let it rest. We'll cover this up with a little bit of plastic wrap, and let it rest for fifteen minutes.

Once fifteen minutes have passed, we'll check on the masa and see if it's still kind of soft, and a nice texture: not dry. It feels good to me right now, so let's just make the last test. You take a little bit, roll it into a ball, press into it with your thumb, and check - if it crackles too much then it's not ready, but it looks fine to me. We need to make little balls, about the size of the tortilla you want to make. In the meantime, I will start warming up a comal or a griddle. We don't need it too hot - around 195 fahrenheit or eighty celsius. I'm making balls this size, more or less; you can make them smaller or larger. If the dough becomes kind of dry while you are making this, then just wet your hands a little and keep working with it.

Now we have these little balls here, called testales. I'll put this bowl aside - because this ball still is not a tortilla, right? Here we have a tortilla press. (I will make more room for working here...) This is just a press, this is still not ready to be used, so let me show you. I have some circles of plastic, just so that the tortilla won't stick to the top and the bottom of the press. I'll put the circles in the middle here. You take one of these balls of dough and put it here on the center, press down a little bit; cover it with the other plastic, and then press with the tortilla press handle. Then open the press, make a 180-degree turn (keeping it in the plastic), and then press again. Now it should be quite easy to be able to remove the tortilla from the plastic.

Here we have what will be a tortilla. It still is raw, and we need to cook it, so I'll put it on the comal. Let me make another one for you to see. Press on one side, turn it 180, and press again; now we have this tortilla, we peel it off, and put it there on the griddle. Let me do a third one so you get the picture. The ball of masa into the press, press here, turn it on the other side, and this will be ready to be peeled off.

Now let's take a look at these on the griddle. Whenever they begin to be easily separated from the griddle, just turn them over. At that point it's halfway cooked, not yet completely cooked. Notice that I'm not using any oil or anything like that; we need it dry and we don't need any oil. This one should be ready right now. I'll easily flip it over. It should take more or less forty seconds on each side. This tortilla is ready: it looks cooked, with a little color here on the edges. Let's take a look at this other one. These should be ready to be eaten right now. Put them in a tortilla basket or in a cloth, and you can start keeping your tortillas warm while you make more.

So this is how you make corn tortillas. For more great tips, log on to kitchendaily.com! Thank you very much.

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