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Grandma Tortilla's Art



The first time I ate homemade tortillas and sopapillas I was blown away -- not only by how good they tasted, but also by how easy they were to prepare. On the rare occasion that I've received homemade tortillas when eating out, I've felt rather privileged and pampered by the extra effort, but it never occurred to me to take this extra step at home. Tortillas were just one of those foods that you buy 12 to the bag from the local grocer.

Then one day my friend Roanna started talking about her grandmother -- Grandma Tortilla as she and all of her cousins used to call her. While some grandmas make cookies constantly and always have a freshly baked batch on hand, Roanna's grandmother was -- and still is -- continually handing out freshly made tortillas to guests and grandchildren. My friend's most vivid memories of Grandma Tortilla are of her hands, always adorned with dough-covered jewelry.

Eventually Roanna got her grandmother's recipe from her mother. Like all good recipes handed down from generation to generation, practice makes perfect. Making tortillas and sopapillas is easy, but it is also an art.

The Tortilla

The ingredients are simple enough:

4 cups of white flour, sifted

4 teaspoons baking powder

11/2 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons of vegetable shortening

A little over 1 cup of lukewarm water.

Combine all dry ingredients. Mix with hands. (If you're one of those people with issues about touching food, you can try to use something else. But hands really work the best.)

Next, add the shortening. Again, mix well with your hands.

Finally, add the water. Water is actually the key ingredient here. It can make or break your dough. Start with a cup, and then add more until you reach the right consistency; the dough should have a nice smooth feel to it -- no lumpy, sticky dough. Knead for about five minutes and then let stand covered for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the dough is doing its thing, prepare a good surface for rolling out the dough. When the dough is ready, form little round balls of it, about 2 inches in diameter. On a floured board, roll out each ball to about 1/8-inch thick. Rolling them out to a good round shape is the hard part. And if they are not rolled out thin enough, you'll end up with something more akin to pita bread.

Using a heated cast iron griddle, or a similarly flat pan, cook each rolled-out tortilla for about 1 minute per side. It works best if you have one person rolling and one person cooking.

This recipe yields at least a couple dozen tortillas.

The Sopapilla

A variation on the tortilla recipe:

4 cups white flour

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons shortening

11/2 cups water (approx.)

Go through the exact same steps as above, hand mixing at each stage except for the very last step. Instead of heating rolled out dough on each side for a minute, deep-fry it (in canola or vegetable oil) to a nice golden color. Then sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon and serve with honey.


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