Corn Tortillas from Scratch (Bookmarked Recipe)

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summary: recipe for corn tortillas from scratch; no need for a tortilla press; information about Bookmarked Recipes (click on images for larger views and more photos)

Before now, we have always bought pre-made corn tortillas because we didn’t have a tortilla press. It turns out that it’s insanely easy to make really good tortillas from scratch WITHOUT a press.

Bookmarked Recipes - last Sunday of the MonthBookmarked Recipes #25: Corn Tortillas

tortillas Every time we go to our favourite South American store in Kensington Market to get dried chillies, pinto beans and/or pre-made corn tortillas, as T is waiting in line to pay, I go to the shelf with the tortilla presses and gaze at them longingly. They have not terribly expensive cheap-looking cast-aluminum presses and expensive beautifully constructed heavy heavy heavy cast-iron presses. And I think how cool it would be to make our own tortillas.

But by the time I think that maybe, just maybe, this time we’ll take home a tortilla press, we’ve already paid and it’s time to go.

The last time we were at the shop, we came even closer to buying a press. Because that time, after seeing Chuck Hughes (Chuck’s Day Off) making tortillas by whacking a ball of dough with the flat of a frying pan, we decided to buy a small bag of Masa Harina and try making our own tortillas. We asked for tips on making them and as one fellow was telling us how much water to put into the dough, one of the other guys whipped over to my favourite shelf and hauled the larger cast iron press off the shelf and brought it to the counter.

They were going to ring it up too. But we nixed it. We said we’d give it a try with a heavy frying pan first.

  1. Pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of dough and use your hands to flatten into a round shape.
  2. Set the dough on a piece of plastic and cover with another piece of plastic. Use the back of a heavy cast iron pan to flatten the dough.

-Chuck Hughes, Food Network (Canada) | Chuck’s Day Off Homemade Tortillas

Well! NOW I’m glad we didn’t spend the money. It turns out that we don’ need no stinkin’ tortilla press!

And we don’ need no stinkin’ heavy frying pan either. The bottom of a cake pan works perfectly. Yes, it’s true. It takes a little bit longer because each tortilla has to be pressed 3 times instead of once. Even so, it takes less time to press a tortilla than to cook the already pressed one.

But this wasn’t the case, initially. The first few tortillas took AGES to flatten because we were putting the ball of dough between two plastic sheets (a cut open vegetable bag) and using a rolling pin to flatten the ball.

This is what I do w/out a tortilla press: Place one ball on the slab or granite. Cover with a sheet of plastic (I use a gallon-size baggy) and press down with a heavy pot. You’ll have a nice circle of dough now. I then continue to roll it to the thickness I want with a rolling pin (over the plastic). This doesn’t leave perfectly circular edges…but if you know me at all, you know I love rustic food…and they look totally rustic. I then use a bench scraper to lift the dough from the granite slab and lay it onto the pipin’ hot comal. If you don’t have a slab or granite, use a sheet of plastic on bottom and top, and use the same process. You should be able to peel the rolled dough from the plastic instead of using a bench scraper. If you have a tortilla press, simply line w/ plastic on both sides and press. Pfft…easy.

-Heather, All Roads Lead to the Kitchen | Zucchini Potato Chipotle Tacos

masa harina But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we used the big rolling pin. Then we tried the small rolling pin. Each time, as soon as the rolled tortilla seemed thin enough, it WOULDN’T come away from the plastic without ripping and tearing.

It turned out that the plastic had to be peeled away after each roll. How tedious. Rolling was quite boring too. As I was rolling, peeling, rolling, peeling, rolling and staring incredulously at the bowl of dough and calculating that it would take eons to finish making tortillas, it came to me. I would use the base of a springform pan.



It works brilliantly. AND the edges aren’t quite so rustic.

Stay tuned for the corn tortilla making video!! (I’m in the process of splicing bits together.)

tortilla Cooking was fun too. We used our tava (carbon steel pan for cooking Indian flatbread) to cook the tortillas. But I suspect a cast-iron frying pan would work as well. Chuck Hughes (“Chuck’s Day Off” Food TV Canada) says to use a “hot dry skillet“. Heather’s (All Roads Lead to the Kitchen) recipe says to put a heavy comal or skillet “over med-high heat. It should be smokin’ hot (~425 degrees F)“. SAVEUR magazine says to “heat a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking“. We found that method was best to have the heat at medium high – just a little hotter than for making pancakes: 4.5 on our dial.

Here’s what we did to make the tortillas:

Corn Tortillas
based on Chuck Hughes’ (Chuck’s Day Off) and Heather’s (All Roads Lead to the Kitchen) recipes for corn tortillas

makes 6-8 tortillas


  • sheet of plastic (roughly the size of a cookie sheet)
  • flat bottomed cake pan
  • heavy frying pan
  • stove


  • 1 c Masa Harina
  • 120 ml water (more or less)
  • 0.25 tsp salt (or less)
  1. Stir masa harina and salt together in a medium sized bowl. Add about half cup of water and mix it together with your hands until the mixture holds together and feels a little like soft silly putty. If it seems too wet and sticky, just add a little more masa harina. Cover the bowl with a plate.
  2. Heat the tava (or cast iron frying pan) over med-high heat. Note that the surface should remain dry.
  3. While the pan is heating, put a large sheet of plastic – cut a plastic vegetable bag open – onto the board. Pull off a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it between your hands until it is round. Cover the bowl with a plate to keep the dough from drying out. (Or you could evenly divide the dough into 6 or 8 pieces – I just eyeballed it and didn’t worry if some of the tortillas were larger or smaller than the others.) Put the rounded piece dough on the plastic and fold the plastic over top.
  4. Use the bottom of a cake tin – the base of a spring form pan is ideal – to press down and flatten the ball of dough into a disc. Pull the plastic away from the disc. Turn the disc over and pull the plastic away. Cover the disc with the plastic again and press down again with the bottom of the cake tin. Pull the plastic away… Repeat this until you have the desired thickness.
  5. Using both hands, carefully pick up the finished tortilla on the edges to transfer it to the hot pan. Put the tortilla down flat. It WILL stick initially so if it wrinkles, leave it be. Cook the tortilla until there is some colour. Flip it over and cook the other side the same way. Put the finished tortilla into a covered frying pan placed on a burner on low.
  6. Repeat until all the tortillas are done.
  7. The tortillas can be eaten immediately or set aside and reheated just before serving.

Serve with mole or beans or salsa or….


The tortillas were also fabulous with refried beans. Nope, no photographic evidence of the vegetarian version. I’m afraid we were too busy eating.

Bookmarked Recipes - monthlyBookmarked Recipes
Some time ago, Ruth (Ruth’s Kitchen Experiments) created this event to urge herself (and everyone else) to actually make the several recipes they have bookmarked in various books, magazines and internet pages. Jacqueline (Tinned Tomatoes) has taken over Bookmarked Recipes.

Please note that Jacqueline is vegetarian and has requested that submissions be vegetarian or easily changed into vegetarian recipes.

For complete details on how to participate in Bookmarked Recipes, please read the following:


tortillas edit 26 June 2013: We made a video!! Please take a look.


2 responses to “Corn Tortillas from Scratch (Bookmarked Recipe)

  1. barbara

    Wow, they look fabulous. Whenever I see the recommendation for the pan to be smoking, I remember having to re-season my cast iron pan after following that instruction. It was only just smoking, but that was enough to wreck the seasoning _and_ to wreck the tortillas too. “A little hotter than pancakes” is a perfect instruction.

    They are fabulous, Barbara! And so easy too! Now we’re wondering what to do with the big stack of commercial corn tortillas we have in the freezer….
    Luckily, the “smoking hot” instruction didn’t mean we had to re-season the pan but it did cause the inside of the tortilla to be basically raw when the outside was black as a cinder. We saw later that Heather says “medium hot” as well. -Elizabeth

  2. Jacqueline

    I’ve just got a tortilla press, so I am hoping it will be a simple thing to make tortillas. Thanks for the recipe and thank you for entering it into Bookmarked Recipes. The roundup is now live, albeit a fair bit late as I have been away gallivanting in Cyprus and London.


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