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Spring Water Masa Tortillas

Stack the deck in your favor.
difficulty:
yield:

14 or 15 (5-inch) tortillas

time:

4 to 5 hours to clear the limewater; overnight to soak the corn; 5½ hours to cook the hominy; 1 hour to grind the masa and make the tortillas

The tortillas must be kept supple after cooking. As they come off the griddle, stack them on a clean, damp kitchen towel and fold the towel over the top. Alternatively, hold the tortillas in a covered baking dish. Fresh-made corn tortillas are considered daily food, meant to be prepared and consumed the same day. Once refrigerated, they crack rather than bend when folded or rolled.

introduction

We’re not saying this was an easy recipe to develop. On the contrary. But the number of hours we invested takes most of the guesswork out of the equation for you. As is true of any dough, though, preparing the masa dough for our corn tortillas represents the challenge of handwork.

Cooking Remarks

Long before pot-au-feu, boeuf en daube, and coq au vin joined the chorus line of French braises, Native Americans put a lid on the art of slow cooking. The delicacy of their clay pots demanded an equal delicacy of technique—one that kept things well under the boiling point. When we began working on this fresh masa recipe we knew attention would be the operative word. Attention notwithstanding, we had a tough time keeping our stovetop heat consistently supportive: the water sometimes crept up to an angry boil and sometimes languished sullenly below a simmer. Unexpected evaporation required constant vigilance and fresh infusions of water, and cooking times remained unpredictable. At this point, we went American old school and bought a brand new slow cooker. A ceramic lining and high and low heat settings make a slow cooker a modern-day clay pot, and its timer function makes it a babysitter extraordinaire. All the ruminations we put the corn through, the permutations of different heat settings and cooking times came down to a single, simple formula: limewater and corn cooked on low heat for 
5½ hours. No stirring, no liquid adjustments, no problem.

When you are adding liquid to the cooked hominy, whether in the form of sweet corn milk or water, be aware that the dough must be extremely fine and wet enough to produce steam—and thus air pockets. If you get the masa to the proper consistency and the griddle temperature right, you can crank tortillas out at a surprisingly effortless pace.

Initially, we rolled the tortillas out by hand between sheets of heavy plastic. It’s not difficult—the flour tortillas we developed recently are more difficult to roll out. But after making the recipe multiple times, we broke down and ordered a tortilla press. There was no looking back.

The addition of sweet corn solids and corn milk came to us as a way of introducing a mild sweetness into the tortillas, along with some moisture. You may opt to skip the corn and simply use hot water instead.


Cleanup

Lime stains. Anyone with a shower stall knows that. Even our slow cooker developed a fine ring of lime that resisted scrubbing. So we turned to our favorite household cleaner: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Don’t laugh. This noncaustic, nonabrasive sponge can wipe a stain off of anything with very little effort.

Liming makes the starches in corn extremely sticky. After you transfer the warm, just-made masa to a mixing bowl, soak the food processor bowl, blade, and lid in cold water right away. Cold water loosens sticky masa; hot water just makes it worse.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a box grater; a fine-mesh strainer; a small bowl; a food processor; a rubber spatula; a heavy, well-seasoned square or round griddle, or a 10-inch nonstick skillet; a tortilla press and a heavy quart-sized zipper-lock bag or a rolling pin and a heavy half-gallon-sized zipper-lock bag; a pair of scissors; a baking sheet; a pastry brush; and a long metal spatula for flipping the tortillas.

    • 1
      ear fresh sweet corn, shucked (optional)
    • 1
      recipe Fresh Whole Hominy, just cooked, flushed of pericarp, and still hot
    • ½
      teaspoon fine sea salt
    • Vegetable oil for brushing
  1.  

    Grate the ear of corn (if using) on the large holes of a box grater set over a plate to catch the juices. Strain the pulp through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl (fig. 1.1). Set aside the solids in the strainer and the corn milk.

  2.  

    Add half of the hot hominy and ¼ teaspoon salt to the food processor and process until very fine. Stop the processor at intervals, and, using a rubber spatula, scrape the more finely processed dough, now called masa, near the blade up from the bottom and the coarser masa near the top down toward the blade. The idea is to get the masa as uniformly fine as possible. Repeat the stop-and-start processing, using a rubber spatula to manipulate the masa, until it begins to chase itself around the bowl. Lift the food processor lid and feel the masa; it should feel stiff and sticky. Add 1 tablespoon corn solids from the strainer and 2 teaspoons corn milk (or water if you are not using fresh corn) and process until combined. Feel the masa again; it should feel slightly wetter. Wet your hands and carefully scrape the masa out of the processor into a mixing bowl. Remove the blade and, using the rubber spatula, scrape the masa clinging to it and to the inside of the food processor bowl into the mixing bowl. Repeat the process with the remaining hominy, salt, and fresh corn (or water), adding the resulting masa to the mixing bowl. Lightly knead the masa in the bowl to combine the 2 batches—it will be sticky. Cover the bowl and let the masa rest and hydrate for about 15 minutes (fig. 2.1).

  3.  

    Meanwhile, soak the food processor bowl and parts in cold water in the sink. Heat a heavy 10-inch square or round griddle, preferably well-seasoned cast-iron, or a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. If you’ll be using a tortilla press, with scissors, remove the top of a quart-size zipper-lock bag, cutting just below the zipper (fig. 3.1). Snip along the side seams and the bottom, creating 2 squares of plastic. If using a rolling pin instead of a tortilla press, cut apart a gallon-size zipper-lock bag in the same manner.

  4.  

    Divide the masa into 14 or 15 equal pieces. Roll each piece between your palms into a ball—it should be about the size of a golf ball. If you have a digital kitchen scale, each one should weigh about 1.3 ounces. (The size of the masa balls is important. If they are too small, once pressed, the tortillas may be too thin; if too large, they may be too thick.) Set the balls on a baking sheet and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Brush the griddle with a thin coating of oil and blot the excess with paper towels.

  5.  

    If using a tortilla press: Open the press, place a plastic sheet on the bottom plate, and brush it very lightly with oil (fig. 5.1). Place a masa ball on the plastic and flatten it with the palm of your hand (fig. 5.2). Brush the masa lightly with oil and cover with the second plastic sheet (fig. 5.3). Close the tortilla press (fig. 5.4). (You don’t have to bear down on it—it’s perfectly capable of pressing a tortilla without much pressure.) Open the press (fig. 5.5),  then moisten your hands lightly with water and pull off the top layer of plastic. Lift the bottom sheet of plastic and invert the tortilla onto your damp palm (fig. 5.6). Release the tortilla onto the hot griddle. If the griddle is the right temperature, the tortilla will sizzle softly. After about 10 seconds it should begin to puff in places. After 20 seconds, use a long metal spatula to loosen the tortilla. Flip the tortilla when it is lightly golden and spotty brown (fig. 5.7). (You’ll want to rewarm and crisp the tortillas just before serving, so don’t overcook them at this point.) Repeat with the remaining masa balls.

    If hand-rolling the tortillas: Place a sheet of plastic on the counter and brush it lightly with oil. Place a masa ball on the plastic and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Brush the masa very lightly with oil and cover with the second plastic sheet. Using the rolling pin, roll the ball into a 6-inch round of even thickness. Moisten your hands lightly with water and pull off the top layer of plastic. Lift the bottom sheet of plastic and invert the tortilla onto your damp palm. Release the tortilla onto the hot griddle. If the griddle is the right temperature, the tortilla will sizzle softly. After about 10 seconds it should begin to puff in places. After 20 seconds, use a long metal spatula to loosen the tortilla. Flip the tortilla when it is lightly golden and spotty brown. (You’ll want to rewarm and crisp the tortillas just before serving, so don’t overcook them at this point.) Repeat with the remaining masa balls.

    1. 1.1
    1. 2.1
    1. 3.1
    1. 5.1
    2. 5.2
    3. 5.3
    4. 5.4
    5. 5.5
    6. 5.6
    7. 5.7