What is it about breadmaking that strikes that ‘wholesome’ chord inside of us? Even when we’re not doing it ourselves, even if we’re just watching it on tv. Didn’t we all swell with love and nostalgia watching Samin Nosrat dig into a squidgy slab of focaccia dough on her Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat? I certainly did. (And if you didn’t you might want to get yourself checked out because that’s basically the definition of heartwarming.)
There is just something about the process of making bread of any kind that creates a visceral reaction inside us. A warm kitchen, scents of butter, yeast or flour triggers thoughts about our parents or grandparents. What IS it? And why does modern-day culture, myself included, get swept away with this idea of forsaking bread, doing away with thousands of years of sustenance and love and strength and tradition because of the fear that it could make us unworthy by way of increased jean sizes or “gluten face” – a horrific term a friend revealed her prenatal yoga teacher accused her of having. What does that even mean?! (Anyone living with celiac disease aside of course)
Yes. Everything in moderation. But the joy and miracle of turning flour and water into something warm and chewy and comforting cannot be measured in waist sizes. It is worth exploring. It is worth the time and effort. The joy far outweighs the hassle or the fear of calories from carbohydrates (another issue for another time). Honestly, I probably burned every tortilla-shaped calorie I consumed in the process of making them – there is A LOT of kneading and rolling to be done. But, they were calories burned by enjoying the process, not sweating it out on the elliptical, razor-focused on the ticking numbers. It felt good to use my arm and back muscles. To sweat, to want to sit down (to eat!) by the end of the process. It wasn’t back-breaking work, I was just so invested that I leaned way in without a single thought about easing off; like a great dance class or music gig where you want nothing else but to feel the weight and strength of your limbs as you twirl around or punch the air, or whatever you do in your dance class or music gig (no judgment). They were calories then earned back with a smile; feeling a mixture of pride and comfort.
No matter what culture you pull from, making bread teaches you something about the power of time and effort. And about joy. The kind of joy that comes from within; within your body, within your senses, within a tradition or your memories of loved ones.
Modern-day culture is right about one thing: industrial-made sliced bread is not where joy lives. It should be consumed in moderation whenever possible. But the homemade stuff – both making it or eating it, is worth Every. Damn. Bite.
Homemade Flour Tortillas with Butter
*traditionally lard is used to make flour tortillas but due to the types of lard I have found here and the porky aftertaste they have, I’ve decided to use butter instead.*
360g or 3 cups self-raising flour plus additional for rolling
75g or 1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon smoked sea salt (feel free to use the unsmoked regular stuff)
230-260ml or 8-9oz boiling hot water, or as hot as your hands can take
1/2 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
In a large mixing bowl combine dry ingredients and spices, then mix in butter with your hands until small even crumbles are formed. Next, pour in hot water and mix with hands until the flour is mostly incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a clean and lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and flour is completely absorbed. Your dough should be play-doh consistency, to make sure you don’t end up with a dry tortilla.
Roll your dough into a log-like shape. Then, twist the end of the dough to break off golf-ball-sized chunks and roll into balls. Repeat this process until all of the dough is used up. Put the dough balls back into your mixing bowl, cover with a damp paper towel or kitchen towel and let rest for 10-15 minutes to help the gluten relax and the dough to get nice and stretchy.
After you’ve rested the dough balls, one-at-a-time, using a minimal amount of flour so as not to dry out your tortillas, using a rolling pin (or side of a wine bottle in a pinch) roll each ball into a circle, as thin and round(ish) as possible – the thinner the better as it really helps with retaining a soft texture later! I like to roll mine out about three at a time, letting them hang off of the side of the mixing bowl to rest until I’ve done a few.
Once you have a few to get started with, over high heat, place a heavy-bottomed skillet or frying pan (a plancha or griddle works too but I don’t have either at home) and heat until hot. Carefully lay your tortilla down into the centre of the pan and count for a few seconds, until you can move it safely with your hands without it sticking to the bottom of the pan- through the first one might be a bit slower the rest won’t take long! Keep the tortilla here until you start to see bubbles or air pockets start to rise up. The thinner the tortilla, the more likely to have little air pockets. Flip the tortilla over to check to see if it’s beginning to brown in little specks on the underside, especially around the air pockets. You may want to flip it a few times back and forth until your tortilla is wonderfully speckled brown but still soft and pale otherwise. Though it takes a bit of getting used to, hands work best and fastest here.
Once done on both sides remove onto a plate and cover with a tea towel. After you’ve cooked your three rolled-out tortillas, go back to the rolling process again, making three more (draping each over the edge of the bowl) and then cooking them as above.
They are obviously best served immediately but will keep for 2-3 days in an air-tight ziplock, just make sure to heat before using so they become pliable again.
Once you go fresh, you never go back.