I made it my goal to master making tortillas at home. And how surprised I was to find there's really no mastery needed! Learning how to make tortillas is a simple matter of finding the right recipe and carving out a little time to follow the steps. I promise it’s easier than going to the store to pick up a bag.
If you're looking to make flour tortillas that are perfect for tacos or eating warm from the pan, we have the recipe for you.
Our five-ingredient Simple Tortillas recipe is what you need to get started.
Choose your fat
Before you start making your tortilla dough, choose which fat you’re going to use. You have four choices: lard, butter, shortening, or oil.
Lard is traditional. It can give tortillas a meaty flavor, depending on the kind you use. Tortillas made with lard are pliable, soft, and best used in savory dishes. Lard isn’t suitable for vegetarians, though. If you or someone you're cooking for is a non-meat eater, choose one of the other three options.
Butter imparts a rich, creamy flavor. Tortillas made with butter (especially salted butter!) are particularly delicious. (This is one of the few occasions when I opt for salted butter — read more about why you should usually use unsalted butter for baking.) The only downside of using butter in tortillas is that you need to work it into the flour until it’s crumbly, and this takes slightly more time.
Shortening also requires the extra effort of working the fat into the flour. However, it’s slightly easier to blend into the flour than butter since it’s softer and more malleable. You lose the satisfying buttery flavor, but on the plus side, it's suitable for vegans. Tortillas made with shortening stay soft the longest. If you plan to have leftovers tortillas, consider using it.
Vegetable oil is the ingredient I used when first learning how to make tortillas. It’s vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, as well as dairy-free. You simply combine it with the water: no working in the fat required! If you’re looking to make tortillas in a hurry, choose this straightforward option.
Select your flour
Just as with the fat, you have options when it comes to flour. Most tortillas are made with white flour, and King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour is just right for the job. Its medium-high level of protein gives tortillas the strength they need to hold together even when rolled out thinly.
If you’re a whole-grain lover, you can replace half the flour with your whole wheat flour of choice, such as White Whole Wheat. (Learn more about baking with this flour by checking out its baking guide: White Whole Wheat)
Gluten-free bakers, we haven’t forgotten about you! Use our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour to replace the all-purpose flour in the recipe. Alternately, you can use our Gluten-Free Tortillas recipe if you have our Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour on hand.
Make the dough
Now that you’ve chosen your fat and flour, it’s time to mix up the dough.
Start by weighing your flour using a scale: a total of 298g of all-purpose flour. (If you’re using different flour, find its weight in our Ingredient Weight Chart.)
If you prefer to measure by volume, gently spoon 2 1/2 cups of flour into your measuring cup and then sweep off any excess. (For visual learners, we've got you covered: How to measure flour.)
Add 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the flour. Whisk to combine.
Work in the (solid) fat
If you’re using lard, butter, or shortening, now is the time to add it. (If you’ve chosen vegetable oil, you’ll add it later with the water.)
Measure out 1/4 cup of the solid fat (57g of butter or lard; 48g of shortening) and add it to the flour.
Work the fat into the flour by flattening small chunks between your thumb and forefingers. Continue this process until the mixture looks like cornmeal; no large chunks of fat should remain.
You can also use a pastry blender for this step. Rock the curved edge along the sides and bottom of the bowl, cutting the fat into the flour until the mixture looks like cornmeal.
Alternately, you can get a little help from one of these tools to make this part effortless:
- A stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment
- A hand mixer using the beater attachments
- A food processor fitted with the dough blade
Use any of these appliances to blend the ingredients thoroughly, until the mixture is evenly sandy.
Working the lard, butter, or shortening into the flour is key to producing tender, easy-to-roll tortillas. By coating the flour with fat, you’re limiting gluten formation. The fat keeps the proteins from forming tight bonds, which would otherwise result in a dough that's difficult to roll, and chewy tortillas.
Add the water (and oil, if using)
Measure out 1 cup (227g) of hot water. It doesn’t need to be boiling, but it should be hot to the touch (about 110°F to 120°F).
Why hot water? Water at this temperature will begin to gelatinize the starch in the flour, which allows it to absorb more liquid. If the dough is fully hydrated, the tortillas will be easier to shape and less likely to crack as you work with the dough.
If you’re using vegetable oil, start with about 7/8 cup (200g) hot water. Add 1/4 cup (50g) oil to the remaining water and mix to combine.
Add in all but a few tablespoons of the hot water (or all of the oil and water mixture, if using). Use a fork or a dough whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy mass.
Add additional water by the tablespoon until there are no dry powdery bits in the bottom of the bowl. The dough may not look completely smooth, but it should hold together when squeezed.
Tortilla dough only requires a gentle knead. If you were to work the dough as much as traditional bread dough, it would require a long rest before it relaxed enough to roll into thin tortillas. This dough only gets a half-hour rest, so knead gently.
Tentative about kneading? Our video, How to knead dough, shows how it's done.
You can also finish the kneading process using your stand mixer, hand mixer, or food processor. (Switch to the dough hooks if using a mixer.) Keep in mind this dough only requires a little bit of kneading, so mix on low speed for about a minute.
Knead just until the dough looks smooth. It should be slightly tacky to the touch, like a sticky note getting pulled off the tips of your fingers. Add more flour or water as necessary until you achieve this consistency.
Divide the dough
If you want to make tortillas that are about 8” in size, divide the dough into eight pieces. If you want larger tortillas, cut the dough into five or six pieces. (For smaller tortillas, try 10 or 12.) A bench knife is a perfect tool for dividing the dough into as many portions as you choose.
Next, preshape the dough. Preshaping is when each piece of dough is loosely shaped into a ball before it’s allowed to rest. Gently tug on the edge of the dough and then fold it toward the center, working your way around the edge until you’ve got a nice little ball. This organizes the structure of the dough and makes rolling the tortillas into rounds easier.
Coat the dough balls lightly with oil before covering with plastic. This prevents the dough from drying out and forming a skin while it rests.
Half hour rest
Now the dough should rest for about 30 minutes. While it rests, the flour absorbs liquid. This softens the dough and improves the final texture of the tortillas.
The rest also gives the gluten time to relax. During the kneading process, the gluten proteins act like elastic bands that are being stretched, making the dough tighten as it's worked. After just 30 minutes of rest, it should be much easier to roll the dough out into thin rounds.
No time to wait? That’s OK — you can skip the rest and still end up with perfectly good tortillas.
On the other hand, you can extend the rest up to a few hours if it works better for your schedule.
Bottom line: If you let your dough rest for at least 30 minutes, it'll be easier to roll out your tortillas thinly.
Preheat the pan
While the dough is resting, choose your pan. You can use a skillet that’s at least 8” wide – cast iron works particularly well because it holds heat evenly.
You can also cook your tortillas on an electric griddle. The benefit here is that you can cook multiple tortillas at once.
Pick your pan and leave it ungreased. Preheat it over medium-high heat, about 400°F.
Ready to roll
Now it's time to roll out the dough. Uncover just a single piece of dough at a time — you don’t want the rest of the dough to dry out as you work.
Roll each ball into a round that’s about 1/8” thick, or 8” in diameter if you started with eight pieces of dough.
The best way to roll the dough is to move the pin from the center out towards the edges, being careful not to mash the edges into your work surface. Repeat this center-out movement all the way around the circle. Our Baking School instructors say this rolling pattern follows the rays of the sun: center out, all the way around.
This “rays of the sun” approach is more effective than rolling back and forth over your dough because it only stretches the dough in one direction. Quick back-and-forth motions can activate the gluten in the dough, making it difficult to roll out thinly.
I like to roll tortilla dough between two pieces of parchment paper to avoid using too much extra flour. (Use this method if you’re making gluten-free tortillas using our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour. Gluten-free tortilla dough is quite delicate. It benefits from the extra support of the parchment paper when transferring to the pan.)
If you’re making tortillas using wheat flour and you don’t mind a slightly dusty, floury look, sprinkle a bit of flour on your work surface. This will keep the tortillas from sticking.
Once they’re the right size and thickness, it’s time to cook your tortillas.
The secret for how to make tortillas with the right texture? A quick “dry fry.” This means the tortillas are cooked quickly over high heat without any oil or fat in the pan.
Once your pan is fully preheated, move the dough from your work surface (or the parchment paper) into the pan. Use a dough scraper to release any sticky spots before moving.
It will take only about 30 seconds for each side to be fully cooked, so don’t leave the stovetop. As soon as you smell the tortillas cooking (they smell like toast!) and they’re puffed up around the edges, give them a flip.
The tortillas should be light golden with a few spots that are deep brown (but not burned). If you find some spots are quickly burning, turn the heat down slightly and extend the cooking time.
If you want your tortillas to be more even in color, press down on the tortillas with the back of your spatula as they're cooking. This will encourage more of the surface of the dough to come in contact with the pan, instead of just a few bubbles and bumps.
Snacking on a freshly made tortilla while it's still warm is highly encouraged!
Serve your homemade tortillas
One of the best things about tortillas — aside from being incredibly easy to make — is their versatility. Serve your tortillas any way you like. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Use them to make soft tacos filled with meat or veggies (or both!).
- Make a cheese quesadilla by topping one tortilla with shredded cheese and putting another on top; warm over low heat until the cheese is melted.
- Serve like naan with soups or stews.
- Spread on a layer of hummus, add fresh veggies, and roll up to make a perfect lunch or snack.
- Make an easy dessert by adding chocolate hazelnut spread and sliced strawberries.
Any leftover tortillas? After they've cooled completely, wrap them with plastic or your favorite reusable wrap. Store in the fridge for up to three days.
To serve, reheat in an ungreased skillet or in the microwave for a few seconds until warm.
How to make tortillas: 5 ingredients are all you need
If you have just a few pantry staples, you're in the tortilla-making business! Use our Simple Tortillas recipe to show you the way. You'll quickly master the dry fry and soon be serving up fresh, homemade tortillas like a pro.
If you love recipes that are delicious and made with only a few ingredients, check out our collection of recipes: 5 Ingredients or Fewer.
Share your favorite way to make and serve homemade tortillas in the comments, below.
Thanks to Anne Mientka for taking the photographs for this post.