Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Homemade Tortilla Race: (Wo)Man vs. Machine

October 13th, 2013 · 19 Comments · Tips

Tortilla Press Race - Manual or Machine

Making homemade tortillas is a great idea for many reasons – except time.

As with anything from scratch, homemade tortillas take more time than opening a package, but as with almost anything from scratch, it’s worth it in so many ways that one simply must find the most efficient strategy and run with it.

It was almost three years ago that I decided to run these tests and had some data written down and videos made when we started the process of selling our house and moved away from gluten quite seriously. Whole wheat tortillas had to wait.

Today I’ll show you video of three different ways to cook the tortillas, my evaluation of the process, plus thoughts on three different fats in the recipe (product links go to Amazon; thank you for starting here to share commission with KS):

  1. manually with a rolling pin and on a cast iron griddle 
  2. on an electric tortilla press (which I got as a barter item from the Tortilla Press Store)
  3. with a cast iron tortilla press and griddle (which I got as a Christmas present from a family member, who bought it at Bed Bath & Beyond)

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla tests (17) (475x316)

Can you guess which is which? There are some marked differences among all three methods…

There are two separate videos because a certain preschooler came in the house and loudly announced that she had to go potty, which caused the presenter to engage in much eye rolling, sighing, and turning off the camera. Winking smile But the videos really are meant to be one continuous demonstration.

Tortilla Press Race Videos

Watch the videos for both a demo of HOW to make homemade whole wheat tortillas these 3 different ways plus tips on making it work for you:

If you can’t view the video, click HERE to see it on YouTube.

If you can’t view the video, click HERE to see it on YouTube.

Timing Homemade Tortillas

I mentioned in the videos that I would time the "race" and see who won. Here are the results, plus pictures of each finished product:

  1. rolling pin :: two done at about 1 minute 30 secs, third one was already rolled; done at over two minutes (Since you’d actually just keep going, it’s realistic to think that you could have 16 tortillas, one full batch, finished completely in 8-10 minutes, which is accurate – you’re always rolling some while the others are cooking.)
    Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla tests (19) (475x316)
  2. cast iron press :: 2 tortillas totally done in about 1 min 30 sec, third one done at 1:50 (Similarly, you’d be finished in around 10 minutes, but the tortillas would have to be smaller because of the nature of this press, which is really made for corn tortillas.)
    Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla tests (21) (475x316)
  3. electric press :: takes about a minute for the first; two done in 1:35 and three done in 2:15 (This press takes longer to cook because you can only make one at a time, but the advantage is that you can do other things in the kitchen while you’re waiting since you’re not rolling tortillas out.)
    Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla tests (24) (475x316)

The bottom line is that the cast iron press doesn’t save a lot of time over the rolling pin, so I would only purchase that for corn torts. The electric press, timewise, is a question of, "How well can you multitask?" It takes longer overall, but if you can handle chopping veggies or browning beef or something while switching out tortillas about every minute, then it ultimately makes you more efficient.

Although sometimes you get an exploding tortilla:

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla tests (30) (475x316)

That one was in the video, too. Then again, a rolling pin can get you square tortillas which is equally aesthetically weird. Winking smile

But How do They Taste?

Mexican beef fajitas with greens (8) (475x356)

Here is the clincher, because tortillas cooked on the electric press are a completely different culinary and gustatory experience than griddle-fried tortillas. Don’t read that "griddle-fried" term as meaning "added fat" – tortillas are fried on a dry griddle, so the nutritional information on both tortillas is exactly the same.

It’s the texture sensation that is markedly different, along with a missing flavor of "toasted," that taste of the little brown spots on the tortilla that’s similar to how the flavor of bread changes after toasting. Who knew the little brown spots are so good?

In comparison, the electric pressed tortillas taste too smooth, too dense, at least in my opinion. If you were going to use them in a casserole or smothered with sauce somehow, I doubt you’d notice the difference, and the sturdiness might even be advantageous. I don’t think you’ll have to fend off as many "tortilla thieves" as you do with a griddle though, because they’re just not as amazing to just eat by themselves.

My favorite way to make homemade tortillas? I was totally shocked to realize I’d rather just use a plain old rolling pin and bash them out the old-fashioned way.

What Fat is Best?

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla tests (11) (475x316)

Yes Virginia, soaked grain dough does get a darker layer on top. It’s all good.

I also tried 3 different types of fat in these tests: palm shortening, home-rendered lard (from fat back), and refined coconut oil (nearly melted because it was warm in the house). I used to make tortillas with butter, too, but I haven’t in a really long time, so I didn’t test that way.

The dough was different right from the start:

  • Coconut oil really was mushy right away since it started out so soft

  • Lard, from the fridge, made the toughest dough. I was going to add water, but I persevered in kneading and suddenly all the flour incorporated. Lesson learned!

  • Palm shortening was pretty melty too, like the coconut oil, but it didn’t get as mushy so quickly. Needed some kneading to get all incorporated.

I soaked all 3 overnight on the counter, then cooked them all the same way.

Side note: My first lesson was that forgetting the salt after the soak makes them really boring. They still cook up just fine, so don’t freak out if you forget it sometime, but they’ll be best with something with a lot of flavor or sauce to compensate. As soon as you add salt, I could eat them plain all day long, and luckily, I caught my mistake before I had fried up very many.

Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla Recipe

The Results: Flavor

The coconut oil is probably my least favorite, while lard and palm shortening are both amazing. Really very, very little difference in flavor.

Both of our neighbors, who I dragged into testing when they had us for dinner the day I made the videos, agreed that the palm shortening version had a very different flavor and liked it best.

The Results: Ease of Rolling Out

Coconut oil makes the most pliable dough and rolls out the easiest. Bonus points! Lard is pretty stiff and unforgiving, as you can see in the first video with the rolling pin, but it’s not like it’s impossible to handle. Bonus points to lard for being the traditional fat for authentic tortillas though. Palm shortening might be my favorite to work with overall, since it’s always room temperature, easy to measure and incorporate into the dough, tastes great and rolls out quite easily.

In the end, you don’t really need any fancy gadgets to make your own tortillas (although a griddle is awfully nice). Maybe a rolling pin – this one is shaped like mine and is currently the least expensive on Amazon, but this one got better reviews. (Thanks for starting your Azon shopping using my affiliate links there – KS earns commission for anything you buy, even if it’s not a rolling pin, or a much more expensive electric tortilla press, ha hum.) A griddle speeds things up, but 2 pans would do just fine as well.

Happy tortilla making! (My recipe is the best thing going, of course, but if you want more variations, Laura has a Totally Tortillas eBook, and it’s really inexpensive.)

Did you learn anything from this demonstration? I hope so! Share, pin, and give it a try!

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Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon, Heavenly Homemakers and Tropical Traditions from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.


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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Susan

    Thanks, these look amazing! I will definitely be trying a version this week.

    Question — the new Old El Paso soft taco bowls are my husband’s current favorite for taco night. Any tips on how to make soft tortillas in this bowl shape?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Susan,
    Interesting question – I can’t say I’m familiar with the product, but if they’re soft tortillas that have been made crunchy, then I bet just a short bake – start with 5 minutes and check them – while in the right shape would do it. These tortillas do get crunchy if you toast them, so I doubt it would take very long. You could do mini bowls in a muffin tin – how cute would that be? ;) Don’t tell your husband I said they’d be cute though…

    Let me know if you make it work; I’d love to try it too – :) Katie

    Mary Reply:

    I think I’ve seen the muffin tin turned upside down and a tortilla placed over each muffin to get a larger ‘cup’.

  • Laurel

    Hi Katie,

    I know you didn’t test tortillas with butter this time, but can you give us any idea of how you think they taste compared to the other fats, just from memory?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Laurel,
    Let me think, butter, mmmmm, oh yes, it’s definitely “mmmm.” ;) Super good! :) Katie

    Laurel Reply:

    Thanks so much, Katie! We are butter lovers, so I think I’ll try that!

  • Lona

    I am actually not surprised that the cast iron tortillas tasted better. And I’m not even surprised that you opted to just keep rolling and flipping all at the same time. And one other thing you didn’t mention–a press can only be used for one thing, thereby taking up valuable cupboard space. A griddle or skillet? Multi-use bonus points.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Good call! :) Katie

    Diana Reply:

    But if you are going to make corn tortillas, it’s wort the cupboard space :) I have had zero luck rolling out corn tortillas with a rolling pin!

  • Alexis

    Interestingly when you click on the link to the electric press there is an amazon video explaining that the electric press is just a press. It really is meant to apply heat to spread the tortilla thin but the video reviewer recommends not cooking them on the press and instead to cook them on the stove. This makes a lot of sense (though it is a big appliance to do that one job). This would allow you to get the result you wanted (brown specks) and speed things up while preventing the exploding tortilla.

    I have the cast iron press and the tortillas are small and way too thick. Rolling them out is OK but I can’t get them as thin as I want (like store bought). I am thinking about getting the electric press so I can get them very thin but cook them on the stove. My husband eats tortillas every day and has gotten my preschooler hooked on them too. I hate all the nasty ingredients in them and want to switch to soaked or sprouted but unless I can find a way to get them thin I don’t think my family will embrace the switch.

    Thanks for the videos!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Alexis,
    Interesting…I did follow manufacturer’s directions on that one, but…??? I think the torts from the press are pretty thick actually, much thicker than my hand-rolled ones. I would try a different fat, a bit more water, and for sure white whole wheat flour and see if your hand-rolling experience is better. Make sure they’re room temp, too. Good luck!! :) Katie

    L White Reply:

    I do use mine according to the manuf’s directions :) and agree, they are not thin – if that’s what you’re going for. But, do use white whole wheat, room temperature, and flatten them into a disk before placing them in the press. It helps alot.

  • Denise

    Hello,

    Someone just turned me on to your blog and also “Cooking With Mr. C.” on Facebook (also a blog). I’m so excited to look through your blog. Denise

  • Heidi E.

    Where’s the best place to purchase palm shortening?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Heidi,
    I’ve only ever bought it from Tropical Traditions, which I linked to in this post – they JUST finished a 40% off sale, but those happen maybe every 2 months or so. :) Katie

  • Stacy Makes Cents

    Something about making tortillas makes me want to cry and run away and hide. LOL

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I think it’s the fat and carbs together. ;) But you’d cry with joy if you tasted one of mine, for realz, plus I get great muscle tone rolling them out. :) Katie

    Stacy Makes Cents Reply:

    No, that’s not it. I think it’s because I don’t have awesome rolling skills like you do.

  • Shauna

    When we went gluten-free I used my electric tortilla griddle to make dosas. Half of the family loves them and will eat them right off of the griddle. I could never really enjoy them fried in a cast iron because they were too thick.

    I agree that on the skillet is the best…and on a gas stove if possible. I really miss my gas cooktop, though it took me a while to get used to when I moved to Michigan in 93. I learned to make them from my Mexican MIL and we love tortillas, but I have gotten lazy over the years.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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