Fireplace Bread aka Flour Tortillas

Bread has been called the staff of life. When most of us think of bread, we think of nice loaves of fluffy white bread. But bread comes in many forms from many parts of the world. It can be simple or complex. It can take hours or minutes to make. I've got a batch of sourdough starter and a sweet Friendship Bread starter but lately, I prefer simple. The only thing complex about tortillas is rolling them out. My children did that last time I made tortillas so it's not hard.

The first tortillas that I made were cooked on the comal in the woodburning fireplace. I was very proud of my irregular shaped tortillas. They tasted good; all smokey and with a bit of ash here and there. But my husband loved them and the kids ate them. My second batch weren't as good. They cracked when I tried to roll them. Perhaps it was because I added too much water then had to add more flour. On the third try, I solved the mystery of the 2nd batch. I was cooking them too long.

Here's roughly the recipe that I use when I'm making tortillas. I say roughly because I've stopped measuring exactly.

Flour Tortillas

3 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 tablespoons vegetable shortening or lard
1¼ cups warm water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the vegetable shortening or lard and use a pastry cutter or your hands to cut it in. I personally use a fork to work it in so there are no obvious blobs of shortening or lard. I then rub the flour/shortening mixture between my hands until it looks like a fine cornmeal.

Add warm water a little at a time until your dough is soft and not sticky. This 'adding moisture' step which is where I either have good tortillas or I totally mess them up. Start with about a tablespoon at a time. As it begins to look like a dough, add the water a teaspoon at a time.

Knead the dough for a few minutes. Then separate the dough into 12 small dough balls. Let them rest for about 10 minutes. Start heating up the cast iron skillet or comal while the dough rests. If you are working on the stove, set it to medium to high heat. You don't want the heat too high or the tortillas will cook too fast. If you're cooking in the fireplace, you just have to try a few times to get an eye for your fire.

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin. It is a good idea to dust each dough ball with flour before rolling it out. Roll the dough out on an unfloured surface. Place your rolling pin in the center of a dough ball. Roll up. Center your rolling pin again and roll down. Rotate the tortilla and repeat until the tortilla is fairly thin.

I give the rolled tortillas a pinch of flour dusted over the surface to keep the stack of tortillas from sticking together. When they are all rolled out, it's time to cook.

Lay your tortilla on a heated, dry comal or cast iron skillet. It takes just a few seconds to cook. Flip to the other side. When they are done it should have lots of nice brown speckles. If you overcook the tortillas, they'll become stiff little rounds that are not pliable.

Place cooked tortillas in a towel to keep them warm.


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