Paper thin soft chewy, Sonoran-style flour tortilla

Paper thin soft chewy, Sonoran-style flour tortilla

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For a couple years now, I’ve been taking jabs at creating the perfect flour tortillas.

Now, any conversation evoking the word “perfect” ought to be subject to a clearer definition, doesn’t it?  So here is mine.  The perfect flour tortilla, in my view, should be unleavened (otherwise it’s just a thin pita), translucent, thin but elastic, flavorful enough to be a standalone enjoyment, and above all else, embodying a soft chewiness that you could feel in between bites.

It’s safe to say that the recipes I used over the years didn’t stray far from the typical ones floating around the internet, more or less, kneading flour, warm water (often ambiguous on the exact temperature), some sort of animal fat all together which is rolled out and toasted on a skillet.  Simple, yes, and those aren’t horrible either.  Anything containing that amount of lard just can’t be.  But in the end… lifeless, doughy, and without flare.

Well that ends today.

You see, there is a place in Mexico called Sonora.  Legend has it, that as far as flour tortilla goes, they’ve got the best.  Large in diameter, tailored for burritos, their flour tortilla is stretched paper thin by hands and toasted only for a few moments on an inverted hot iron wok, resulting in delicate, see-through tortillas that had famed this region.  People swear by it.  And if there were a better flour tortilla in Mexico, it hasn’t been discovered.  Perfect?  As close as it’s gonna get.

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So, It gave me ideas.

I took a couple weeks to really sift through the steps of what makes an optimal flour tortilla dough, with enough gluten in strength to be so thin yet chewy, carrying enough flavors that it runs the risk of being snacked away before anything can be wrapped with.  Then for those of us who has not mastered the art of stretching a dough out to the extent of paper-thinness by hands, I have an ingenious solution – a classic technique of making Peking duck crepes.

Instead of rolling a single dough out as thinly as humanly capable, I stacked two on top of each other, separated by fat/oil, then roll them out as thinly as humanly capable.  What happens is that when they cook, they puff and separate from each other, and what you get is two tortillas that are only 1/2 the thickness of what you normally could pull off!

Can you blame me for feeling clever?  As you are peeling these translucently thin and elastic tortillas away from each other and marveling at their supple chewiness and savory aroma, and go on to ecstatically wrap them with everything in sight, well, you’d thank me.

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Super thin and chewy, Sonoran-style flour tortilla

Yield: 8 large 13-inches/33 cm tortillas

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (260 grams) bread flour with 12~14% protein
  • 1 tsp (4 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp (4 grams) fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (180 grams) hot water at 140~150F/60~65C
  • 4 tbsp (56 grams) lard or goose/chicken fat or unsalted butter, not melted
  • 2 tsp all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. In microwave or on stove, heat water to 140~150F/60~65C. In a stand-mixer with dough-hook, mix bread flour, sugar, sea salt and hot water on low speed until it comes into a cohesive dough. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the dough is elastic and smooth. It should pull away cleanly from the sides and bottom of the bowl, but sticks right back when the machine stops. If it's too dry, add a teaspoon more water, and if too wet, add a teaspoon more flour. Knead for an extra 5 minutes for each addition. Add 2 tbsp of lard (or other types of fat you're using) into the bowl, and knead on medium-high speed for another 10 minutes, until the dough again pulls away cleanly from the side and bottom of the bowl, but sticks back when the machine stops. Adding the fat later instead of in the beginning, gives the dough more chance to develop more gluten formation. Cover the bowl and let rest for at least one hour. You can also keep it in the fridge overnight.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 tbsp of fat in a small pot and whisk in 2 tsp of flour. Continue to cook on low heat until the flour is light brown in color, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely.
  3. (The following instruction is tailored to making 13-inches/33 cm tortillas. If you don't have a griddle or skillet that big, you'll need to adjust the numbers accordingly). Once the dough is rested, transfer it onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 8 equal portions (if you're making smaller tortillas, you'll need to divide into higher even numbers, like 10 portions for 12 inches skillet, or 12 portions for 10 inches skillet, so on so forth). Shape each portions into smooth balls and arrange them in the chronological orders they are handled (this allows each dough to have equal resting time between handling).
  4. Now go back to the first two balls, dusting with flour as needed, and roll each one out into 6 inches/15 cm wide disks. Generously brush the fat-flour mixture on one of the disk all the way to the edges, leaving zero margin, and place the other one on top. Set the stack on the side, and repeat with the rest of the dough balls, again arranging them in the chronological order they are handled. You'll have 4 stacks in total.
  5. Now go back to the first stack you made, dusting with flour as needed, and roll it out as thinly as you can, so thin that you can almost see a little of your countertop through it, which will be about 13 inches/33 cm (smaller if you're using smaller skillet and smaller portions of dough). It's very important that you keep flipping it back and forth so the the two stacked tortillas are rolled out evenly in thinness. As explained in the video, this technique allows you to create super thin tortillas without any special skills. Because you're rolling out two stacked tortillas together as thinly as possible, and when they cook and separate, you get two tortillas that are only 1/2 the thickness of what you can typically get.
  6. Brush the fat-flour mixture lightly on the surface of the griddle or skillet, which should be hot enough that it starts to smoke when the fat hits (if you're using cast-iron, it'll need to be preheated on medium-high heat for about 5~10 minutes). Gently place the tortilla on top. The griddle or skillet should be hot enough that it only takes about 10 seconds for the first side to take on tiny brown spots but not burning it. Flip it back and forth while pressing on it with a spatula, until the tortillas starts to puff up all around and have little blistered brown spots on both sides. Transfer onto a plate or basket and cover with a damp towel. Repeat with the rest.
  7. Once cool enough to handle, simply separate the two tortillas from each other, which should be very easy. This technique will leave one side of the tortilla un-blistered, which I think is fine because they are soft, chewy and flavorful as is. If you want char on the other side, too, I would strongly advice NOT to toast the other side on the griddle as this will dry it out. Instead, torch only the back side lightly with a blow-torch until there are tiny black dots here and there, which adds good charcoal flavor to it, too. This is a great way to re-heat the tortilla as well if you are making them a couple hours ahead of time. But I would not recommend making then longer than couple hours ahead. Fresh tortillas are still the best.
https://ladyandpups.com/2021/05/13/paper-thin-soft-chewy-sonoran-style-flour-tortilla/
31 Comments
  • Harkirat

    May 13, 2021 at 6:22 PM Reply

    Really enjoyed this recipe Mandy, and the ingenious technique which you have used to achieve such a result.

    I have 2 questions:
    – I know how you say fresh tortillas are the best, but at times it’s good to have them quick at hand for an easy dinner. So, is there an option of being able to freeze the tortillas at any stage – either after having been cooked fully, or maybe once rolled out but still uncooked.
    – Also, do you think ghee/clarified butter will work an alternative source of fat?

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      May 13, 2021 at 7:45 PM Reply

      Hi Harkirat, I haven’t tried freezing these yet, but I wouldn’t freeze them rolled out uncooked because I’m pretty certain they will dry out and crack. Instead you could try freezing the cooked ones (vacuum packed if possible because they are so thin they lose moisture fast), and perhaps lightly steam it or microwave wrapped up in DAMP towel. But again, I’m speculating.

      Any flavorful fat works! Ghee would be great, too!

    • Eduardo Aragon

      May 26, 2021 at 12:50 AM Reply

      Hi Harkirat! I’m from Northern Mexico, not Sonora, but another region to the East, we also make flour tortillas, well I don’t, but my mom does, and when she comes to visit me to the States, she makes a lot of flour tortillas (wheat, smaller and thicker) and she freezes them AFTER she cooks them. For one kilo of made tortillas, first she lets them all cool off, then she wraps in paper towel, and then finally a plastic bag, then to the freezer they go! I reheat them on a hot pan or the microwave –play with the right time in the MW. Some of them even get fluffy again! (signs of moisture trapped inside). I hope that helps! @crazylalo

  • Charlie

    May 13, 2021 at 10:25 PM Reply

    These sound awesome! I don’t like thicker ones. I have TMJ and they really make my jaws sore. These I will try.
    Thank you for going outside the box and for sharing.

  • Holly Hegeman

    May 13, 2021 at 11:28 PM Reply

    I’m going to try them using duck fat.

  • Nicci

    May 14, 2021 at 1:12 AM Reply

    Oh my…so inspired, gonna have to try these this weekend! Love your videos!

  • Dulcistella

    May 14, 2021 at 2:48 AM Reply

    I think it’s funny how you pronounce tortilla!
    I also think that you would have made SUCH a great lab technician. Or even researcher.

  • Xanderbear

    May 14, 2021 at 4:06 AM Reply

    OMG! I have been obsessing over this type of tortilla (sobaqueras) for weeks! I’ve been watching YT vids, writing down recipes and was going to start the trial and error of making them this weekend. Then boom, here you are! Completely floored and can’t wait to try out your recipe, you saved me so much time! Thank you thank you thank you!

  • paul angelucci

    May 15, 2021 at 2:51 AM Reply

    Mandy, Haven’t visited you for quite a while. The last time I had tortillas like these was in Oxnard, California almost 50 years ago, and I’ve been hankering for them since then. Thank you so much for your recipe—can’t wait to try it. Your video is really well done. You’re looking very well; hopefully your past health issues are just that: past. I’ll be making some carnitas soon and will enjoy it wrapped in your beautiful tortillas along with thin wedges of red onion, nothing else. Thank you, Sweetheart (hope you don’t mind me calling you that). Appreciate you, Paul.

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      May 15, 2021 at 2:59 PM Reply

      Paul, yes the autoimmune condition has mainly subsided :). And I hope you have success w this recipe!

  • Mick

    May 15, 2021 at 1:55 PM Reply

    Outstanding recipe. I made these today with lard and they were amazing. I have a 30cm frying pan and started with 10 balls but found they were way too large for it once rolled paper thin. I split each ball in half and had the perfect size. I even bought a stand mixer to make them as I didn’t have one. Now I need a blowtorch. Thanks

  • Matt

    May 19, 2021 at 11:33 PM Reply

    First of all this is genius!! I’ll be trying with duck fat tomorrow. If attempting to make vegan for a friend, any recommendations on the fat?? Coconut oil perhaps? Thanks!!!

  • Roslyn

    May 20, 2021 at 4:29 AM Reply

    Wonderful recipe – will try this tonight. Question – how critical is the brown sugar to the recipe? In pinch, can regular granulated shite sugar be substituted? Thank you for all your contributions to the online community!

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      May 20, 2021 at 1:54 PM Reply

      Roslyn, I just like a touch of sugar in my tortillas. You can omit or use granulated, both fine :)

      • Roslyn

        May 21, 2021 at 2:11 PM Reply

        I made them! The tortillas were EXCELLENT and came out EXACTLY as the recipe and Mandy demonstrated!! Soft,chewy, translucent, extremely pliable, like a thin fabric. Don’t forget to flip and roll on both sides, that will make both tortillas very thin and see- through. I didn’t have a larger skillet and split into 10. Thank you for another stellar recipe and technique!!! Brilliant!

  • Heather

    May 25, 2021 at 12:48 AM Reply

    I make flour tortillas regularly and was quite intrigued over this style. These just didn’t work out for me – turned quite crispy and thus didn’t pull apart well. Tried different temperatures and cooking times as I moved my way through a double batch, but just ended up with similar results. Thoughts?

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      May 25, 2021 at 1:06 AM Reply

      Heather, without being there I have no idea what went wrong. Could be the flour type, knead time, gluten level, and/or overcooking. But many others have made this recipe with success so I hope someone can shine a light here in the comment :)

  • Andie S

    May 27, 2021 at 5:12 AM Reply

    Thank you for sharing this recipe! It made me think of two Indian flatbreads: Dosti roti for technique, where two balls of dough are rolled together and cooked on the griddle, then separated out, and Roomali roti for appearance where large paper thin flatbreads are cooked on a an upside down wok.
    I will try this out and share results soon!

  • Fer A

    May 27, 2021 at 9:22 AM Reply

    I think that’s the thinnest flour tortilla I’ve seen. Which is kinda sad because I live in northern Mexico (Not Sonora, though, that place is crazy hot). I will make this, thanks

  • Martina

    May 28, 2021 at 10:13 PM Reply

    Hi! I tried making these last night and had real difficulty with the rolling. For some reason when they were rolled together they were ripping and wouldn’t separate after cooking. I think i might have reseted them a little too long before rolling? I figured out a workaround in case anyone else has similar trouble. I rolled each ball individually, paper thin, on a sheet of parchment, allowing it to stick to the paper. I then flipped the whole paper, tortilla side down obvs, onto the hot pan. It’s very easy to pull the parchment off as soon as the tortilla is blistered. They came out awesome. I used bacon fat for the recipe, really really delicious, thank you!

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      May 29, 2021 at 2:36 AM Reply

      Martina, really dunno what went wrong there, but glad you found a solution!

  • Bun

    June 9, 2021 at 6:27 AM Reply

    Hello, Mandy! Thank you for the ingenious recipe, can’t wait to try these! I don’t have a stand mixer, however, so I’ll have to knead by hand – do you have any recommendations re: kneading time, or any other tips? How essential is using a mixer for these to turn out right? Thank you! <3

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      June 9, 2021 at 1:49 PM Reply

      Bun, hand kneading will be hard to develop that gluten. You may have to go at it hard for 30 min or so :)

  • jon wiersma

    June 15, 2021 at 12:01 AM Reply

    I, too, thought of roti like Indian flatbreads and that makes me want to make a batch and stuff them with a very spicy curry! Very nice presentation by Mandy and as always brilliantly executed.

  • Allen Sweatt

    June 15, 2021 at 10:33 PM Reply

    Thanks a lot for the recipe, I’m sure I’ll cook it today! Have you read the book Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway? This is my favorite book, and today I found a website where there are a bunch of free essays https://supremestudy.com/hills-like-white-elephants about my favorite book, to be honest, I could not think that I did not know so much. I think that everyone can find there something that interests him, a very useful resource, I recommend it!

  • sarkepo.com

    July 12, 2021 at 7:18 PM Reply

    wowww that is very good. thanks for your information

  • Aaron Squier

    August 17, 2021 at 5:53 AM Reply

    Any tips for rolling these out round? I found I was ending up with more oblong-abstract shapes by the time it was evenly thin all around. I was using a french rolling pin…next time I’ll try with an evenly cylindrical pin.

    Regardless, these tortillas were delicious and still impossibly thin, if very misshapen (especially after separating). I love the method!

  • gigi

    August 23, 2021 at 4:29 AM Reply

    i just made these. hmm… the first pair came out super thin. but the rest retracted. and i was rolling them out again right before i put them on the flat top but they still retracted upon hitting the flat top. so they were mostly between 9-10″ :/

  • okshout

    August 27, 2021 at 2:09 PM Reply

    I just want to say that I just discovered your blog and absolutely love it! These peanut buttery black sesame profiteroles are genius – i’ve had this bag of black sesame seeds in my cupboard for months, now I finally know what to do with it, thank you! If you have some time would appreciate it if you could check out my blog as well – https://okshout.blogspot.com/ :) thank you

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