Photographer and Teva Explorer Abigail LaFleur-Shaffer teaches a family recipe for making homemade flour tortillas. Words and Photos by Abigail LaFleur-Shaffer.
I know my best self. I’ve met her on top of mountains and rock climbing. I’ve met her drawing inspiration from wandering new cities, running through backcountry fields with my dogs Kodi and Kuma, working from a coffee shop and making friends with coffee “colleagues” but in mid-March, like a vast amount of others during this time, I was forced to meet a new self. The self that was to stay home until further notice.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being home as much as I love working and traveling, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve spent much more time with my free-to-roam self vs. my home self. After peeling away from my favorite snacks and what could be seen (maybe) as too many episodes of Golden Girls, I figured it was time to become my best at-home self.
Tip: always have snacks (and maybe a cocktail) nearby while cooking.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking; as a wee one, I watched, eyes peering over the counter, mi abuela [my grandmother] cooking in her kitchen, happily (and singing in Spanish) adding ingredients in an airy way, tossing it into the bowl or the pan. It was like watching a magic show, without touching a measuring cup. The result was a perfect dish.
Then came my part in the show: the food sitting in front of me one minute, then the next it was gone. While I enjoy cooking, I’d never give myself the title of “cook.” Here I was, at home, a kitchen calling for me to experiment and maybe bring out the little “cook” in me.
Abi wears the Original Dorado in Canyon to Canyon.
The only trouble was, my grandma, mom, and aunties never use exact measurements; they have always used their hands to measure out every ingredient—they know its weight, its look and the way it feels. I spent the week on video calls with my mom, experimenting from a distance (thank you technology), to get as close as we could to the recipe for our family’s tortillas. While making these in your kitchen, allow yourself the freedom to experiment—adding or subtracting portions of ingredients based on how the dough feels and/or needs.
Lastly, I firmly believe that when cooking, one should always have access to their favorite snacks. We’re in the kitchen, let’s EAT! So prepare that homemade cocktail, chips and salsa, and let’s experiment with tortillas!
A bolillo, rodillo, or palote is a type of rolling pin without handles and a smaller circumference.
TOOLS & INGREDIENTS
*Bolillo, rodillo or palote (these are similar types of rolling pins with a smaller circumference than baking rolling pins and without handles) or a rolling pin
*Comal (cast iron griddle pan with a shallow edge) or flat cooking pan
*4 cups all-purpose flour
*1½ tsp baking powder
*1 tsp salt
*1 tbsp (a small tbsp) shortening (or lard)
*1½ cups warm water (keep ¼ cup nearby in case dough is too dry; always add water in small amounts)
*Snacks for while you’re cooking
*A love for experimenting with ingredients!
1. Prepare snacks (my go-to is chips and home-made salsa) and margarita (or any colorful drink).
2. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the mixing bowl and combine together.
3. Add shortening (or lard) to the bowl. I used my hands to mix, so wash those hands thoroughly, then mix everything together until it feels kind of like cornmeal.
4. Begin with only 1 cup of warm water. Very slowly add water to the bowl while mixing. Then continue adding ¼ cup of warm water until the dough is at the correct consistency: a smooth, rubbery texture that is not too dry and not too wet/sticky. If too dry, add a small amount of water; if too wet and sticky, add a small amount of flour.
5. When dough is at the correct consistency, prep the surface with a little flour and begin to knead dough for approximately 3-5 minutes until you are pleased with your dough ball.
6. Split your dough into two pieces. From each dough piece, we are going to break apart into small dough balls. The smaller the dough ball, the thinner and/or smaller the tortilla; the slightly larger dough ball, the thicker and/or larger the tortilla. For taco-size tortillas (about 6-7 inches wide) make the dough balls around the size of a golf ball (about 1.5 inches wide).
7. Prepare the surface for rolling out dough by sprinkling flour onto the surface. Sprinkle and rub some flour onto your bolillo/rodillo/palote/rolling pin.
8. Oil the comal, then begin to heat it on the stove at medium heat; we’re getting ready to make some tortillas!
9. While the comal is heating up, begin rolling out the dough. Sometimes I get REAL lucky and am able to pull off rolling out a decent circle that mi abuela would be proud of and other times, I create a shape we have no names for. Play around with it and have fun! The more practice, the more opportunities for us to make circles.
10. After the comal is hot and ready, transfer your first rolled out dough to the comal; while that’s cooking, continue rolling out the rest of your dough. When one side is cooked (slightly browned and firm) flip over and cook through the other side.
Abi wears the Original Dorado in Canyon to Canyon.
11. Continue Steps 9-10 until dough is no más (no more)!
12. Now pair with taco fixings. Go simple (but delicious) with rice and beans. For a sweet treat, top with honey and a dash of cinnamon, and ENJOY the work of your beautiful hands!
This is dedicated to all essential workers, doing the selfless work so that we can continue to live in a safe space. Thank you for all you do!