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Tortilla Press

Choose healthier, better tasting and cheaper homemade tortillas by using a tortilla press.

If you like to make Mexican food but have always bought your tortillas readymade from the grocery store, you should know that fresh, homemade tortillas taste much better, are healthier and really easy to make. Once you find out just how easy, healthy and tasty they are, you may end up making tortillas a more regular part of your menu because they are so versatile. The secret to homemade tortillas is the tortilla press, or 'tortilladora' in Spanish, a simple appliance that has two flat surfaces you press together to squeeze a ball of dough into a flat, round tortilla that is ready to cook.

The word tortilla comes from the Spanish "torta" or "round cake" and means "small torta".  It is an unleavened flat bread made out of wheat or corn flour, water and salt and is a staple food in Mexico, Central and South America just as white bread is a staple in the US and Canada. The readymade commercial varieties are usually made of refined flour but specialty Mexican grocery stores stock the healthier and more nourishing whole wheat and maize varieties. However, "healthier" is a relative term because all store-bought tortillas have chemicals and preservatives to maximize shelf life, another major reason to use homemade.

A tortilla is traditionally made by dexterously slapping a round ball of dough rapidly between the palms of the hand while simultaneously rotating it to form a thin, flat circle which is then either roasted, baked or fried to cook. However, that takes a lot of practice and the modern way is to use a wooden, metal or plastic press which simplifies the process. The preferred material for a press is cast iron because the weight of it makes pressing the dough easier. However, they can be expensive and are quite heavy so many are made of cast aluminum or plastic instead which are cheaper and lighter but need more muscle to use. Wooden presses are common in Mexico and the better ones are made of hardwoods like mesquite. It is quite easy to make a wooden tortilla press ourselves if we wanted to.

A few of the most popular models are from the Villaware and Norpro companies,  the cast iron tortilla press being the most commonly used among those in this country who make tortillas daily. They are also made of wood (mesquite usually in Mexico), aluminum and plastic.  Depending on where you see them adverstised, they may be called flour tortilla press or corn tortilla press but both tortilla presses are the same thing, being mainly used with corn flour dough.

Tortillas are also a staple food in India where they are called 'rotis' and although making rotis manually from scratch is the preferred way, as it is in Mexico, the electric roti maker is becoming a common sight in many modern Indian kitchens. It is virtually the same thing as a tortilla maker.

Restaurants use high-volume commercial variations of the tortillas press, including roller and automatic presses which are similar to pizza and pasta dough rolling machines and can cost thousands of dollars. Taking the process a step further, the new electric tortilla press has combined the two basic steps—pressing and cooking—into one. You put a small ball of corn or wheat dough into this tortilla press, switch it on and in less than one minute, you have a fully cooked tortilla ready to eat. Having tried both, I have to say that though the automatic tortilla machine makes an acceptable tortilla, I much prefer the handmade variety. And considering the far better taste, quality and cost of homemade, I will never again buy readymade tortillas.

The tortilla press is one of the few kitchen appliances that quickly becomes indispensable and pays for itself in more ways than one.

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