B is For Bread

12 Nov

Tortillas de Harina

I have tasted fancy dishes and eaten at fine restaurants many times in my life. I have sampled the strange and unfamiliar. I have found fresh favorites and discovered new ingredients, but nothing tastes so delicious to me as the flatbread I ate as a child.

Tortillas de harina, a bread made out of wheat flour and enriched with eggs and butter, is by far the most popular meal in Honduras, where I grew up. The dough is shaped into a disc, a griddle is put on the stove, and the bread puckers up, little blisters fill with air and golden spots appear on the surface as if by magic.

It’s a simple, unpretentious, traditional meal, accompanied most often by refried beans and sour cream, and called a Baleada when it’s smeared and folded in half. The word baleada comes from the Spanish word for bullet, or bala, and I think it’s called that because the little bubbles and dark spots sort of look like bullet marks.

My mother, who is an excellent cook, makes the best tortillas. She grew up in a large family, and as the eldest daughter she learned to make them when she was twelve years old. Kneading the dough was her daily chore, and she’d get up early every morning to do it before she went to school. My mother’s tortillas are soft and rich, and nothing speaks to me of home more than the sight of a ball of dough resting on her kitchen counter.

One of the earliest memories I have is of making small tortillitas for my father when I was a young girl, in the little house in Belize, where we were living at the time. They were awful, I’m sure, burnt on the outside and uncooked on the inside, but I was proud of myself, and as eager to please as only children can be.

Today my daughter and I made these together. I gave her a bit of dough and, standing next to me, she played around with her ball as I worked the mix into a soft, pliable dough.

I don’t think my tortillas will ever be as good as my mother’s, for years I thought I had a heavy hand, but I’ve let go of my fear of failing and with regular practice I have improved. My daughter loves them. I hope they will be as cherished a part of her childhood as they were of mine.

 

My Mother’s Tortillas de Harina

Flour Tortillas

 2 cups flour

2 eggs

1 ½ teaspoon butter

1  ½ teaspoon vegetable shortening

1 pinch of salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ to ¾ cup water at room temperature

 

1) In a large wide bowl, sift the flour, the salt and the baking powder. Stir with a spoon to combine.

2) Make a well in the center and add the eggs, the butter and the shortening.

3) Dust your hands with flour and move your fingers to combine the ingredients.

4) Add water, a little bit at a time, and gather the mix until a dough begins to form. Here you can make adjustments if you need to. If the dough feels dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time. If it doesn’t feel soft enough, add more fat, a little bit at time, until you get the right consistency.

5) Knead the dough on a floured surface. Stretch the dough away from you, using the heel of your hand. Bring the dough back towards you and turn it a little before you stretch again.

6) When the dough is soft, shiny and it is easier to knead, shape it into a log and divide it into small pieces, about 2 inches in size.

7) Gently knead each piece and shape into a ball. Place the balls back in the bowl and let them ‘sleep’, as my mother says. Lay a damp cloth over the dough and leave it in a warm place for at least 15 minutes.

8) Women in Honduras flatten the tortillas in the palm of their hands, but that requires years of practice. I use a large zipper bag as my stretching surface because the dough doesn’t stick. Place the ball in the center of the plastic and use the tip of your fingers to flatten and stretch the dough, until you have a good size disc.

9) Place a flat griddle (a comal in Spanish) or a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Carefully peel the plastic with one hand as you hold the tortilla on the other.

10) Place the tortilla on the griddle and cook on one side for a minute or two. The bread will bubble up in places. Use a knife to turn it onto the other side, or your fingers, if you dare.

11) Using a cloth napkin gently press the tortilla to release some of the air trapped in the bubbles.

Your tortilla de harina is ready. Wrap it with cloth to keep it warm. Serve with refried beans and sour cream. I like queso fresco and scrambled eggs with it too.

The balls of dough keep well in the refrigerator for a day or two. Cover them with plastic wrap and lay them in a single layer inside an airtight container. 

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3 Responses to “B is For Bread”

  1. Marlon November 13, 2009 at 4:34 am #

    We’re actually going to have those for breakfast this coming Saturday.

  2. Lizzy November 14, 2009 at 2:15 am #

    Enjoy!

  3. wellnessexpat November 17, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

    this sounds delicious! i am going to have to try. bread/tortillas have always sounded so intimidating, but i think it’ll be time well spent with my daughter.

    one of my top 5 food memories is of some flatbread i purchased off a pakistani man baking bread at midnight in a dark alley in dubai. undeniably some of the best food i’ve tasted, yet so simple. i think the brick oven with searing temperatures certainly helps ;-)

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