Corn Tortillas and Easy-Peasy Bread

Note: I have the recipes nicely indicated with bold headers. Feel free to scroll down if that’s all you’re here for. I understand perfectly.


For the next three-odd weeks, I am house-sitting. This means that I will be getting paid almost as much as I make in one paycheck to watch too many movies, develop insomnia due to the strange noises in an unfamiliar house, and have plenty of time on my hands for things like baking and editing (because I don’t have as much or more time when I’m at home, obviously). All I have to do in return is run the dishwasher every now and then, make sure the animals are fed, and occasionally rescue a dachshund.

More on the house-sitting itself later, as I’m 5 days in and it’s already been…interesting. Today I have recipes!

One of the greatest mysteries I’ve encountered in my 22 years is how every single human being can manage to arrange their kitchen differently from the next. Where I expect to find pots and pans, I find Tupperware or cooking wine. Where I expect to find salt and other seasonings, I find more cooking wine and the junk drawer. Some people hang their knives on those cool magnetic strips; some people (like my mother) hang pots and pans from a horizontal ladder suspended from the ceiling. There are people who manage to get by with the very basic supplies and others who have every gadget imaginable and use most of them regularly. You can tell a lot about a person’s life by their kitchen.

As such, it took me a few days just to adjust to this kitchen’s set-up. There doesn’t seem to be any butter and, despite the presence of at least 4 jars of peanut butter, I cannot find a single slice of bread. (Don’t even get me started on the mug situation….) Also, something in the fridge stinks and I’m afraid to investigate. On the plus side, the owners raise their own beef (which I’m helping with when I feed the herd some corn every night) and there’s a freezer chock-full of last year’s burger to which I have been told to help myself.

My goal this month is to avoid eating out (try counting how many times I succumbed to Taco Bell’s allure last month if you can’t imagine why). This, of course, means preparing enough delicious food at the house to distract me from the call of every restaurant I pass on the way to and from work (and they are many). Being on a rather limited budget between the end of July and my next payday, I could only afford to buy a few staples. Among them? Masa harina (corn flour), almond milk, and lettuce.

There are several items on my Day Zero list which involve foods I want to learn to make, and I’ve already tackled two: 1) Make tortillas (#49), and 2) Bake my own bread (#50). (The crepes are a work in progress.) I am ahead on the challenge overall, but the trick is that I’m systematically knocking out the easy stuff and leaving the real challenges for later. But I digress.


First up: Corn Tortillas

Lord knows why I decided to make corn tortillas, as I don’t prefer to eat them over flour (I have this thing with textures, especially gritty). Possibly because it’s the first recipe that came up or because something said “this is healthier than flour tortillas”, which honestly shouldn’t be the deciding factor when it comes to home-cooked food. They were, however, ridiculously easy to make, contrary to all of my ill-educated assumptions about tortillas in general. I used three ingredients: masa harina, water, and a pinch of salt. I didn’t even need to grease the skillet.

The recipes I browsed sang the praises of having a tortilla press, but this is one of those non-versatile kitchen gadgets I have no desire to invest in. (Its only other possible use that I can see is as a weapon or a flower press, so….) I used some plastic wrap and a rolling pin and everything was dandy, if not necessarily Instagram-worthy.


What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups of masa harina (I bought mine at Walmart in the same aisle as the Mexican food)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1.5 cups of hot water

Mix the salt and masa harina, then stir in the water until everything is combined. Then knead it in the bowl for a minute until it has a Play-Doh like consistency. If it’s too crumbly, add some more water; if too sticky, slowly add more masa harina.

You can let the dough rest for a while under a damp towel to let the masa harina fully absorb the water, but it is not necessary.

Form a pinch of dough into a ball, place it between the plastic, and roll it out until it’s thin enough. Remove one side of plastic and then, with the dough side in a damp hand, remove the second piece.

Place the dough in a hot skillet or on a hot griddle. Each side only needs about a minute to cook, until it’s just starting to turn golden. If you press your spatula into the middle of the tortilla after flipping it, it may form a bubble, which is fun.

You can wrap the fresh tortillas in a clean kitchen towel so they can steam and soften, as they will be crisp immediately after coming off of the griddle.

And that’s that! For better instructions, follow the link. Until I started typing up everything, I didn’t realize how many steps I had missed and these still turned out edible.

It’s not that I hate corn tortillas, but I cannot eat these plain. They will be the base for some tacos later in the week or, if I’m really talented, they will get turned into half-way decent tortilla chips. I don’t have very high expectations for the second one.

This recipe didn’t use much masa harina, so I have a large bag standing on the counter staring at me. I see cornbread in the near future, and someone said tossing masa harina in chili is good.


Bread

I won’t lecture your ear off over the negative aspects of store-bought bread. If you want to be educated on that point, you can follow the link to the source of this recipe.* (Or, y’know, go ask an European.) Every article I looked up prefaced the recipe with a similar lecture, but my motivations are simpler: I like homemade bread. It’s denser, richer, and now nearly as convenient to make as going out to buy a loaf. Plus, baking my own bread gives me a feeling of self-sufficiency and power. It’s the little things.

This recipe has the added benefit of only requiring one container and one bread pan for the whole process. The container need not be washed between batches and can be used to store the dough in the fridge indefinitely (zombie apocalypse withstanding).


Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large resealable container – the person who shared the recipe uses one of those plastic bread loaf containers. The only thing I had on hand was a large lemonade jug with the lid you twist.
  • A fork or other utensil with which to mix the dough
  • 3 cups of warm water
  • 1.5 tablespoons of salt
  • 1.5 tablespoons of yeast
  • 6.5 cups of all-purpose flour
  • A bread pan, baking sheet, or cast-iron skillet, depending on how you want to use the dough

Pour the warm water into the container and stir in the salt. (And I just realized I only used 1.5 teaspoons of salt, which is why my bread was a little dull.) Add the yeast, stir, and let it sit for a few minutes until it starts to bubble.

Pour in all of the flour and stir the mixture until a sticky dough forms. Once everything has been mixed well and there are no bubbles of flour or water, place the lid loosely on top and let the dough rise at room temperature.

I put the container on the deck at dusk and it had risen within a half-hour. I’m not used to cooking and baking in an air-conditioned space.

Once the dough has risen, seal the lid (punching down the dough a little if necessary) and place the container in the fridge.

Here’s the fascinating part: this method, aptly called “no-knead bread”, works a bit like cheese in that the longer the bread is allowed to sit, the better it gets. Kneading speeds up the chemical processes that are involved with making bread, while no-knead bread can sit in the fridge for a long time and slowly get more and more flavorful. I used a little less than half of the dough after letting it sit in the fridge overnight, and I won’t use the rest for several days. I can’t wait to compare how they turned out.

When you’re ready to make a loaf or rolls or whatever, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease your baking dish of choice. (The original poster used rendered bacon lard, but I only had vegetable oil on hand.) Then, with your now-greasy hands, pinch off some dough and form it. I was sloppy on the “form a loaf” front, so my first loaf came out misshapen, though entirely edible. If you are going for an aesthetically-pleasing loaf, run a knife down the center of the loaf once it’s in the pan; otherwise, it will form cracks on its own.

This dough doesn’t have to sit out to thaw in order for a good loaf to come out of the oven. It can go from fridge to oven inside a minute and be great. Bake it for 30-35 minutes, bumping up the temp to 500 degrees in the last 5-10 minutes for a nice golden crust. My dough was a little small and got slightly charred on top with this approach, but it was definitely crunchy in a good way.

Once you use up all of your dough, you can return the empty, unwashed container to the fridge until you’re ready to mix up another batch. The leftover chemical formation will just added to the new batch’s flavor.

This is a recipe which will take some practice to master. I may one day be bold enough to try whole grain flour (or whatever you call the healthy kind) or add honey or other flavorings. And my search for a good bread recipe doesn’t stop here; this one just holds the “quick and easy” title. The beauty in it is that, should you find yourself in need of some bread, you can have a loaf or two ready inside of 45 minutes. I actually enjoy kneading my own dough, so I’ll keep my eyes open for a more traditional recipe for special occasions.

 


* Please note: I did not notice the name of the linked site until after I’d decided to try out the recipe. Credit where credit is due and all that, but I seriously doubt I would visit this site for any other reason. It just happened to have the most promising title when I googled “easy bread recipes without a bread maker”.

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