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Reaching Tortilla Equilibrium

LindsayWhen you live a more sustainable life, you inevitably come to the decision to make your own bread, or not. Some folks feel like it’s an easy decision. Kind of a “Duh! Of course I’m going to make my own bread” moment, but for me, it wasn’t so easy. I really value my time, and bread, no matter what kind, requires time and preparation. For a long time I felt like I just didn’t have the time to bake my own bread, let alone make tortillas or fresh dinner rolls. And besides not having the time, I didn’t know how!

After listening to some motivational speeches on time management, I realized that I was living re-actively, and not proactively. (I’ll go into that theory in another post.) That lead me to finding the time to make breads, and I’m sure glad I did. However, the theory of living proactively didn’t prepare me for the difficulties of figuring out the HOW of making my own breads. I needed to find equilibrium; some balance between a recipe that worked for me and my family, using my time wisely, and knowledge and experience enough to make delicious time-worthy breads.

Whether you are a newbie bread maker or a veteran, you know that making bread is sometimes a discouraging experience. It doesn’t matter whether you are making regular yeast bread, sourdough, flat breads, dessert breads or any other kind of grainy deliciousness, things go wrong. Bread baking is as much a science as it is an art. No matter what the outcome is, I learned that the time spent was definitely worth it. My advice to you: Don’t give up on finding equilibrium.

I was in college when I first started making my own bread. It was shortly after I married Chris. After several months of “My mom always makes bread” and “I really love homemade bread,” I decided that I was going to give it a hearty go. I only had one class on Fridays, so that became Bread Day.

Nearly every Friday, I would come home from my lab, mix up the dough, and have lunch ready for Chris when he came home in between classes. As soon as our lunch was over, it would be just about time for me to form the loaves. It wasn’t anything fancy and the first few batches came out really rough, but I did it. Unfortunately, as soon as that semester ended, so did Bread Day. I am also still searching for the perfect sandwich loaf recipe. I haven’t yet found Sandwich Loaf Equilibrium, but when I do, I will look back on those early tries with fondness.

Whenever I try something new, there always seems to be a learning curve. Even if the first try is successful, sometimes subsequent batches are NOT. My experience with tortillas was no different. The first batch was so successful! I stopped buying tortillas at the store immediately, I posted about it on BOTH of our blogs, and I have made them probably once a week since January. Maybe more often. I typically use one of two recipes, one with sourdough and one without. Check them out at my other blog!

They haven’t been super awesome every time I’ve made them, but that first time when it was so mind-blowingly awesome kept me trying. (Chalk one up for beginner’s luck!)

Finished Tortillas

Now that I’ve had about a year of experimenting with tortillas, I’d like to share my experience with you. I’m sure the advice applies to other breads, too. Here’s a list of my problems and solutions. I hope they help.

  • I almost always forget the salt. There’s nothing like a bland tortilla. (Or bland soup, or bland rolls, or bland cookies … I forget the salt in everything!) I now have salt highlighted, underlined, and in bold on my recipe cards. I haven’t forgotten the salt in a few weeks, but I won’t check this one off the list just yet!

  • I didn’t separate the dough before the rest. That meant that the dough was too stiff to roll flat enough. If you can’t roll your tortillas flat enough, then you get tough inflexible tortillas. Needless to say, I separate the dough BEFORE the rest.

  • I tried to memorize the recipe. It’s really troublesome when you can’t remember whether it’s 1/3 or 2/3 cup of oil … now, I always take out the recipe card even if I don’t look at it.

  • I used too much oil. I thought for a little while that my tortillas were inflexible because I didn’t use enough oil. That resulted in a few batches of really oily tortillas. Having the recipe card out really helps. SO does reading the recipe card now and again. I now know that I wasn’t separating the dough before the rest!

  • I didn’t use enough oil. This made my tortillas dry and flaky. Again, having the recipe card out helps. So does not trying to be superwoman.

  • I burnt them. That’s what happens when you stop paying attention to the frying pan! I try to roll out all the tortillas first, and then fry them, or I roll out one and fry it before I move on to the next. This still happens, but now that I have a system, it happens less often, and more often because I’m playing with my children instead of cooking dinner!

  • I didn’t roll them flat enough. If you roll them nice and thin, they puff. That puff is important to the flexibility of the tortilla. I always make sure to roll them out as flat as possible.

  • I used a hard wheat flour and didn’t knead it long enough. My tortillas, and all of my bread, were dry for awhile. That hard wheat flour is really thirsty flour, and it’s very tough. I didn’t realized that flours acted differently from each other. Now I know how to adjust for when I switch up my flours! I typically prefer soft whole wheat flours, and I make sure to knead until the gluten develops.

It is a fact of life that we can’t have perfect loaves every time. If you learn from your mistakes, eventually things get better. After a year of trials and failures, with the increasingly more often success, I have pretty much reached Tortilla Equilibrium.

Tortillas and Rolling Pin 

There are all sorts of people out there doing the same things you’re doing, and we can learn from each other, too. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we try something new. Recently, one of my favorite magazines, GRIT, put out a special bread issue, GRIT's Guide to Homemade Bread. I am just devouring it! (Not really, ‘cause that would be weird …) It has all sorts of goodies, including a little snippet from my original sourdough post, and a photo by yours truly! Besides my obvious excitement over being published, the issue is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. If you’re interested, check it out here.

Resources like this one from GRIT make it even easier to get started, and keep on the path of making your own breads. Just remember, take the time, and don’t give up! You can do it!

Now that I’ve reached Tortilla Equilibrium, I’m ready to start on a new adventure … does anyone have any suggestions?