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Welcome to Pretty Fly for a DIY, a series in which we take a closer look at commonly purchased food items, and highlight the most important things you need to know in order to successfully make them for yourself at home. Why would I make it instead of buy it, you ask? We know convenience factor is a real consideration when it comes to getting food on the table, but every so often, it’s super satisfying (and fun) to get into the kitchen and create a higher quality, more delicious product than what you can find on supermarket shelves.

Today, we're getting into tortillas--because it's the weekend and this seems like as good a time as any to have a completely from-scratch taco night. Once you taste a warm tortilla made fresh just for the meal at hand... I can guarantee that a stack of store-bought will never quite do it for you again. To be clear, we're discussing corn tortillas right now. Mostly because... I like them the best.

Fresh Corn Tortillas

Fresh Corn Tortillas

The Five Things You Need to Know:

1. Buying fresh masa dough is the way to go.

Many recipes for homemade corn tortillas are going to instruct you to mix dry masa harina--which is an "instant" flour made by dehydrating fresh masa dough--with water in order to make your dough. That's all well and good, you can totally take that route (and if you do, point #2 below is going to be especially important), but you'll produce a more flavorful product, and likely have an easier time, if you start with the already pre-made fresh masa dough that you can find at most latin markets. You'll find fresh masa dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, but be sure that you grab dough marked for tortillas, not tamales. The masa for tamales is made from nixtamal that has not been as finely ground as that for tortillas--point being, it will make a difference. If you have more masa dough than you need, you can freeze what you aren't going to use.

2. You gotta check the consistency.

Regardless of whether you buy fresh masa dough or go with mixing up your own using masa harina, before you start pressing it into your warm and wonderful cradles for all the taco fillings, you need to make sure your masa is at the right moisture level. Basically, you want it to be as moist as it can be without sticking to your hands when you work with it. If you buy it fresh, there's a good chance the masa will already be at the right consistency, and it's very unlikely that it will be too moist. But if you make your masa by rehydrating masa harina with water and the dough sticks to your fingertips, simply incorporate a bit more masa harina. To test for dryness, roll a portion of your dough into a golf ball-sized sphere and gently flatten with your palm. If the dough cracks around the edges, it needs a little more water kneaded in.

3. A tortilla press is great, but you don't absolutely have to have one.

While a tortilla press is fantastic to have if you plan to make your own tortillas on a regular basis (which I highly support) and they're not very expensive ($10-$20 depending on where you go), you can definitely make tortillas without one. You can simply use the bottom of a heavy pan, like a cast-iron skillet. Like your tester portion of dough, you'll roll as many golf ball-sized spheres of masa as you want tortillas. Working one portion at a time, you'll want to place the masa ball in between 2 (6x6-inch) squares of wax paper, then press flat.

4. Two pans are necessary for cooking.

To cook your tortillas, you will want to have 2 skillets going: 1 nonstick skillet over medium heat and 1 cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. You will use the nonstick skillet to get the cooking/setting started for each tortilla, and the cast iron to finish cooking it through and develop color. Considering you're working one tortilla at a time, I realize this sounds tedious--but keep in mind, each tortilla will only require around 45 to 60 seconds to cook. You'll wanna start each tortilla in your nonstick pan and cook it for about 20 seconds or until it's just beginning to firm up (you'll see it starting to dry in places). Then, flip the tortilla into your cast-iron and cook for 10 to 20 seconds on each side, or until it's colored to your desired degree of toastiness.

P.S. don't worry if it take a couple of sacrificial tester tortillas before you get the hang of it.

5. Only make as many as you're going to eat in one sitting.

Fresh corn tortillas aren't something you want to save leftover as they are apt to dry out, so you'll only want to make roughly as many as you plan to eat. (Remember, the raw fresh masa dough can be frozen for later, so no pressure to use it all at once.) As you finish cooking each tortilla, you'll want to place it into a lidded Dutch oven lined with clean kitchen towels. This will keep them warm and moist for up to half an hour.

The Recipes You Need to Have:

OK, now that you have this dope batch of tortillas, here's a few thoughts on how to fill them.

Wild Mushroom, Flank Steak, and Poblano Tacos
Credit: John Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr
By Darcy Lenz and Darcy Lenz