Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

I originally posted this recipe on the very first day of the blog, January 23, 2009. I’m reprising today because I’ve changed the recipe a bit over the years (swapping in some whole wheat pastry flour for a softer tortilla, kneading a bit more and cooking a bit less) and to replace the truly awful original picture (taken with tungsten light, daylight and on-camera flash; oy!).

Also, I want to ask a question: I love this recipe, it is simple, relatively quick and fairly effortless. You don’t have to knead much, nor wait for a yeast-driven rise and you don’t have to fire up the oven to high heat, making this a perfect summer bread. But, while my tortillas stay soft when warm, they inevitably cool and parts become stiff, like a cracker, making it difficult to fold for a burrito or wrap. This seems to happen no matter how thick or thin I roll the dough or how little I manage to cook them in the skillet. Anyone have any tips for me on keeping the tortillas soft?

Tai is a big fan of the wrap sandwich, especially while working (one-handed lunches are ideal for rock climbing guides), but my wraps always seem to crack and fall apart, so we tend to buy them from the store. I apologize that I can’t remember the source of the original recipe, but if anyone has any tips for a persistently soft flour tortilla, I’d love to hear them. One less thing to buy from the grocery store is always a reason to celebrate.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 9 oz (2 cups) whole wheat bread flour
  • 9 oz (about 2 cups) whole wheat pastry flour, plus extra for adjustments
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • about 1 cup hot water

METHODS

  1. Mix ingredients. In a large bowl, mix flours and salt.  Add oil, toss with a fork, then rub between your fingers for a minute or two to evenly disperse; try to get all of the flour in touch with some oil. Gradually add hot water, mixing in with a wooden spoon. Knead in the bowl, with wet hands if necessary, as you add the last of the water. The dough should feel soft and only slightly sticky; if it is very sticky and/or does not hold it’s shape on kneading, add more flour. If it is too crumbly with visible flour, add more water, 1 tbsp at a time.
  2. Knead. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead for a few minutes, adding minimal flour to prevent sticking, until dough is soft, pliable and uniform.
  3. Shape & rest. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a ball the size of a lime. For each piece, roll under your palm, on a slightly wet surface, in a circular motion, pushing into your work surface while rotating the dough. This will form a nice, tight ball. Place on a clean, floured kitchen towel and cover lightly to rest for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours (for a longer rest, wrap tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying of the dough).
  4. Form tortilla. Flatten a dough ball on a floured work surface and roll the dough out, roughly in a circle, until it is very thin, approximately 1/16 inch.
  5. Cook. Heat a large, dry skillet over medium-high flame. Add a rolled-out tortilla; when bubbles form (about 30-60 seconds) flip to the other side for about another 30 seconds. You can cook them for as long as you like, but at some point they will become stiff, more like a cracker than a soft flour tortilla. Experiment with the first few until you get the hang of it. Keep warm on a plate in a low oven, covered with a damp towel. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Yields about a dozen, dinner-plate-sized tortillas.

OPTIONS

  1. Add chili powder, dried or fresh herbs or other spices to the flour prior to adding the oil.
  2. Add fresh herbs, pesto, flavored oil, lime juice or other wet additions into the dough during kneading.
  3. Substitute up to 2 cups spelt, triticale, rye or other flours for a different flavor. These tortillas do not rely on gluten for shape or texture, so a GF flour substitute should be feasible (although you may need some sort of binder. If anyone tries it, please let us know how it goes.)

STORE

In the fridge for about a week.  Freeze well for 6 months or longer.

SEASON

Year round.

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15 comments

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  3. Melissa

    I usually warm tortillas and leave them under a warm wet paper towel to keep them soft during the meal.

    The other thing, which I vaguely remember learning about in high school spanish class, is that the way they make them soft is to use lots and lots of lard. I would think bacon drippings might work too. But that definitely makes them unhealthy. And I have not tested this vague remembrance, so I take no credit if you try it and it is a disaster. 🙂

  4. Mmmmm, bacon. You may be right, Melissa: lard is pretty much a staple of Mexican cooking and maybe the solid-at-room-temp thing is necessary for keeping them soft?

    I can keep them soft throughout a meal, but I’m tyring to get them to stay soft at fridge temps, like the storebought ones. We ran out of Tai’s favorite habanero-lime wraps, so I can’t even check the ingredients list, but I’m fairly sure it’ll be a mile long.

  5. Kate @ Snowflake Kitchen

    I also vote more fat. A quick Google search revealed some recipes with milk… I’m not sure if that would make a difference though.

  6. Since adding cornstarch to a fried chicken dredge made the crust limp after it cooled, maybe that would help with the tortillas. I have no idea of the chemistry involved in that, and maybe something else caused it (only did it that one time). And anyway, lard needs love too.

  7. Looks great :)) Ive just started making my own , and am ready now to start experimenting . Im thinking the next ones will be 50% whole wheat , 50% corn masa… see how that turns out :))

  8. anduin

    I would also say add more fat, like bacon drippings, but why I’m really commenting is to observe that Rich’s monster is suspiciously similar to mine.

  9. Kimberly

    I understand why everyone is suggesting more fat as that is likely the issue here but I would also like to thank you for posting a vegetarian tortilla recipe – they are hard to find! Maybe swapping some butter instead of olive oil would help with the softness?

  10. Kristy

    I found a recipe that used shortening. I have tried it with the white tortillas but not the wheat yet. I will tell you how.it goes 🙂

  11. Felicity

    Avocado is supposed to be a 1:1 substitute for butter. They call avocados a “butter pear”. I wonder if either subbing avocado for the butter, and/or adding avocado to the original recipe would help to keep them soft. I haven’t tried it myself yet. I like the idea of using fresh or cold pressed unrefined coconut oil.

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