Tortilla Press
tortilla press: photo by b.bowman

Mexican Tortilla Press

Called a "tortilladora" in Mexico this simple metal or wooden tool has a base, top, and handle used to make corn tortillas. Balls of masa are placed in the center of the press, pressure applied and the dough is flattened into a round, flat tortilla. The press is used to make only corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are normally rolled thin with a wood rolling pin.

Article by: Barbara Bowman

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Before The Mexican Press

The traditional method for making corn tortillas (tlaxcalli is the Indian word and tortilla is the Spanish word) was to flatten balls of fresh dough between your hands. A skilled tortilla maker can pat the dough back and forth and create a perfectly round, thin, corn cake (tortilla). Another method was to flatten the dough on a banana leaf, turning the leaf with one hand and patting with the other to form a nice round tortilla. The "modern" way to make tortillas is with a press, or to buy them from the local tortilla factory.

There is a great little Mexican cafe in Santa Barbara, California that Julia Child used to frequent called La Super Rica Taqueria. There is a woman there that makes all the corn tortillas for each order, all by hand, no press. It's worth the trip just to watch her (and the food is fabulous and fresh too). Seating is outdoors in a covered patio area.

Cast Iron Tortilla Press

Rick Bayless, author of "Authentic Mexican" as well as star chef recommends using a traditional cast iron tortilla press for making fresh tortillas. Small rounds of masa are inserted between the two plates and with one simple press... a fresh tortilla is made!

The primary advantage of the cast iron press is "leverage" and weight and makes your pressing job a little easier. If you are making lots of tortillas frequently then this may be a good way to go. The down side is the press is heavy to lift and move around (about 6 pounds).

tortilla press 8in cast ironTypically the press comes in two sizes, 6" and 8".  The traditional versions are still made in Mexico and South America although version are being made in China now as well.   Most of the Chinese made products are aluminum or plastic so we suggest you steer clear of those.

The typical Mexican tortilla press has a "silver" painted on coating normally "crudely" applied. The purpose of the coating is to prevent the cast iron from rusting. Don't be concerned about the "paint job" because you never put dough directly on the surface. See tortilla making instructions. The "rustic" nature of the "authentic" Mexican made tortilla press is part of the fun of Mexican cooking.

Cast Aluminum Tortilla Press

The aluminum press is light and easy to handle. It is pretty and shinny but you have to press harder so you get a bit more exercise using this press. Too much pressure may actually snap and break the press. There are some aluminum presses made in Mexico although the preferred is cast iron. A popular cast aluminum version is made by Norpro, made in the Orient.

The Wooden Tortilla Press

Mesquite hardwood tortilla press

The wooden press is pretty with an overall larger footprint than the cast iron versions. Wooden presses are still commonly used in Mexico.  Even when we travel to outdoor Mexican markets in the U.S. we still see them in use for making fresh corn tortillas and also for making epanadas.  Our version as shown above is made from solid blocks of hard mesquite wood. Many common presses are made of pine but that is a very soft wood and they just don't hold up for long periods of time.  The better press as shown above is made of mesquite or oak, both of which are much heavier hard woods. With an 8" x 8" platform it will make a very generous sized tortilla.  

Other Wood Tortilla Presses

tortilla press, wood 8

Another good quality (but very hard to find) is the "encino wood" tortilla press.  Slightly smaller and more compact than our larger mesquite version but still features an ample 8" platform. Encino wood is a hard white oak native to Mexico. The overall dimensions are 11" long x 8 1/4" wide. The actual tortilla making surface is about 8"" square. Includes a one pound bag of Maseca brand masa.  (Currently out of stock)

The other more common wooden press is made out of natural soft pine and is the type of press frequently found in small Mexican grocery stores.  The wood is typically almost white in color and unfinished.  This wood will eventually warp and become unusable so we don't suggest that type of press.  You are much better off with a cast iron product than a light-weight wood press.


The Electric Tortilla Press

Electric Tortilla Press

It was only a matter of time....There have been several versions of the electric tortilla press available in the last several years.  A new version has hit the market that is worth consideration.  Although we are proponents of the "traditional powered by humans version" we think that this electric press has some virtues.

To use this gadget you plug it in, place a ball of dough between the plates, press, bake, all in one step. Beyond use for making tortillas you can make other nutritious flatbreads like  pita, Roti, Foccacia, Gryo and Moo Shoo pancakes.  The press plates are 10" in diameter and are made of heavy weight die cast aluminum for even heat distribution.  The press can sit on it's end for compact storage.

Best Revel CTM-660 8" Tortilla Maker/Flat Bread Maker
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Nice! It is so Delicious to make fresh tortilla with the right tortilla press correct?

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Buy A Tortilla Press

How To Make Corn Tortillas

This is an overview of how to make corn tortillas. For a complete description including pictures view our Corn Tortilla page.

1.  Prepare the corn, make the masa dough or use masa harina, corn flour.
2. Take a small amount of dough and roll it between your hands into a ball.
3. Place a sheet of plastic wrap, or a plastic bag and cover the plates of the press to prevent sticking.
4. Place the masa ball on the center of the press base, sit the top of the press on top of the ball and press the handle downward to "press" out the tortilla.

Care For Your Tortilla Press

Cast Iron Press: If you use the plastic "baggie" method for making your tortillas you cleanup will be quick and easy. Simply wipe off the bags so you can reuse them (no need to toss them out each time). Then wipe the press clean and place paper toweling between the plates to absorb any moisture.

Wood Tortilla Press: The same basic care is used for the wood press.  You may want to give the interior an occasional light sanding with fine grit sand paper.  The exterior can be maintained with wood-block oil.

About Corn Flour

The traditional method of making corn flour is to boil field corn in a solution of "lime", called "cal" and water.  The corn is then washed thoroughly and crushed with a metate y mano, or a corn mill (molino). The process can be lengthy but rewarding.  The flavor of fresh corn tortillas is by far superior to the pre-made flour variety (masa).

Masa Harina

Epicurious definition
[MAH-sah ah-REE-nah]
The Spanish word for "dough," masa  is the traditional dough used to make corn TORTILLAS. It's made with sun- or fire-dried corn kernels that have been cooked in lime water (water mixed with calcium oxide). After having been cooked, then soaked in the lime water overnight, the wet corn is ground into masa.

Two common brands are Quaker and Maseca, with Maseca being the superior product. To use this product you just add water, stir, let the dough rest, then roll and flatten.  It is much less work than grinding your own corn and still a rewarding process.


Other Related Articles

Corn Tortillas - A step by step pictorial guide to making fresh corn tortillas.

Masa Dough - How to make your own fresh masa, includes step by step photographs.

Mexican Recipes - A collection of our mostly tradtional Mexican recipes.

Corn Tortillas - Recipes from our files that use corn tortillas.