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
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.
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).
Typically 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
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
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
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.Best Revel CTM-660 8" Tortilla Maker/Flat Bread Maker
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.