I was an apprentice tortilla-maker when I was 14 -- not by choice. About twice a month my mother would take a large stainless steel basin, throw some flour, salt and baking powder in a mound. Next she would pour some hot water directly from faucet into the middle of the mound and mix it into a sticky mess. Finally she would reach her hand into the large container of Crisco (gulp!) and pull out a big glop and begin to work it into the dough mound. As the hot water activated the gluten in the flour, the shortening helped break it down and smooth it out. She would dump the mass out onto a floured board and begin to vigorously knead the ball -- 50 turns until it was smooth and white and bounced back when you stuck a finger in it. Then she would anoint her hands with more Crisco and start to squeeze ping-pong-sized balls of dough until she had a big pile of little balls resting and waiting to be rolled out.
This is where I came in. While she was preparing the masa, the griddle, herein known as comal, was heating on the stove. The fire had to be very hot, but not too hot. It felt like a blacksmith's forge. Then my mother would start. On a lightly dusted board she would flatten out that ball in 4-5 turns turn around and place the perfectly round tortilla onto the hot comal. Once it was on the comal, it was my responsibility to keep up with her rapid-fire pace. After the initial searing (1-2 seconds) I had to pick it up by a tiny corner and flip it over so it could get the first brown spots. Then I had to wait a few more seconds before I picked it up again to turn it. I turned it two more times all the while patting carefully to encourage it to inflate like the Balloon Boy's rig. I learned that there is a right side and wrong side to a tortilla. The right side is made after the second turn when brown spots form that look like a pretty pinto pony. The protocol is to fill your tortilla on the other side of right side so as to present it well -- it's all about aesthetics.
Meanwhile, all this had to be done at lightning speed because my mother would crank them out and you had to get a rhythm going or she would get backed up and you didn't want that! I had to learn how to not burn my fingers and later my fingers got used to it and then I got better and then I could keep up with her. As each tortilla was done, I had to transfer it to a crocheted-edged dish towel
and finally, we would end up with a stack of about 30 beautiful potentialities - ready to be slathered with just butter, or filled with beans and rice, or cooked again on the comal folded over and filled with cheese as a quesadilla.
4 cups Flour
1 T Baking powder
1 T Kosher salt
1 1/4 c. Hot water
1/2 c. Shortening or corn oil
Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor along wit the baking powder and salt. Pulse a couple of times to mix it up. Put the water in all at once and process until it forms into a ball. Add the shortening and process until it is incorporated. On a floured board knead the dough for several turns until it is smooth. Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile heat the comal (griddle) on medium high.
Makes about 12 tortillas.