Tlayudas are artisan corn tortillas, originally from the Mexican state of Oaxaca; skillful homemakers have learned how to create them from their mothers and grandmothers, for generations; the untold story of these amazing ladies starts at sunrise, when they cook the nixtamal (corn treated with calcium hydroxide, called lime, to loosen the hull and enhance flavour), take it to the mill or grind it in their metates (stone grinders), and knead the dough to a soft masa (dough, specifically corn dough). This is just the beginning of the path ahead: collect wood and start a fire in the outdoor kitchen; prop the huge comal (metal disc used as a grill) on top; spread calcium hydroxide on top with a straw brush, to avoid sticking. Finally, they take fist-sized portions of the soft masa to be formed into very thin discs, often by hand, to the impressive size of 11 to 12 inches (28-30 cm) in diameter, or even bigger, and cook them on the comal, one tlayuda at a time.
Exposition to Oaxaqueña cuisine, with delicacies such as black mole, fresh string cheese and tlayudas, has become more widespread not only in Mexico, but also internationally. To make tlayudas in a city, especially outside of Mexico, with no access to a nixtamal mill, it is necessary to start with precooked corn flour. The dough is the same as for regular tortillas, but it has a smoother texture, from a finer grind and longer kneading time. In my post “Corn Flour and Masa 101”, I tested four kinds of corn (maize) flour, as shown in the photo below, from left to right: white corn PAN™ (a Venezuelan brand), white corn Maseca™, organic Bob’s Red Mill™ golden corn flour, and yellow corn PAN™:
All four flours are made from pre-cooked corn; Maseca™ and organic Bob’s Red Mill™ are nixtamalized (as mentioned above, treated with calcium hydroxide, specifically made for tortillas), and they are coarser than the PAN™ flours, as it may be appreciated below:
Dough for tlayudas is always made with white corn, not yellow, so for this recipe, I did not use my favourite, which is Bob’s Red Mill™ (organic and most flavourful.) Maseca™ is the most popular brand in Mexico and the US, but I found it kind of bland, and I decided to use a mix of Maseca™ and white PAN™; adding the white PAN™ enhanced the flavour and, as seen in the photo above, it also has a very fine grind compared to Maseca™, so it provided also a finer texture, as needed for tlayudas.
Ingredients (for 8 pieces)
2 cups nixtamalized white corn flour (such as Maseca™)
2 cups fine grind white corn meal (PAN™)
3 cups water, plus more if needed
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Mix all ingredients to form a soft dough, making sure to hydrate all the flour. Allow to rest for ten minutes, covered. To test for adequate texture, take a portion about the size of an apple, and flatten into a thick disc:
As it may be appreciated in the photo, the edges are cracking and the texture seems dry; if that is the case, return the sample to the dough, add a little water, one tablespoon at a time, and knead thoroughly, until the dough is terse and does not split when flattening. Divide the dough into eight portions, forming each into a ball; keep covered so they do not get dry:
Working with one ball at a time, flatten into a thick disc as for the test, then flatten to a thin disc, either using a tortilla press lined with plastic, as shown below, or pressing with a frying pan or cutting board on a flat surface:
The edges only have a few cracks, so it is ok, but if the disc cracks, form into a ball again, adding more water and repeating as needed. The disc from the press is the thickness of a regular tortilla, so it must be flattened even further. Transfer disc with plastic lining to a baking sheet or a plastic cutting board, then pass a rolling pin over, to make the disc thinner:
Place on a cookie sheet and cook, either on a grill outdoors, or in the oven, preheated to 400°F (200°C), placing the tray as close to the bottom as possible:
In the photo above, it may be appreciated how thin the disc is; flip as soon as it starts to bubble up:
Allow to char only slightly, then flip again to finish the first side. Remove and repeat with the rest of the dough. The tlayudas should be crispy but still somewhat pliable (photo at the top of the post). These tlayudas are relatively small, about 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter, so an alternative is to use a dry iron skillet (no oil) to cook on the stove over medium heat:
Plain tlayudas may be served at the table instead of bread or regular sized tortillas, or crisped until crunchy and broken into pieces to eat as totopos (tortilla chips). The best way to feature their size and texture, though, is to top them as shown in my previous post, with layers of asientos (pork crackling lard, omit for vegetarian), refried beans, melted stringy cheese, lettuce (or cabbage) and onions:
And for non-vegetarians, an addition of tasajo (salted thin beef steak) is the most traditional presentation:
In my next post, I will share my recipe for tasajo. and show how to prepare tlayudas, as shown above.