easy to make

gluten-free flour tortillas

A few weeks ago, I was in Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico. Specifically, I was standing on the back porch of a house that belonged to a wonderful woman named Norma. She invited a number of us from the writing retreat to come into her home. We first gathered around her table to roll out pie dough for empanadas. (I couldn’t eat but I could participate in this and wash my hands afterwards. I hadn’t touched gluten dough in seven years. It was quite astonishing.) We walked out into the dusty backyard to watch her load breads, emapanadas, and pizzas into the horno, an outdoor oven that has been on the pueblos since the 1400s. The large mouth of the horno swallowed loaf after loaf, the heat of the fire wafting toward us. We laughed together and felt welcomed.

Norma making tortillas

In that outdoor kitchen, we gathered around her, our arms leaning on the wooden railings, watching her make the dough for whole-wheat tortillas. I took notes at first but then I put down the phone and took notes with my eyes. Her hands were so skilled, deft and not doubting. I watched her scoop Crisco into the flour, and I smiled. These days, we have so many strictures on food, what we can and cannot do, what is wrong in the eyes of many. Norma didn’t care. It has always been Crisco and it always will be. She gathered a piece of dough and rolled it into a ball, which grew smoother and smoother in her palms. She had done this hundreds, if not thousands, of times before.

Norma making tortillas II

A hot skillet on the gas burner beckoned. She lay down the disc of dough and let it sit, then flipped it with her fingers. Char marks, the hiss of steam releasing, the smell of it all coming together — this was a good tortilla.

I couldn’t eat one but I took notes in my mind. And these photographs.

Norma making tortillas III

Spending that afternoon with Norma nudged a few realizations to the front of my mind.

1. I love how food is such a constant source of conversation in our culture. But sometimes I think that the proliferation of food blogs and cooking competition shows and food magazines has led to a kind of glossiness that doesn’t match the experience of real cooking. Unintentionally, perhaps, so many sources blare out “THE BEST WAY TO MAKE IT” or “THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE IT” or “THE AUTHENTIC WAY TO MAKE IT” or “LOOK AT ME. I KNOW MORE THAN YOU.” Norma had no artifice to her. She simply made her tortillas, the way she has for dozens of years before this one. I couldn’t eat those tortillas but I enjoyed the experience almost more than any food experience I’ve had.

What if there wasn’t a best way, an only way, the authentic way, or the look at me? What if we all just cooked and offered up a plate for anyone who happened to visit?

2. For years I’ve been stymied by the idea of gluten-free flour tortillas because I thought they had to match those flat, stretchy monsters sold in grocery stores. I couldn’t seem to roll out anything as thin as those packaged ones that are intended to last for weeks. Watching Norma, I realized I’ve been doing it all wrong.

Her flour tortillas were more like flatbreads: warm, soft, a little thick. They bent but they weren’t intended to be wraps. They were lightly charred, steaming from the griddle, and meant to be eaten in the moment. This, I thought. This I can do in my own kitchen.

3. I want to hear more stories. I want to stand on more back porches and listen to people like Norma. After 7 years of writing this site, I’m a little tired of my own story. I want to hear other people’s stories more.

flour tortillas that bend

GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR TORTILLAS

Let me say this clearly: these are not grocery-store tortillas. They’re warm, soft flatbreads. They’re good with a little butter on top and dipped in soup. They’re a lovely morning holder for scrambled eggs. And if we have made carnitas and homemade salsa, I’m making these. However, if you’re looking for thin flat tortillas to make sandwich wraps? This isn’t the right recipe.

These are best the moment they are made, or just after. I’m guessing that most homemade tortillas are like this. They don’t last to the next day. To me, that makes them even better.

We used a flour mix we’ve been playing with here: equal parts sorghum flour, millet flour, sweet rice flour, and potato starch. Since Norma made whole-wheat tortillas, I wanted these to be at least 1/2 whole-grain flours. I love the taste: a little earthy, a little like whole wheat, even. You might want to play with different flours in your kitchen.

We hope you make them and enjoy your meal.

280 grams gluten-free flour mix (we used equal parts sorghum, millet, sweet rice flour, and potato starch)
1 tablespoon psyllium husk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (if you’re worried about Crisco, try this one )
1/2 cup to 1 cup warm water

Making the dough. Combine the flour mix, psyllium, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the vegetable shortening. Using your hands, work the shortening into the dough. Rub the flour and shortening between your thumb and first finger, picking up a new handful and continuing until the shortening is the size of peas and the flour sort of shaggy.

Add just a bit of water at first, mix the dough with your hands, and check the consistency. You want to add just enough warm water to make the dough cohere but be a bit sticky. (See the photo of Norma’s dough up there.) Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Making the tortillas. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces. (You could make it 12 pieces for larger tortillas. It’s up to you.) Roll each ball of dough between your hands. Because you have let the dough rest, the psyllium will have made the dough stretchy enough to knead it a little. Make each piece into a round ball and set them aside.

Set a cast-iron skillet on high heat.

Here you have your choice. We have been using the tortilla press — with the ball of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper — to flatten the balls of dough into tortillas. You could also roll out the balls of dough, as Norma did. We’d suggest putting each ball of dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper to avoid the dough sticking to the counter. You might want to flour the paper a bit as well.

When you have one ball of dough rolled out, put it directly onto the hot skillet. Let it sit for a minute, watching the tortilla pucker in places with the steam. When the edges look the first bit crisp, flip the tortilla, and cook the other side. You should have a warm, soft tortilla with a few char marks. Set it aside and repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

(If you find your dough to be still sticky after resting for 30 minutes, you have 2 choices. 1) Let it rest longer. 2) Lay the rolled-out dough down into the skillet with the top piece of parchment paper still on. After 30 seconds of cooking, you should be able to peel the parchment paper away and cook the tortilla.)

Eat the tortillas immediately.

Makes 12 to 16 tortillas.

grain-free doughnuts

I love the community that gathers around food, whether it’s our family of three at the dinner table every evening, or a picnic with friends in a park crowded with sunshine and other people, or an elegant meal in a hushed restaurant. Mostly, though, I love the stories that come from food.

Last week, in Santa Fe, I heard about the crisp matzoh balls made by an African-American cook in segregated Baltimore in the 1950s. She knew how to cook but that kitchen seethed with bitterness. I heard about a conversion to Jesus over an expensive dinner and a great bottle of wine in Las Vegas. I listened to the survivor story of a young woman who lost everything she knew and learned her strength in the forest, foraging for mushrooms and cattail hearts. I learned about fried walleye in the Midwest. I laughed to hear about the first date of two friends, which included fat-free ice cream. (And she still fell in love with him.) I learned about the molasses pucker of shoofly pie in Mennonite culture.

Some incredible writers shared their stories generously, the stories that formed around meals and hunger, unexpected tastes and something as great as cherry pie. The Cook n Scribble writing retreat, organized by Molly O’Neill, returned something to me that had been missing for awhile. I found my wild mind of writing again. What had been careful and constantly intended for print came back to me with the unbounded energy of a small child jumping off the porch into green grass. I’m writing again. Not here — although that’s happening right now — but on my own, in 10-minute bursts, every morning. Letting go of the need to make the words perfect, I’m following the rhythm of it again and seeing what comes out.

What does this have to with the doughnuts up there? This is what came out when I looked at the photo.

But I think I know why. I’m inspired by the people who give of themselves, simply, when you meet them. It doesn’t have to be complicated. A cup of tea and connected conversation. A tour of a farm, the farmer speaking plainly about why she loves it there. Friends across the table at dinner, shouting slightly to be heard above the noise of the restaurant. Last-minute whispers in bed before the day disappears.

If you haven’t started reading the Roost blog, may I suggest you do? It’s singular, a strong quiet voice in a world of yelling. The photographs are gorgeous and evocative. It looks like no one else’s blog, a dish of lentil cakes with pesto, wilted greens, and lemon-thyme fries. Coco loves food. She also healed her husband by feeding him meals on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is more restrictive than  simply gluten-free. Clearly, they are both thriving.

It’s about thriving, about being alive, about listening to the mind that says: “go here. meet these people. there’s something for you.”

Also, there are doughnuts.

GINGER-CITRUS GRAIN-FREE DOUGHNUTS, adapted from Coco at Roost

These are the lightest, fluffiest doughnuts I have ever eaten. They’re best eaten within a few hours after baking them but when isn’t that true of doughnuts? These? They’re a revelation. 

I have to admit that I’ve never really been wowed by an all almond-flour treat before. I applaud them for all the people who can’t eat other grains. However, the ones I have sampled and made have usually come out dense, a little dull. These? These have changed my mind. 

It’s the technique that’s important, as well as the proportions. By combining the dry ingredients, then mixing them in the blender until the batter is super smooth and cohesive, the final doughnuts come out wonderfully light. It reminds me of what I have been learning all about all gluten-free baking lately. Sometimes you have to veer sideways into an unfamiliar technique to find your way home to a familiar treat. 

150 grams (about 1 1/4 cup) finely ground almond flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried lemon peel (substitution: zest of 1/2 lemon)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
3 tablespoons honey (the darker the better here)
1/4 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a doughnut pan with a neutral-tasting oil.

Combining the dry ingredients. Whisk together the almond flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and lemon peel in a large bowl. When they are well-combined, put them into a blender.

Making the batter. Pour the coconut oil, eggs, honey, and orange flower water into the blender. Blend on high speed until the batter is cohesive and smooth, with no sign of flour.

Pour the batter into the doughnut pan, dividing evenly between the six doughnut holes.

Baking the doughnuts. Bake until the doughnuts are firm to the touch, with just a bit of give, about 12 minutes. If you bake the doughnuts too long, they will be dry, so err on the side of ever-so-slight underbaking.

Allow the doughnuts to cool in the pan for 15 minutes then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Frost or glaze as you wish.

Makes 6 doughnuts.

To top these doughnuts, we combined a couple of tablespoons each of honey and Lyle’s Golden syrup with a smidge of butter. We heated them up on the stove until they were a thin liquid. We brushed this on tops of the doughnuts then sprinkled on some powdered sugar. 

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