This recipe for foolproof grain free tortillas is brought to you by my deeply ingrained perfectionist tendencies. There are plenty of recipes out there for cassava flour tortillas, but I wanted to base my first foray into grain free flour territory on a simple, traditional recipe. You wouldn’t think that a recipe as simple as flour + fat + water would need much testing, but in reality I ended up making in excess of ten test batches. Yes, ten.
I did this because I frequently came across discussions about how cassava flour tortilla doughs were too dry or crumbly, which meant people were adding lots of extra water to existing recipes. And it was easy to see why! Although you’ll often see companies claim that cassava flour can be exchanged one for one for wheat flour in many recipes, I found it was really dry and ate up plenty of moisture.
So after much tweaking and testing, I found that I had to add two thirds the amount of water again than the classic wheat based recipe I used as a starting point! I also had to increase the fat by about 50% to hit the sweet spot between soft & pliable and heavy & greasy.
Originally, my assumption was that more fat would be the answer to making pliable grain free tortillas, but I found that adding extra fat without balancing out the ratio of fat to water yielded a greasy feeling tortilla. They didn’t taste too bad, although they were visibly greasy to the touch, leaving oil behind on your hands when you picked them up. But the real kicker was that those fat-heavy tortillas didn’t survive storage and couldn’t reheat at all. Instead of crisping up, they just became progressively greasier and softer when you attempted to reheat them.
Instead of heat helping that crisping along, it released the fat from the dough, leaving behind an oily skillet and a tortilla that finally succumbed to limpness and inedibility.
So understandably, I’m pretty proud of these humble looking grain free tortillas! I dubbed them “foolproof” since it’s such a simple recipe:
- no leaveners are needed
- comes together in a food processor in seconds
- needs minimal kneading
- makes perfect tortillas every time
I’ve given you both sets of measurements for this recipe, American cups & volume measurements vs metric weights. If at all possible, I highly, highly recommend you use an inexpensive digital scale to measure your ingredients. I’m not saying that to sling some scales, although I won’t complain if you do go out and buy a set now.
(When I first moved to the States, I was utterly baffled by the concept of cups. These days I’m confident in using them, but… honestly, I still think the whole system of volume measurements is Spock-annoying level illogical.)
It’s just that weight is so much more accurate than volume measurements, which is so, so important when you’re working with flour of any kind. I have tested this out in my own kitchen: most tablespoon measures are a little short and each time you measure out oil, there’s always a little left behind in the spoon.
This means that, cumulatively, each subsequent tablespoon you measure out compounds and furthers the error. As an example, when I measured out 6 tablespoons (90 ml) of avocado oil, the amount that made it into the bowl was 5 tablespoons (75 ml). That’s a whole tablespoon short, meaning my recipe was 17% short and I had no freaking idea.
So if you have a scale, pretty please use it, ok? Me and my comments section thank you in advance!
If you don’t have a scale, you’ll want to scoop and level off your flour with a knife to be most accurate. Measure out the oil as a half cup and then two tablespoons rather than 10 tablespoons in a row. That will minimize any inaccuracies as far as possible, but bear in mind that it’s just not going to be as precise as using a scale and may affect the outcome.
You’d think I’d be happy to stop recipe testing these grain free tortillas after batch number nine or so. But, nope. I wanted to find out if swapping out the oil or fat used in the dough would make any difference. So I’ve given you a choice of three different cooking fats as options here: avocado oil, pork lard and palm shortening.
All of them will work to create tasty grain free tortillas, but the choice you make will affect how the dough behaves and how it cooks, too. I’ve outlined the differences and my observations from many, many, maaaaaaany test batches below! (Did I mention that whole perfectionist thing? Yeesh).
Grain Free Tortillas Using Avocado Oil
- easiest, smoothest dough to handle
- neutral flavor, needs more salt
- best pliability if you want to roll or fold tortillas
- dough bubbles up evenly as it cooks
- a little more gummy / chewy
- slightly translucent appearance (see below)
Summary: the easiest dough to work with, a little bland.
Grain Free Tortillas Using Lard
- dough is a little drier & edges may need smoothing when pressed
- best flavor, especially for savory dishes and toppings
- need less salt
- have more of a flaky texture & greater contrast between crisp outside & fluffy middle
- will fold for tacos but less likely to roll without cracking
- bubbles when cooking much smaller, along the edges
- looks like the real thing
Summary: best flavor, but a little harder to work with.
Grain Free Tortillas Using Palm Shortening
- less crumbly dough than lard
- least pliable once cooked
- more of a chewy texture
- bubbles less than avocado oil tortillas
Summary: wouldn’t use if another option were available.
In terms of taste and texture, the lard wins out, hands down. It yields a grain free tortilla that is crispy on the outside and fluffier at its center. All three fats – pork lard, avocado oil and palm shortening – work but the feel and savory scent of the lard-based tortilla recipe set it apart. You’ll notice in this photo above that the avocado oil tortilla looks very slightly different. I’ve undercooked them both just a touch so that you can see the difference more clearly.
Whereas the lard tortilla looks like a white wheat flour tortilla, you’ll notice that there are almost translucent patches on the avocado oil tortilla. Using a liquid oil seems to be the cause of this and that translucency is a visual flag for the slightly gummier, chewier consistency of the avocado oil tortilla’s middle.
Although the lard dough is a little harder to work because it’s very slightly drier, I recommend you use lard for the best consistency, texture and taste.
You can make your dough by hand if you like, working the fat into the flour in a bowl, then adding the water a little at a time to knead together a dough. I find the quickest and easiest way is to throw all the ingredients together in a food processor. This six tortilla sized batch actually works perfectly in my mini food processor, even though it doesn’t look like it will at first!
I measure all my ingredients straight into the bowl (with the blade covering the hole) using my digital scale, so it takes just seconds to bring the dough together. All you need to do is pulse the flour, fat and salt together, then pour in the water and blend to combine everything together. After that, it’s easy to tip the dough onto a clean surface (don’t add any flour!) and work it together into a smooth, pliable dough.
The easiest way to form these tortillas is to use, wait for it… a tortilla press. Usually, I’m pretty anti uni-taskers in the kitchen, but this thing is simply heaven sent if you want to make tortillas on the regular. You can roll them out by hand between two pieces of parchment paper, but frankly, that’s a complete pain in the… you get my point. Bonus points: a tortilla press makes it so much easier to make tostones, too.
A little tip: when working with a lard based dough, the tortillas are more prone to crack at the edges. For a smooth, round tortilla shape, I find it best to press the dough more than once. First, I press the tortilla about half way into a three or four inch round. Then I use the curve of my fingers to press any rough, ragged edges into a smooth circle. Then I press the tortilla a second time to get a nice, evenly rounded shape with neat edges. Of course, all of that is just for the sake of appearances, so if you don’t mind a messier edge, you can just press ’em as normal, if you like.
Once the tortillas have been cooked quickly in a hot, dry skillet, I like to rest them on a clean cloth rather than putting them straight on a plate. This way, they won’t go soggy by sitting in their own steam as they cool slightly.
I have to say it: these are not your average grocery store tortillas. Just like the real thing, they are best enjoyed fresh, although you can reheat them gently in a dry skillet. You can store leftover tortillas in an airtight container or in a freezer bag, but be aware that they will soften in plastic and lose some of their texture. Stored tortillas will be more chewy and the flavor of the cassava flour will come through more strongly, too.
Once they are reheated, they are not as pliable as the original tortillas and are probably closer to a flatbread texture than a tortilla. Again, the lard tortillas fare the best being made ahead and reheated.
Although I’ve tested this recipe over ten times, I used the same brand of cassava flour throughout. I can’t guarantee the results if you use a different cassava flour, since I’ve heard that other brands aren’t as finely ground or can be more gritty or chewy in texture.
Wanna make some tacos? Check out my Chicken Salsa Verde Tacos with Lime Pickled Onions!
- COMBINE: Add the flour, fat and salt to the bowl of a food processor. I like to use the smaller amount of salt if using lard as the fat, and the larger amount when using avocado oil or palm shortening. A 4 cup sized mini food processor is large enough for this sized batch, even though it doesn't look like it! Pulse - with your hand over the holes in the lid if using a mini food processor - until the flour mixture resembles very fine crumbles. Add the water to the bowl and process until everything combines into an even looking dough.
- DIVIDE: Scrape your mixture out of the bowl and onto a clean work surface (no need to add any extra flour) and use your hands to work it together into a smooth, pliable dough. Lard will make for a very slightly drier dough, but that's ok. Divide your dough into six evenly sized portions -- I recommend using a scale for this if you have one. Roll each into a ball and flatten the top into a disk.
- PRESS: Preheat a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat. Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit the width of an 8" tortilla press. Place the first piece of parchment on the bottom of the press, then put a disk of dough on top, slightly off center. Place the second piece of parchment on top, then press the dough into a six inch round tortilla (see notes). Peel off the top piece of parchment and set aside to reuse.
- COOK: Make sure your skillet is very hot by splashing a few drops of water in the bottom. If they sizzle, you're good to go. Hold the tortilla, parchment paper side down in one hand then gently flip it over into your other hand. Carefully peel off the parchment paper (saving it to line the press again later) and add the tortilla to the hot skillet. You should hear it sizzle slightly. Cook until you start to see a few air bubbles forming in the dough at the edges and the dough starts to pull away slightly from the skillet at the edges, about 30 - 60 seconds. When there are some golden brown or even slightly charred spots on the bottom of the tortilla, you'll know that it's ready to flip over. Use a spatula to flip the tortilla and to cook the other side until it too has a few golden spots, anything from 10 - 30 seconds. Transfer the cooked tortilla to a plate covered in a clean cloth to allow the steam to dissipate and keep the underside of the tortillas crisp.
- REPEAT: Follow the "press" and "cook" steps above until all of the dough has been cooked and you have six tortillas in total. Note that the cooking times for each tortilla will vary slightly: the longer your skillet is on the heat, the less time each tortilla will take, so watch for doneness as described above rather than depending on an exact cooking time. Remember that the second side will not take as long as the first. Make sure to flip your tortillas and remove them from the heat as soon as they are done, as the longer you leave them on the heat, the less pliable they will become when cooled.
- MAKE AHEAD: If you want to press the tortillas all at once and then cook them, stack them with parchment paper beneath and between each one so that you can peel, drop and cook them easily. They're too thin and fragile once pressed to hold their shape on their own and so will tend to stick to plates or surfaces and break when you attempt to pick them up. If you want to make the dough ahead of time, you can form it into balls and place it in a bowl covered with saran wrap in the fridge. I wouldn't recommend doing this for more than 30 minutes to an hour or so, though, as the dough will eventually dry out.
- STORE: Keep the cooked tortillas in an airtight container or plastic bag. They will become much softer once they've been stored overnight and I recommend that you reheat them in a warm skillet rather than eating them cold once they've been kept that way, since they lose their texture. Reheated, they will be slightly more chewy and less crisp or flaky. Additionally, the flavor of the cassava flour will come through a little more strongly once reheated.
When working with a lard based dough, the tortillas are more prone to crack at the edges. For a smooth, round tortilla shape, I find it best to press the dough more than once. First, I press the tortilla about half way into a three or four inch round. Then I use the curve of my fingers to press any rough, ragged edges into a smooth circle. Then I press the tortilla a second time to get a nice, evenly rounded shape with neat edges.
You may also find it helpful to rotate the tortilla around 180 degrees before pressing a second time to get a more even thickness on the tortilla. The press tends to put more pressure on the side nearest the hinge, which can make that side slightly thinner.
This recipe was included in the Paleo AIP Recipe Roundtable.
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