My friend Ruth brought over her fancy schmancy tortilla maker--the kind that plugs in and squeezes out the dough before cooking it perfectly between two non-stick plates--and I was in awe. I was completely sold and decided right there that I had to have one too (she should work for Amway because she's obviously a born salesman).
I'd tried to make tortillas once before, I'd even bought one of those little steel hand presses where you put the dough between the plates and squeeze them together with a lever but had had miserable results. The dough stuck all over the place, the tortillas were anything but round and I secretly wondered if Mexico had been running a scam all these years and that tortillas were actually impossible to make by hand. I threw the tortilla press in the back of the cabinet and the only workout it's had since is when Lillian gets it out to use with her playdough.
Mix 2 cups flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I know traditionalists use lard and I'll have to try that sometime because I've heard it's the only way to make them authentic). Mix all the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and pulse/blend the ingredients until it has the texture of coarse crumbs. Then add 2/3 cup warm water and mix until the dough becomes a ball that isn't too sticky--you can add a touch more flour if necessary.
Now wait. Turns out, this was the crucial part I was missing. You must let the dough relax for the gluten to do its business. Then the dough will be pliable without being too sticky and it will all go so much easier. So form the dough into 12-15 small balls and set them out to relax for 30 minutes.
Press the dough in your tortilla press (or roll them out with a rolling pin if you're up for it). You don't need to grease anything because heaven knows there's enough grease in them already.
Lay the flattened circle of dough in a cast iron skillet heated to a medium-high heat. You could use a non-stick skillet instead but the cast iron gives it a nice texture, color and aroma. You don't need to use any grease, just the dry hot skillet will do the job. Cook it for 15 seconds or so on one side then flip it to the other side and cook it some more. If you're doing it right it'll puff up in little pockets of steam.
It might take you a few tortillas to get the hang of it but be patient, it will come in a very zen way. By the time I was done I was getting some actual circles rather than the amoeba-shaped specimens I first produced. But no worries, even the ones that looked like mutant organisms still tasted good.
I still like the ease of the electric tortilla maker but compare the cost ($40-$70) to the cost of the press ($14) and that kind of settles things. And for me the even bigger issue is the space saved. I have so many gadgets in my kitchen I don't know where I'd put a big electric thingy but the smaller press nestles perfectly in my cast iron skillet when not in use and that seals the deal.