Select a bowl large enough to reach in with both hands and whisk together dry ingredients. For standard white flour tortillas, use a blend of white rice flour and tapioca starch. If you want whole-grain tortillas, replace the white rice flour with a gluten-free whole-grain flour, such as brown rice flour, sorghum flour, or a combination of your favorites. While you can tinker with the white rice flour, you'll want to leave the tapioca starch and xanthan gum alone. These two ingredients combine to give the tortillas chew and foldability.
While these tortillas are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and corn-free, they aren't fat-free. And that's a good thing. Without fat, the tortillas are unpleasantly dry and flat. A mere two tablespoons of lard or vegetable shortening adds a subtle flavor and a pleasant texture to the tortillas.
Work the shortening
Using your hands, work the lard or shortening into the flour. You don't want any large pieces of shortening in the flour. To achieve this, work the shortening into the flour with movements similar to snapping your fingers.
Once you've cut the shortening into the flour, it's time to add water. And here's where the recipe gets just a little tricky. The biggest variable in this recipe is water. During development, the tortillas used between 3/4 to 1 cup of water. Over time, I found it was best to start the batch by adding a half cup of cold water. Using cold water keeps the shortening in little pieces, instead of melting it. When the cold shortening bits hit the hot pan, they give off steam and help the tortilla to "pouf" nicely.
Stir together the dough with a wooden spoon. With just a half cup water, the dough will be dry. Very dry. This is normal.
Forming the dough
Once the dough has absorbed the first half cup of water, add more water, about 1/4 cup at first, until the dough just begins to come together. As soon as you see the dough coming together, stop adding water. (If you use whole grain flours, you might need even more water than 1 cup.) It's best to go by sight and feel. The dough should be wet but not loose. It's better to stop before you add too much water than have a dough that's so wet it resembles a cookie dough.
Now the fun really begins. It's time to knead the dough. That's right. This gluten-free dough can be kneaded! To prevent the dough from sticking to your countertop, generously flour your counter. Turn dough, and any dry ingredients that are left in the bowl, onto the counter.
Knead the dough until it holds together and becomes smooth. That's it! During the kneading process you get to make the necessary adjustments to the dough. If the dough seems wet, knead a bit (as much as needed, start with a tablespoon) of flour into the dough. If the dough seems dry (it falls apart or doesn't form a cohesive ball) add a splash (about one tablespoon) of water. The finished dough should feel like damp play doh. Pinch off a tablespoon or two of dough. Round it into a ball between your hands. It shouldn't stick.
Plastic wrap cover
Cover the dough with plastic wrap, to prevent a skin from forming on the dough, and keep it covered while you form the tortillas.
To avoid sticking
While developing I had trouble with the dough sticking to the tortilla press. Even after using Kenji's trick of lining the press with a plastic bag, the dough stuck! I found I needed to generously rice flour the plastic before pressing each tortilla. This is key.
If you don't have a tortilla press, follow Kenji's guide for using a skillet as a tortilla press.
Pull off the plastic
Once you've squished the dough between either the tortilla press or under a skillet, slowly and gently pull the plastic bag off the tortilla.
Pull the bottom piece off the tortilla by gently lifting the tortilla into your hands and pulling the bag away.
Nice and thin
The tortilla should be nice and thin.
If your tortilla comes out of the press a little thicker than you'd like, return it to the plastic bag, and dust it with white rice flour. Even though you've already floured the plastic bag, removing the tortilla from the bag and adding more flour keeps it from sticking to the bag as you roll
Place the tortilla into a hot, lightly smoking, ungreased cast iron skillet.
NOT a Cool Skillet
A hot skillet is important. This tortilla was cooked in a cool skillet. It's so anemic! The skillet was hot but wasn't smoking at all.
And this tortilla cooked in a skillet that was too hot. When the tortilla hit the skillet, the pan was on the verge of smoking heavily.
This tortilla cooked in a skillet that was just right. The skillet just began smoking lightly.
The second side doesn't take as long to cook and won't get as brown. Cooking the second side for just a minute or two helps keep the tortilla soft and pliable.
When the tortillas come out of the skillet, they might be a little crisp. That's fine. Transfer them immediately to a plate and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. The steam coming off the tortillas softens them up after a minute or so.