Perhaps the most important barrier between the average cook and truly authentic Mexican cooking is the corn tortilla. The problem is that, while corn tortillas may well be the most important element of the cuisine, most of those sold in the United States are of poor quality. They are simply too dry and are rarely available the day they are made, or sometimes even within several days! And preparing corn tortillas from scratch, because of the need to have the dough the right consistency, the heat just right, and the amount of manual dexterity required, can seem an unsurmountable chore.
A few years ago, it looked like technology had come to the home cook's rescue in the form of the Tortilla Chef, a waffle iron-like contraption produced by a company called Vitantonio. With this device and a little practice, making good corn tortillas became much simpler, although the device did a far better job with flour tortillas. But alas, even that bit of assistance disappeared when the Tortilla Chef was taken off the market, and I have seen nothing that takes its place. To my knowledge there is not even a machine that small restaurants can use to efficiently make good quality corn tortillas.
In spite of the above, our store-bought corn tortillas are not all bad. They are actually preferable for making tortilla chips, enchiladas, fried tacos and flautas. The reason is that they are usually very thin and do not have nearly as much moisture as freshly made corn tortillas. This allows them to fry to a very crisp texture. However, when it comes to serving hot tortillas with a meal, or for wrapping fillings for soft tacos, they are no substitute for the real thing.
Corn tortillas are best made with masa (dough) ground from nixtamal, which consists of dried corn kernals that have been cooked with a little slaked lime and left to soak, in order to allow the skins to be removed (and the nutrients absorbed by your body). Unfortunately this dough has an even shorter shelf life than prepared tortillas, and many people are not close to a tortillaría (tortilla factory). Fortunately, decent masa can be prepared using dried, ground corn flour under labels such as Masa Harina and Maseca. In fact (and unfortunately) more and more tortillerías are using this method. I say "unfortunately" because dough made from dried corn does not have the elasticity that dough ground directly from nixtamal does. However, much of this disadvantage can be eliminated by adding a little all-purpose flour to the dough. This not only produces a very good result but makes the dough less breakable, and therefore much easier to shape and cook.
Try my Tortillas de Maiz (Corn Tortilla) recipe