While walking the streets and plazas of central and southern Mexico, you will often get a whiff of street food being prepared on an anafre, those ubiquitous portable griddle-stoves or grills fueled by carbon or wood. The aroma of the cooking food, together with that of the fire underneath it, form an almost irresistible pull to consume the goods being sold, whether they be corn on the cob, toasted nuts and seeds, or fried goodies such as traditional quesadillas.
Around the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City—and in many a church-adjacent plaza elsewhere—the aroma will be of these small, slightly-sweet griddle cakes made with masa harina (the corn flour used to make tortillas), brown sugar, and egg. Sold warm, wrapped up tube-like in paper, these little gems are truly a rustic delicacy. Passersby eat them as-is while walking down the street, or take them home to enjoy with cajeta (goat’s milk caramel, similar to dulce de leche), fruit jam, or some other sweet topping.
Called Gorditas de La Villa (by association with the Basilica, which is most often called La Villa locally), these tiny cakes are easily and inexpensively made at home. Enjoy them as a snack, a rustic breakfast, or even as a sweet appetizer for Mexico-themed dinner. They are sure to be an unexpected hit with young and old. These are naturally gluten-free.
- 1 cup masa harina
- 1 tablespoon lard (pork or vegetable shortening)
- ½ cup brown sugar (or white or confectioner’s sugar)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons water (warm)
Use a fork to smash together the masa harina with the lard or shortening, mixing until well combined.
Add the sugar, salt, and baking soda and mix well.
In a small bowl, use a fork to beat the egg yolks with the water until you achieve a homogenous mix.
Add the egg yolk to the masa harina mixture and stir, first with a fork and later with your hands, until all the ingredients are well combined and you achieve a soft, smooth dough. Add a little more water, if necessary, to create a manageable dough.
Use your hands to form balls of dough of about 1 (3 cm) inch in diameter. Use your fingers to press this ball into a disk about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter and a little less than half an inch (1 cm) thick.
Note: Keeping your hands wet will greatly facilitate your work with the dough.
Place the disk of dough on a comal or anti-stick skillet over medium heat. Allow it to cook for 2 or 3 minutes. When the edges of the disk look dry and the dough starts to puff up a bit, use a spatula to turn it over to cook on the other side. Once your griddle cake has browned on both sides and looks cooked, take it off the heat; place it in cloth- or paper-lined basket or bowl where it will stay warm.
Continue with steps 4 and 5, cooking several gorditas at a time, until all the dough has been used.
Eat your delicious warm corn griddle cakes dry, or top with syrup, cajeta, jam, or a bit of sweetened, condensed milk. Serve with atole, café con leche, or Mexican hot chocolate, if you wish.
Any leftover griddle cakes can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.
Note: If using griddle cakes as gifts or party favors, try this festive presentation so common in Mexico: wrap a stack of 6-8 griddle cakes in a square of brightly-colored tissue paper, twisting the ends of the paper to make a closed “tube”. Continue with more stacks wrapped in papers of other colors, until you have a basket full of delicious festive goodness.