Homemade Corn Tortillas using Masa Harina

Homemade Tortillas using Masa Harina

Chicago is home to several vibrant Latino neighborhoods, some predominantly of Mexican heritage. It follows that there is hardly any shortage of sources for Mexican ingredients. There are even several tortillerias open to the public that produce freshly made tortillas by the truckload and buying from these factories is easily the best option — the turnover will be high and the tortillas will be at their freshest. Since tortillas stale quickly, most store-bought varieties are pumped full of preservatives and could have been on the shelf for weeks.

It’s one thing to cook labor-intensive Mexican dishes in a city home to excellent Mexican restaurants — the options range from humble street food and taquerias to fine-dining establishments with elaborate tasting menus. New heights of obsessiveness are reached when one also makes the simple but somewhat finicky tortillas at home.

Considering that I can walk out my door and come back in a few minutes with a bag of passable tortillas, I can think of only one good reason to justify making these at home. Once the pressed masa sizzles on the hot comal, the familiar roasted corn aroma screams, “We’re having Mexican for dinner.” The next thought could be, “Time for margaritas,” or perhaps, “Prepare to ingest copious amounts of pork fat,” but in any case, good eating will undoubtedly follow. You can’t get that comforting scent from store-bought.

recipes and methods adapted from Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of Mexico

Corn Tortillas using Masa Harina
Tortillas d
e Maíz

makes approximately 15 tortillas

Equipment:

a tortilla press
2 pieces of wax paper, cut as wide as your tortilla press
a comal or heavy skillet, preferably cast iron

For the Tortilla Masa:

1 3/4 cup masa harina (7 1/2 ounces / 210 grams)
1 cup + 2 tablespoons hot water (9 ounces / 265 grams)

Notes:

  • I use Maseca masa harina to make homemade tortillas. Ensure that the corn flour is not labeled masa harina para tamales — it is a much coarser grind and will be unsuitable for making tortillas.
  • Consider the water amount a minimum starting point. The dough may be a bit on the dry side but adjustments can be made when dividing the masa into balls (see below).

To Prepare the Masa:

Mix the masa harina with the hot water and knead until smooth and evenly incorporated. Let the dough rest in a sealed container for about 1/2 hour to allow the corn flour to fully hydrate.

Divide the dough into 15 golf ball sized pieces and roll using the palms of your hands. The balls of masa should be seamless. If you are having difficulty closing the seams with light rolling, the dough is too dry. Apply just enough water to moisten your palms and roll the masa again to close the seams, repeating as needed.

Cover the divided masa with plastic wrap or a moist cloth.

To Cook the Tortillas:

Heat an ungreased comal over medium heat. Line the bottom plate of the tortilla press with wax paper place a ball off-center towards the hinge. Place the second piece of wax paper on top of the ball and flatten slightly with your palm.

Homemade Tortillas - Masa Ball on Tortilla Press

Gently place the top plate on top of the wax paper and press down firmly using the lever.

Homemade Tortillas - Pressing the Masa
gratuitous hairy veiny forearm shot

Open the press and gently peel off the wax paper on top.

Homemade Tortillas - Pressed Masa
no cracked edges please

Gently lift the bottom piece of wax paper and place on the finger of the opposing hand, tortilla side down, such that the edge of the tortilla is slightly dangling from your pinky finger. Peel off the wax paper and hope that the tortilla stays in one piece.

Let the dangling edge of the tortilla catch the surface of the hot comal and gently slide off your fingers.

Homemade Tortillas - Placing on Hot Comal
don’t burn your knuckles

The tortillas are done shortly after puffing up, but it takes a few flips to wake up, much like a roommate with a bad hangover passed out on your couch. Cook the tortillas on one side for about 20 seconds. The tortilla should release easily from the comal after this time. Flip and cook for about 40 seconds, and flip again to cook for another 20 seconds. The tortilla will puff up after the second flip and will be slightly blistered on both sides.

Homemade Tortillas - slightly puffed after second flip

Stack the tortillas as they are cooked in a basket or bowl lined with cloth.

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30 Responses to “Homemade Corn Tortillas using Masa Harina”

  1. daphne says:

    Very nice! I like the step by step instructions..I love this when we eat out at a mexican place. I heard it is healthy too?

    last blog post: Banana Buttermilk Pancakes

  2. Mike says:

    I’d had this on my mind recently, bought some masa harina, but I’ve still never made my own. It certainly looks like a very approachable undertaking–I’ll have to try this very soon!

    last blog post: Blueberry Jam

  3. Ben says:

    In Mexico I never made tortillas. There is a tortilleria in every corner and you can have them fresh anytime. But here in Ohio I make my own tortillas and I don’t think I am going back. But the best tortillas I’ve ever had are my grandma’s made with fresh corn, oh they are so sweet and delicious!

    last blog post: Zucchini (Mexican) lasagna

  4. rainbowbrown says:

    There are some very nice points in there. I learned tortilla making from my mexican family when I lived in LA, even though fresh, perfect tortillas were at my disposal from markets, restaurants and taco trucks. Now that I live in the very non-mexican northern California region of Humboldt county I’m so, so glad for the skill.

    I agree, good mexican food (something that gets eaten in this apartment A LOT) deserves good tortillas, good pork fat and yes, the occasional good margarita.

    last blog post: TWD Granola Grabbers

  5. kat says:

    Wow, I’m impressed. I have some Masa in the house for another recipe & was just saying that now I need a tortilla press.

    last blog post: Sweet & Spicy Cherry Glazed Game Hens over Wild Rice

  6. [eatingclub] vancouver || js says:

    Everytime I go into our one and only Mexican store, I am tempted by that tortilla press. We haven’t gone that way though, but getting pretty close. ;)

    As usual, with your madz skills, the tortillas are so perfect!

  7. [eatingclub] vancouver || js says:

    I forgot to write the last sentence: Good that you included the gratuitous hairy forearm shot else you be mistaken again.

    last blog post: Spinach Salad with Miso-Sesame Dressing

  8. Jaime says:

    wow i’m so impressed you made this from scratch!

    last blog post: Granola Grabbers (TWD)

  9. daphne – yup… can’t go wrong with warm tortillas.

    mike – may take a few tries but it’s easy once you get the water right. good luck…

    ben – have yet to try make corn tortillas from absolute scratch… I’m looking at Alton Brown’s recipe and it’s pretty involved.

    rainbow – making tortillas is one of those things that is tough to get right the first time. It’s a nice little skill to have after lots of practice, though.

    kat – I’m trying to think of other uses for it but couldn’t come up with anything right now. It’s a must have in my kitchen, though.

    js – that was the plan.. haha

    jaime – a bit of a hassle but totally worth it.

  10. Lore says:

    I suffer from serious tortilla craving, and I’m pissed off because I can’t find masa harina were I live. Wish I could take one off of my screen ;)

    last blog post: Raisin Coconut Butterless Oat Cookies

  11. Psychgrad says:

    Do you really have a tortilla press in your kitchen? Very impressive.

    last blog post: Magic Blondies

  12. Madam Chow says:

    Loved this post. I’ve been meaning to make homemade tortillas, but haven’t given it a try yet.

    last blog post: TWD – Granola Grabbers

  13. Sandie says:

    I love homemade tortillas… they are so fresh! Great job with this fun post! And lucky you, I fondly remember all the diverse restaurants and cuisines so easily found in various parts of Chicago.

    last blog post: Recipe: The Addison’s Signature Dish – Breakfast in a Boat

  14. Zita says:

    Aww!!! to buy list : tortilla presser! thank’s for the “step by step” pics :)

    last blog post: Ice Strawberry Sahlab

  15. Christine says:

    I saw a tortilla press in a thrift shop last week and I passed on it, figuring I’ll never make tortillas. I’m going back tomorrow to see if it is still available. Thanks for the step by step instructions.

    last blog post: 135. How to cook one ear of corn in the microwave and corn almond soup – Recipes

  16. Natashya says:

    Yours look flawless. I have a foxrun tortilla press and have made them a few times. Looking at yours – I think I am using too much oil on my comal (in my case -a cast iron crepe pan)I cut open a ziplock bag and use that but wax paper would be more economical.
    Thanks for the tips!

    last blog post: California Grilled Pizzas

  17. Gay says:

    Didn’t realize that making tortillas is that easy! It would be great to make my own so I can have tortillas anytime.

    last blog post: In a hurry coleslaw

  18. noobcook says:

    how amazing it is to make your own tortillas! It’s a lot of work… but it sure looks like it’s totally worth it ;)

  19. Colloquial Cook says:

    Muaaahaha! I relate to the hungover flatmate comment!! I’d love to taste real tortillas!

    last blog post: Rosemary focaccia

  20. lore – Good luck finding some masa harina. Can’t make Mexican food without it.

    psychgrad – Trying to find more uses for it but yeah, I sure do have a tortilla press.

    madam chow – It’s fun stuff. And for once I don’t mind the smells coming from my kitchen.

    sandie – It’s what I like so much about this city. It’s all about the divrse neighborhoods.

    zita – You’re welcome :)

    christine – Got my press on sale, too. Turned out to be pretty useful.

    natashya – I make this regularly and it still doesn’t come out right every time. Sometimes I give up and crisp them up on baking sheets in the oven, kind of like tostadas.

    gay – It’s wort the bit of effort. Even better if you can get your hands on fresh masa.

    noobcook – Freshly toasted tortillas smell so good.

    colloquial cook – Took a second to figure out what you meant by flatmate — pretty appropriate considering your website name :)

  21. My Sweet & Saucy says:

    What a great step by step process! Thanks!

  22. love says:

    im eating one rgt now my mom mad them cuz my st3p dad is lik3 latin0 /mexican

  23. heather says:

    where did you get your comal? i recently found an old tortilla press at an antique store [Christmas present for my boyfriend!], but have yet to get a comal. any tips?

    cheers,

    *heather*

  24. Barb says:

    I got a tortilla press for Xmas (yes, it was on my list) and just tried making these myself, I was amazed at how easy it was. Or should I say amaized. ha ha They came out quite good for a first try, but I need to do some more experimenting with the temperature of the pan. I just used a heavy nonstick skillet and it seemed to work fine after I lowered the temperature because I burned the first one.

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  28. Amanda says:

    These are so good!!!! I have a press that I got for Christmas this year because I have been wanting to make these, and I finally did today and they were wonderfull!!!!!!!

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    You actually wrote about a few curious points in this article. I found this article by searching Msn and I have to confess that I already subscribed to your blog site, it is extremely good (;

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