How to Make Corn Tortillas

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Nothing beats homemade tortillas made from scratch! The packaged tortillas you get at big American markets don’t even come close to a good, freshly made corn tortilla.

My dear friend Martha’s husband Arturo recently spent an afternoon with me, taking me around to the Mexican markets, helping me to buy masa and a good tortilla press, and showing me (and now you) how incredibly easy (and cheap) it is to make fresh homemade tortillas.

How to Make Corn Tortillas

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  • Yield: Makes 16-18 tortillas

Ingredients

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups water

Method

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Before you start

You'll need a special corn flour called masa harina for making the tortillas. Masa harina is corn flour that has been treated with calcium hydroxide or "lime" which makes it more nutritious by releasing the niacin in the corn, and easier to digest. Masa flour can be found at Mexican markets or online at Amazon.com. Look for masa harina that is only corn and lime (calcium hydroxide) for corn tortilla making.

You can make the tortillas completely by hand, by forming a thin pancake with the dough between your hands. But unless you are somewhat experienced in this method, you'll get more consistent results by using a tortilla press. These too are available in Mexican markets and come either in wood or cast iron. They are available online at Amazon.com. The wooden tortilla press pictured I purchased for about $16 at a local Mexican market in town. You can also roll out the masa with a rolling pin, between pieces of wax paper.

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Making the Masa Dough

To make 16-18 tortillas, start with putting 2 cups of masa flour in a large bowl. (Hint: for added "lift" you can mix in 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.) Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of very warm water to the masa flour (according to the directions on the package, some brands may call for different amounts of water). Mix in and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Begin working the masa with your hands to make the dough. Work the dough for several minutes. Press the dough with your fingers and the palms of your hands as if you were kneading bread dough. If at any point through the tortilla making process the dough seems too dry or too wet, add a little more water or masa to the dough.

Take a piece of the masa dough and shape it into a ball the size of a plum, or slightly large golf ball. Make about 16-18 balls from the dough.

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Pressing the Tortillas

Take two pieces of wax paper or plastic from a plastic bag and cut them to the shape of the surface of the tortilla press. Open the tortilla press and lay one piece of wax paper on the press. Place the masa ball in the center. Place another piece of wax paper over the masa ball. Gently close the press and press down, until the dough has spread to a diameter of 6 inches.

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Cooking the Tortillas

Heat a griddle or a large skillet on high heat. Working one at a time, hold a tortilla in your hand, carefully removing the wax paper on each side. Allow the tortilla to rest half on your hand, and half hanging down, and gently lay the tortilla down on to the skillet. Start working on pressing the next tortilla. Cook the tortilla on the hot pan for 30 seconds to a minute on each side. The tortilla should be lightly toasted and little air pockets forming.

Remove the tortillas to a tortilla warmer lined with dish towel or paper towels, or wrap them in a dish towel to keep them warm. Serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat.

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Many thanks to Arturo Vargas of the Sacramento, California catering company Taste for the Senses for taking the time to share his skills and knowledge with us. Arturo is from Acapulco, Mexico where he studied culinary arts before moving to the United States. ¡Muchas gracias, Arturo!

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Showing 4 of 70 Comments

  • Nivedita

    Thanks for the detailed instructions. I added a pinch of salt to the dough. Didn’t have a tortilla press. Used skillet and cut out plastic bag to flatten initially and then rolling pin to get fairly thin. The tortilla peeled off very easily off the plastic wrap. I’ll admit I have practice rolling out and handling Indian wheat dough rotis. So these were no problem. I cooked on a cast iron griddle, on medium high heat. But mine didn’t get the dark brown charred marks as in the picture above. Will try higher heat next time. They puffed all the way up. Again because of the roti background I also tend to measure success by whether or not it puffs up all the way.

  • Chris J

    Dang. Recipe works, but the trick is removing the pressed, uncooked tortilla from the wax paper. Even if successful in that endeavor, it has to transfer (sticky a bit) from my hand to the skillet flat and round…and I’m successful only about 30% of the time. Watering my hands? Spraying oil on the wax paper?

    Probably best to hire some Mexican grandma!

  • Karin

    I am failing miserably at making these! The dough sort of resembles wet sand, so I add a little water …now it’s too sticky. I went back and forth adding more water, then more masa until it looked alright. But when I tried forming the tortillas they just crumbled and stuck everywhere.

    Does anyone have any suggestions? Tips would be greatly appreciated!

  • Jeanie

    Perfect! This is my second time trying to make tortillas- the first time I used a different recipe and was only moderately successful. This recipe, with Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina and a tortilla press, made gorgeous tortillas! Thank you.

  • Jacque

    got an easy way to cook the masa with foil instead of wax paper toast both sides and allow to cool and just peel off and you have your corn tortilla!

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