How to Make Corn Tortillas

How ToMexicanTortilla

Homemade corn tortillas recipe, with step-by-step instructions and photos.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Making homemade corn tortillas is actually almost ridiculously easy, once you get the hang of it.

All you need is masa harina corn flour, water, a tortilla press (can use a rolling pin, but a tortilla press is helpful), and a hot griddle surface.

What is masa harina?

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.

Where to buy masa harina

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.

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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.

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 plastic wrap or freezer bag plastic.

How to Make Corn Tortillas

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 16-18 tortillas

Ingredients

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

Method

Make the Masa Dough

1 Mix masa flour with warm water: To make 16-18 tortillas, start with putting 2 cups of masa flour in a large bowl.

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.

2 Knead the dough: Begin working the masa with your hands to make the dough. Work the dough for several minutes.

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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.

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3 Form balls of 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.

Pressing the Tortillas

4 Prepare the press with two sheets of plastic: Cut two pieces of plastic from a plastic freezer bag into the shape of the surface of the tortilla press.

5 Place ball of dough between the plastic sheets and press: Open the tortilla press and lay one piece of plastic on the press. Place the masa ball in the center.

Place another piece of plastic over the masa ball.

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Gently close the press and press down, until the dough has spread to a diameter of 4 to 5 inches.

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Cooking the Tortillas

6 Heat a griddle or a large skillet on high heat. A well seasoned cast iron griddle or large cast iron pan works well for this.

7 Remove the raw tortilla from the plastic: Working one at a time, hold a tortilla in your hand, carefully removing the plastic on each side.

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8 Lay the tortilla down on the hot pan: 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.

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9 Cook the tortilla on one side, then flip: 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.

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10 Keep the tortillas warm, covered: 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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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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70 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • 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.

  • Robert

    “Hi Anita, calcium hydroxide is formed by mixing limestone with water”

    Just for the record, limestone is first heated to above 825 degrees C to drive off the carbon dioxide. This leaves a product known as “quicklime”. The quicklime is then carefully treated with water (a process that evolves lot of heat causing boiling and spattering) to give “lime” or “slacked lime” which is used by masons when preparing mortar for laying bricks.

    The slaked lime is a strongly alkaline substance that is used to remove the hulls from kernels of maize (corn) as a preliminary step in the preparation of masa for masa harina.

    It is interesting to note that the very alkaline slaked lime also reacts with some of the fats in the maize to give small amounts of a calcium soap. This calcium soap is what gives corn tortillas made from masa harina a very special pleasant taste. Tortillas made from simple corn flour (made by grinding untreated maize) do not have this special taste.

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