Imagine walking into the grocery store early one morning and seeing this:
That’s the dough used to make fresh corn tortillas each morning in the markets of Cozumel.
Corn is nixtamalized and ground into dough, eventually resulting in stacks of fresh, warm corn tortillas for less than a buck.
Luckily, you can easily mimic this process at home by buying a bag of this:
Masa Harina, or dough flour, is the corn dough pictured above but in a dried and powdered form. Add some water and you are 15 minutes away from a stack of warm, delicious corn tortillas. (More info on Masa Harina.)
All you need is 2 cups of masa harina, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1.5 cups of warm water.
Add the 2 cups of masa harina and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a mixing bowl.
Add one cup of the warm water and stir until all of the water is absorbed. It will look like this:
Now start adding the rest of the warm water incrementally, a couple tablespoons at a time, and stirring regularly.
The idea is to keep adding water until the flour bits meld into a dough. At that point you can pick it up with your hands and knead it together.
But there is some trial and error along the way as the exact amount of water used can vary. If the dough is sticking to your hands there is probably too much water. You can dial it back by adding some additional flour to the mixture and kneading. If the dough isn’t forming a cohesive ball you probably need to add a bit more water.
Eventually it will look like this:
Next we’ll separate the dough into golf ball sized chunks, rolling between the hands to form a smooth ball. This will make the tortillas about 4 inches across.
We need something to put on either side of the dough ball to prevent it from sticking when flattening it out. You can use plastic wrap, but I’ve found that cutting a large ziploc bag into halves works best:
That’s half a ziploc bag on either side of the dough ball. And here’s how it looks after flattening it in a tortilla press:
Ideally, the tortilla peels off the plastic effortlessly. If it’s sticking there is probably too much water in the dough.
But don’t sweat it if you don’t have a tortilla press because you don’t need one!
Simply use a skillet or casserole dish that has a flat bottom. This is also a great way to get family and friends helping you out in the kitchen because most people get a kick out of this shortcut.
In the above pic I’m using the bottom of a casserole dish and you get the same effect as a tortilla press. Just be sure to put plastic on either side of the dough ball.
OK, there are two schools of thought when it comes to cooking the tortillas.
The first simply cooks them on each side for 1-2 minutes, or until brown spots start to appear on each side.
The second flips the tortilla 10 seconds after putting it on the skillet and then cooks each side for 1-2 minutes. The idea is that those first 10 seconds will seal in some of the heat as it’s cooking.
I’ve found the second method makes the tortillas lighter, fluffier, so I use that one. It’s a little bit more work, but I think it’s worth it.
So again…heat the skillet to medium-high heat. Add a tortilla and flip after 10 seconds, then cook each side for 1-2 minutes or until brown spots form on each side.
Don’t be surprised if they start to puff up during cooking, that’s a good sign.
Eventually, you’ll have a stack of warm, steaming corn tortillas.
They are best eaten as soon as possible. You can store them in a tortilla warmer or simply wrap them up in a tea towel to keep them warm at the table.
I also want to mention one last thing…
The first time you make tortillas at home comes with the potential for some serious frustration. There are two areas that people get caught up on.
First, getting the dough consistency right will make your tortilla-making experience infinitely easier. And by “right” I mean the amount of water used. You should be able to knead and handle the dough without it sticking or breaking apart. If it’s sticking to your hands, add a bit more masa harina to dry it out a little. If it’s breaking apart or won’t form a cohesive ball, add a bit more water.
The second trouble area is the temperature of the skillet. It might take a couple tortilla sacrifices to find the right setting on your stove. On my stove it’s 6/10, or just under medium-high heat. This gives the tortilla ample time to cook without scorching it. Ideally the tortillas can cook for 1-2 minutes per side before dark brown spots are forming. If you are getting black spots on the tortillas within 30 seconds then lower the heat. If your tortillas are spending five minutes on the stove without any brown spots forming then raise the heat.
But don’t let these trouble areas discourage you, being aware of them will put you miles ahead of the pack and once you get the technique down it is easy.
Okay here’s the recipe box with all the step-by-step instructions for making corn tortillas at home. Next up we’ll make some flour tortillas, click ‘Next Recipe’ down below to continue.
Homemade Corn Tortillas
- 2 cups Masa Harina
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 cups warm water
- Add 2 cups Masa Harina and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of the warm water and stir until the water is absorbed. Add the rest of the water incrementally until the flour melds into a dough. Use your hands to knead the dough into a cohesive ball.
- If the dough is sticking to your hands simply add a few sprinklings of Masa Harina to dry it out. Conversely, if the dough is still crumbly then you can add splashes of water until it becomes cohesive.
- Separate the dough into golf ball sized chunks, this will make tortillas approximately 4 inches across.
- Flatten the dough balls using a flat bottomed pan or a tortilla press. Be sure to line each side of the dough ball with plastic or Ziploc pieces. I usually just cut off the top of a gallon sized Ziploc bag and then make slits down the sides, leaving it connected at the bottom.
- Heat a skillet or comal to medium-high heat. (Lately I use a tad over medium heat on my stove and this will have brown spots forming in about 60 seconds.)
- Add a tortilla to the skillet and flip it after 10 seconds. Then cook each side for about a minute or until light brown spots are forming on the underside.
- Continue cooking the rest of the tortillas. I usually put one in the skillet and flatten the next one to expedite the process. Once cooked you can keep them warm by wrapping them in a tea towel or using a dedicated tortilla warmer. Serve immediately.
- Store leftovers tortillas in an airtight container in the fridge. To reheat, cook them in a dry skillet over medium heat until warm and crispy.