homemade corn tortillas

Patience isn’t always my thing. I’m the queen of not reading recipes all the way through and even when I’m “really trying,” I will somehow still miss a few key steps.

I first attempted corn tortillas about a year ago. I was reading Rick Bayless’ cookbook and in it he writes “I encourage you to make your own corn tortillas at least once, if for no other reason than to fill the kitchen with that alluring aroma and to relish the instant gratification of a toasty, press-baked-eaten tortilla.”

This gave me such hope. I had visions of whipping up these soft toasty yummies anytime I felt like it… taco parties with friends… saturday morning breakfast tacos over coffee. I was going to tap into my inner mexican lady and have the best smelling kitchen around.

The result of this first try was a bunch of crumbly dough stuck to plastic, a whole bunch of cursing, and a few “ok” ones that stayed together but were thick and dry. I didn’t know what I did wrong, I had read all (3 pages) of the directions.

I chalked it up to my heritage… maybe Italian girls weren’t born to make tortillas.

Many months later, when my tortilla-making-frustration was a distant memory, I tried again with better success. I’ll even go as far as to say that now I can make them well. They’re no Topolobampo tortillas, but of course they’re leaps and bounds better than the processed packaged kind.

So I learned 2 things in this experience:

First, and most importantly, I missed the step in the directions where once you mix your masa harina with water you need to let it sit for at least 30 minutes. The dehydrated corn flour needs time to rehydrate. This is an important step to getting a more pliable texture that won’t crumble when you go to press your tortillas. Don’t skip this step.

Second, some things just take a little bit of practice and patience. You might not necessarily get the “feel” of it the first time (or maybe you will if you’re just that good – but that’s what I had thought too).

makes about 16 tortillas that are 5-6 inches in diameter – even if you don’t need 16, I recommend starting with more (at least the first time) in case you mess some up.

This is the method that I found to work, based on the instruction (as best as I could follow) in Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen. He goes into more authentic detail. It’s a book worth having if you’re interested in learning more.

INGREDIENTS:
1 3/4 cups masa harina (the Maseca brand seems to be the most popular)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water
a few tablespoons of cold water, as needed

gadgets & materials:
a tortilla press, I have this one. (Or go without like she did – brave girl)
medium weight plastic – cut up plastic trash bags or storage bags (ie, NOT thin cling wrap)

METHOD:
Mix masa harina with the hot water. Cover and set aside on your countertop for at least 30 minutes.

While you’re waiting on that, cut your plastic into squares just larger than the surface of your tortilla press. (you’ll use 2 plastic pieces at a time – one for the top, one for the bottom). Cut up a bunch of plastic – I can sometimes get a few tortillas out of one round of plastic, but when they start to stick, it’s easier to start fresh again.

Have a margarita and continue to wait for your dough.

When your 30 minutes is up, form the dough into a ball, it’ll be a bit crumbly so add some cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough is soft without being sticky. It should be similar in texture to play-doh. If you’ve added too much water, it’s ok, just add a little more of the corn flour.

Gently knead the dough to help it form into a semi-pliable ball (this is not pizza dough). Cut the ball into in half, and half again, etc, etc, until you have about 16 pieces. Roll them in your hands to form into little balls. Place on a plate and cover with plastic or a towel so they don’t dry out as you go.

Heat your pan or cast iron skillet to medium.

Place your plastic on both sides of your tortilla press (I spray mine lightly with a little canola spray – I’m not sure if this is completely necessary, but it works). Place your dough ball in the center and press down. You’re trying for a tortilla that is less than 1/8-inch thick. Lift the press up, and carefully peel the top layer of plastic off. Gently pick it up, flip the dough side down in your other hand and gently peel off the other side.

Place tortilla in your pan and cook for about 20 seconds until it releases. Flip, cook for 30 seconds more until it starts to brown. Flip again and cook for 30 seconds to a minute until your tortilla starts to puff up. If your tortilla puffs up, you’ve done well. Be careful not too overcook your tortilla or it’ll become dry and crack more.

Place finished tortillas in a towel or foil and cover to keep warm while you finish the rest. I generously salt mine before serving.

36 comments

  1. Love corn tortillas, & homemade are the BEST. I’ve only made them once or twice, but your recipe has inspired me to give it a go again.

  2. val from dinkydoover.blogspot.com on said:

    I finally made my own tortillas last night. I followed a Couple Cooks’ instructions and used a little olive oil in my mixture, which seemed to help. Thanks for the tip on letting the dough rest–I did have a few that cracked and that is probably why. I’m going for round two tonight and hope to get the consistency down, but it was way easier than I thought it would be, and it does smell great!

  3. erin from naturallyella.com on said:

    I’m bad with patience too! I’ve been whipping up batches of tortillas for weeks now and it totally is all about the feel! (In fact, I just ate tacos for lunch!)

  4. ileana from alittlesaffron.com on said:

    These look good! If you’re still curious about another recipe, I just made great tortillas for the first time following the instructions from Bon Appetit and Happyolks/Food 52 to do it without a press. More detailed info here if you’re interested: http://alittlesaffron.com/2012/07/12/rajas-poblanas-tacos-with-homemade-tortillas-etc/

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      yours look great! I admit, I’m a hoarder of kitchen gagets…

  5. Kelsey from happyolks.com on said:

    Oh, the waiting part is such a b—. Back when we were fostering dogs I resolved to take them on a 2 mile walk after mixing the masa with water because I had to get out of the house to resist temptation to make them right away. Beautiful shots, jeanine!

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      Thanks Kelsey! I know, I try to remember to start it well before I’m going to be cooking so I can go do something else besides stand around and wait.

  6. Thanks for these tips! We tried it with and without the rest for our recipe, and didn’t see a large difference. However, now I want to try it again — maybe it would make them even more consistent! Thanks, Jeanine!

  7. would you believe that i made them for the first time this weekend, too? i agree – it wasn’t the most fun i’ve had in the kitchen, that’s for sure! lots of adding of dough to the water (the recipe i used was a little off in the proportions) adn LOTS of stick dough on plastic.

    But! once i got the hang out it i ended up with 9 really tasty corn tortillas (i think the recipe was supposed to make 16 or so… ha ha).

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      9 is pretty good for a first try, I think you did better than I had :)

  8. val from dinkydoover.blogspot.com on said:

    hee–everybody is doing it! I also wanted to mention I used wax paper, and it did not stick, so maybe try that instead of plastic bags.

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      oh what a great idea – I try to use less plastic overall, so I’ll have to try wax paper next time.

  9. Courtney Jones from thefigtree.blogspot.com on said:

    I’ve made flour tortillas many times, but have yet to master corn tortillas. I’ve been a bit apprehensive to try! But I suppose the kitchen is the best place for trail, error and learning. I have to keep reminding myself I’m not being graded! I’m just supposed to be in the kitchen and have some fun. *hah* Awesome post!

  10. My friend showed me a trick for easy plastic squares – take sandwich size ziploc baggies and tear them up each side. Use this piece of plastic – folded in half – as the top and bottom layers for squishing your tortillas. Hope that makes sense – it is super easy!
    -sarah @ two tarts

  11. Gahhh, I always skip the most important steps, too. I’d never miss your step no. 3, though. I’ll get on the homemade tortilla bandwagon, eventually… I do love an excuse to buy more cast iron stuff.

  12. thelittleloaf from thelittleloaf.wordpress.com on said:

    Your photos are absolutely beautiful. I’ve never made my own tortillas, but I’m saving this post for when I eventually get round to it.

  13. Sarah from channelingcontessa.com on said:

    I’ve always been so disappointed in store-bought corn tortillas, even to the point of avoiding recipes with them! This is perfect, and I will definitely need to try this.

  14. I heart Rick Bayless too. We went to Frontera for my b-day a couple years ago. Gonna miss living so close. I’ll have to make these instead and drink Margs that wont taste nearly as good as Rick’s.

  15. Kathryn from londonbakes.com on said:

    I don’t think I’m brave enough to tackle these without a tortilla press but that definitely has to be my next investment. Although once I start making tortillas, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be eating tacos for every meal…

  16. Heather from sundaymorningbananapancakes.blogspot.com on said:

    So awhile back I got really insipired by Court @ the Fig Tree looking at her beautiful freshly made tortillas – that day I bought a Tortilla Press….which is still sittingin the box untouched- you have reinspired me, I just need to suck it up and make these beauties!….I may have missed it, but have you freezed the extras before, do they hold up well in teh freezer?

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      I do freeze mine, they’re better if you freeze them right after they cool (ie, not the next day because they’re somewhat stale by then), and then when you thaw them you need to also char them either over your gas stove, or in the oven (or I put mine in the toaster if I’m thawing just 1 or 2). They’re a little bland and soggy otherwise.

  17. molly from remedialeating.com on said:

    so pleased to have found your lovely space, here, new to me until tonight. we made corn tortillas just tonight, for the first time in a very long time. we are no experts. but i think bayless nailed it: the smell alone is worth the effort. and with every round, they get a bit better, tonight’s being the best yet.

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  19. Raquel from lunescat.wordpress.com on said:

    Hey I was so happy to find this recipe. I’ve had a LOT OF trouble making corn tortillas. So I followed your recipe to a tee because it seems like you have it down packed… but they still didn’t end up as nice as yours! Mine were really stiff and didn’t puff up too much when I was cooking them…. I don’t know if they were too thin, or too thick… ? Perhaps you could give me some extra tips? My tortilla press is kind of small, so I don’t know if that was the problem… Are they supposed to be floppy? Please help me!

  20. Adriana on said:

    I am from mexico and masa harina is ok gives you some satisfaction when you do not have other options. But if you find fresh masa from nixtamal is easier because is wet coming out of the grinder and the flavor and smell when you make the tortillas is oustanding, you won’t want to comeback to masaharina

  21. Adriana from threesisterspdx.com on said:

    I am from mexico and masa harina is ok gives you some satisfaction when you do not have other options. But if you find fresh masa from nixtamal is easier because is wet coming out of the grinder and the flavor and smell when you make the tortillas is oustanding, you won’t want to comeback to masaharina

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  23. sueblue on said:

    Thank you! After one catastrophic attempt (not resting the dough, and using cling film), I found your blog, thank goodness!

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      ha, good luck with the tortillas! They can be tricky until you get a little practice, I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself :)

  24. Mr Fitz from cookingwithmrfitz.com on said:

    well this didn’t work for me.. they just stuck to the pan? any ideas?

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      A few ideas: your dough might have been to sticky, you could try adding a bit less water (you can always add more). Depending on humidity, the amount of water needed is never exactly the same every time.

      Make sure you are using a really non-stick pan (where the nonstick hasn’t worn off). I realize I mention using a cast-iron skillet, but I should have suggested regular non-stick, especially if it’s your first try.

      Make sure your pan is pretty hot before you put the tortilla down. Try leaving it on the pan longer before you nudge or flip it so cooks to become cohesive enough to flip.

      Hope that helps! In the post I mention how it really just took me a few tries to get the “feel” of it…

  25. Mr Fitz from Www.cookingwithmrfitz.com on said:

    Thanks for the reply! Don’t own a non stick pan! They iron pan I use for flatbreads usual works.. Will try again reducing water perhaps ? Will let you know !

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      ok :) Maybe try adding a touch of oil, and let it cook longer on the first side before flipping, at least until you get one to work…

  26. Mr Fitz from Www.cookingwithmrfitz.com on said:

    Ok will try again.. I did use oil though ! Perhaps a more crumbly dough ?

    • jeanine from loveandlemons.com on said:

      well not crumbly – the texture of play-doh is what you’re going for. (And cast-iron, not stainless steel).

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