Making Corn Tortillas


I’ve been hooked on fresh tortillas ever since I started making my own flour tortillas, so learning how to fix corn tortillas was a natural next step. This post is not so much a recipe–because there’s nothing to it, just some masa harina, salt, and water–as an experience. An adventure, if you will!

First, you need to make the masa.

Masa harina is the flour that’s used to make masa, which is the term for the dough. Masa harina is corn flour. Cornmeal is much rougher in texture and not the same thing. Corn flour for masa is made by soaking corn kernels in caustic limewater to release the outer skin. The remaining flour is then dried and ground. “Instant masa” or masa harina sounds like a baking mix, but it’s not.

It’s just corn flour that’s been given this lime treatment before grinding and is ready for masa-making. I used the simple directions straight off the package.

Wait, not those directions. These directions.

The directions come in Spanish and English. The only Spanish I know is food-related, like tortilla, enchilada, and burrito. I took French in school. It comes in real handy. All the time. There are so many French people around here! Mais oui!

Okay, back to masa. Put 2 cups of the corn flour in a bowl. The directions specify a “loose measure” so don’t pack it down. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt. (I figure you can probably leave this out, or use less, if you prefer. One of the best things about making things from scratch is that you can control the process and you know exactly what is going into your food.)

Add 1 1/4 cups of water.

Mix thoroughly to make a soft dough. If the dough is too dry, you can add more water. The package directions suggest adding more water a tablespoon at a time. My dough was too dry after the initial 1 1/4 cups of water.

I added several more tablespoons of water until I could reach into the dough with my hands and ball up a piece that would stick together and not crumble back apart.

I worked the dough into two equal balls.

According to the package, this should make 16 tortillas, so I divided the two balls into halves then wedges until I had 16 fairly equal pieces. These photographs are from my first time making corn tortillas. After I worked with the dough in subsequent batches, I had a better feel for it. I think these were still a little too dry, though they worked out okay.

Shape each piece into a ball.

If there is a rooster watching you from outside your dining room door, do not give in to the urge to give him a corn tortilla. He has his own food. This is yours.

Cover the balls of dough with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out while you’re cooking. Time for the tortilla press! A tortilla press is a simple device that smashes each little ball into a nice, tidy circle.

At this point, you want to set up your tortilla-making operation beside your cooktop. Place a cast iron skillet on high heat. (Cast iron works best–you need something that can take high heat with no oil.) Open the tortilla press and lay a piece of plastic wrap across the bottom of it. Place a ball of masa toward the hinged end. (Not in the middle! I found that placing it toward the hinge created much nicer, rounder tortillas.)

Place another piece of plastic on top and close the press, pushing down on it to flatten the ball. Look at that! Why, it’s a tortilla! Peel off the plastic carefully.

Fry each side about one minute on high heat. I do the first side another 20-30 seconds after the second side. Keep the operation moving–as you’re frying one tortilla, press another. Move each tortilla as it’s finished onto a plate or into a tortilla keeper and cover.

I ended up with a nice little pile of homemade corn tortillas! And they were mostly round. Perfection is not important!

They were delicious.

They were a little on the small side, though, and I was ridiculed by children who asked me if I was serving them “appetizer” tortillas.

I told them this was a tortilla adventure and size didn’t matter. They seemed to think it was dinner and they wanted bigger tortillas. And then they made fun of me some more.

Things I learned:

1. Children are so annoying!

2. Add water until the dough is not crumbly at all. The “loose measure” of the corn flour is a little bit tricky, so rather than worrying so much about how much flour and how much water, focus on getting a feel for the dough. I had to try this a couple times before I got it right–you might have to do that, too. If you add too much water, you’ll have trouble with your tortillas sticking, so always add water in small increments then get your hands in there to see how the dough feels. (You can always add more flour if you go way too far with the water.) Don’t worry about the ones that don’t work out. Fry the crumbled pieces in some oil, sprinkle on some salt, and call them homemade tortilla chips. The best way I can describe the right feeling to the dough for me is the consistency of pastry–without the feel of shortening/lard in the dough, of course.

3. Cut apart a plastic storage baggie and use that for the two pieces of plastic rather than the flimsier plastic wrap when pressing the tortillas.

It’s MUCH easier to handle and releases the tortillas better.

You can save and re-use the plastic, so no wasting. Just wipe off the plastic, fold the two sheets up and tuck them into a sandwich-size zipper baggie to store.

4. Don’t divide the dough into 16 balls. Divide it into 12. If you don’t do this, you will have children laughing at you.

5. You can roll these by hand. It’s a lot more trouble, but if you don’t want to buy a tortilla press, it will work in a pinch, or you can always make a homemade press. (Tortilla presses aren’t expensive–put in “tortilla press” in a search engine to find places to buy them online.) You can also use a tortilla press for flour tortillas, though you are limited by the size of the press. I usually make my flour tortillas larger than would work with my press.

I love making my own tortillas, both flour and corn. I wouldn’t go back to store-bought tortillas for anything! Tortillas aren’t hard to make, and you can even make the dough in advance and freeze it to thaw and cook anytime. The instant masa is handy if you love Mexican food–look around to find a store in your area that carries it. (I believe you can also order it online if necessary.) You can use it to make tamales, empandadas, tostadas, your own tortilla chips, taco shells, sopes, etc. I’ll be having lots of fun now! I love Mexican food. Be prepared to experiment a bit at first and get a feel for the dough–that’s just part of the adventure.

Here are some of my bigger corn tortillas, from dividing the dough into 12 balls instead of 16. I also had a better feel for the consistency of the dough by the time I made this batch.

If you like corn tortillas, you’ll love making your own–just play around with the dough until you get a good feel for what’s right. You know that’s how the little old ladies in Mexican villages do it. They aren’t measuring. They’ve learned the right feel for the dough.

And if you don’t like corn tortillas, you’ve never had ’em homemade.

Try one right off the skillet with melted butter! You know you want to.

See this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes and save it to your recipe box.

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  1. Michelle says:

    Do you weigh three hundred pounds? I know, it’s none of my business, but your homemade cinnamon crispies are already on my “must try” list, and now these will be, too, and I’m pretty sure neither one will be good for the fit of my jeans!

  2. Julie says:

    My college roommate and her mom made these for me when I visited once and they were soooo good. I’ve never tried to do this myself. Now I’m tempted!

  3. Miss Becky says:

    I have wanted a tortilla press for ages and this post is just the thing to get me off my duff and go get one! these do look delicious

  4. Sandra says:

    I knew if I waited long enough (since February) you would do a corn tortilla press post. Thank you. I love your idea for using a storage bag…why couldn’t I think of that when I was struggling with the plastic film????

  5. Andrea @ Rural Revival says:

    Wow, I’ve had a tortilla press for a few years but the thought of making them myself seemed daunting…until now. I’m craving Mexican now! : )

  6. CindyP says:

    The homemade one ARE so much better! I always make a batch even to make my own tortilla chips……….homemade nachos. Now I know why it tastes so much better at the Authentic Mexican Restaurant downtown than out of the bag!

  7. Jenny says:

    Looks yummy! We make the flour tortillas as a quick backup for when we run out of bread. The best part is how well my picky boy likes them. And I don’t believe for a second that after all these years of parenting you’ve only just now learned that kids are annoying! Probably just a refresher. 😆

  8. Mary says:

    Thank you for this post. I am definitely getting a tortilla press. I like your idea of using the tougher baggie also. I think I can do this.

  9. Tovah says:

    Those look so amazing. We have a local Mexican place that makes everything from scratch and it is so yummy. Now I’m craving them…

  10. Nic, SD says:

    I gotta say it… that press is sexy……….
    There. I said it.

  11. Emily says:

    Yum! I was JUST thinking about this yesterday. I didn’t know it was so easy. My mom gave me her old tortilla press. She was using it as a door stop and I convinced her that I would use it as it was intended to be used. The plan was to use it for flour tortillas, but like you said, it makes small tortillas. I discovered though that I made much nicer looking flour tortillas if I “start” them in the press and then finish rolling them out by hand or in my pasta machine!

  12. Julie says:

    Now I’m wantin’ a tortilla press!

  13. pattyb says:

    I know what I am doing after work today – looking for a press & masa flour. I might have to go about 30 miles to the next bigger town but once I get something stuck in my head, I am going to accomplish it “heck or high water”.
    Thank you for all the info., Suzanne.

  14. TXLady says:

    I have to tell you that I love tortillas in any form or fashion but homemade is always best. After making them, deep fry one until it just begins to crisp and much your taco filling in it and believe me, it is to die for.

    The corn used for making masa harina is field corn, not the sweet corn that most people know…It is dried first and then the slaked lime is used to remove the husk etc etc..

    I have to agree with you that once you eat homemade, and find out how easy it is to do, you won’t want to eat any thing else.

  15. AA says:

    I’ve never made my own tortillas but I agree homeade are best!Flour or corn. I live in an area where people eat lots of tortillas everyday.I have had people make me homemade ones. Yummy to just eat warm with butter or even plain!

    Do you eat breakfast tacos? Some places call them breakfast burritos. Flour tortillas with scrambled eggs and all kinds of good stuff inside. There is a plaace in the town close to mine that is just a little trailer with a deck outside that makes the best breakfast tacos. I have the number on my cell so I can order one anytime I am near. My fave– bacon, potato, egg and cheese.

  16. lavenderblue says:

    I have an enchilada casserole that is just begging for homemade tortillas. I’ve seen the masa in our local grocery, now all I need is a pretty press like yours.

    P.S. Do you think the Aztecs used plastic film or a plastic storage bag when they made them for Cortez?

  17. TXLady says:

    ha ha and do you think they had a cute little tortilla press? You can roll them between two pieces of plastic almost as easy as you can use the little press…

  18. Lynne says:

    You cretin! I only eat my own ( your own) flour tortillas and now I HAVE to make corn ??
    Keep it coming, nothing is better than tacos made with cheese (youmade yourself… maybe goat cheese like in Mexico) salsa fresca with tomatoes, peppers,garlic, cilantro, and onion (from your garden), meat or mushrooms from a neighbor ( or your own) and tortillas whipped up fresh.
    I take this back maybe homemade Pizza on your own bread… Stop me!

  19. Pete says:

    In a pinch, using a cast iron skillet to flatten the dough balls works very well – and gives you a great upper body work out! :snoopy:

  20. rileysmom says:

    If you can make tortillas Suzanne, you shouldn’t have any problem with pasta!

  21. Melissa says:

    Yum! I’ve been making my own flour tortillas, but haven’t tried corn. I have some corn flour in my food storage, so you’ve given my the proper motivation to try some! I’m seriously jealous of your tortilla press. I use my rolling pin for now. : ) Melissa

  22. Theresa says:

    I once heard a comedian say that he hopes all the people who took french in highschool get mugged at a taco stand. *Laughs* That cracks me up.

    ANYWAY, as always, these look delicious! My mom always made her own flour tortillas, so I’ve been doing those… I just never thought about trying to make my own corn ones. Genious!

  23. Sandi says:

    :shimmy: Does anybody know what the difference is between Maseca for tortillas and Maseca for tamales? I have the tamale kind and I wonder if I can use it for tortillas???

  24. Sandi says:

    Thanks, Suzzanne – I’ll have to give it a try

  25. amber says:

    Good job I Have made tortillas multiple times married a mexican and I love him dearly but I was thrown in the middle of a horde of non english speaking mexicanas on my own. Me being English, Irish, and German. What an adventure!! I never measure the maseca or the water and I also don’t add salt what my husbands’ family adds is flour. It makes the tortilla softer and poof when done. Roughly 1/4 cup of flour to 2 1/2 cups maseca again rough estimates. I like to place balls of dough between cut ziploc bags or safeway plastic bags and used a rolling pin. If balls of dough are rolled smooth in your hands tortillas are rounder and as large as you want. When tortillas are cooking only turn twice and when tortillas are on second side halfway through being cooked apply gentle pressure with hand for short intervals to see air puff tortilla. Once tortillas are cooled they may be krpt for a week in a bag in the fridge or frozeb for later used. Or cut and fried as chips or fried flat for tostadas. Hope my experinces can help. Please let use know if you try it.

  26. amber says:

    the only difference is that maseca for tamales has baking powder in it

  27. Lacey says:

    I just made some last night. I had the masa sitting in my pantry (I live in CA- it’s not hard to come by) but I’ve never used it for tortillas so I tried it. I don’t have a tortilla press, so I used one standard sized cutting board on the bottom, covered with half a ziploc and then a mini board to “smush.” I just placed the dough right up against the edge and leaned the board onto it. Then I kind of used the board to flatten it a little more. It worked. But I forgot what you said about making 12 instead of 16 so mine were kind of small. But they were wonderful! Thanks for inspiring me.

  28. Darlene in North Georgia says:

    When I make them, I know they’re done when the center area looks “dry” instead of “wet”. And I learned that we like them thinner rather than thicker.

  29. YayaOrchid says:

    Suzanne, girl , I admire you! Try one hot off the griddle with butter like you said, and add some freshly made hot sauce….heavenly!

    P.S. You’re the first Gringa I know of who has mastered just about every authentic Mexican cooking skill there is. Plus you really do make it look easy. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

  30. Teresa says:

    Where do you find your masa corn flour? I have looked at all the local stores and can’t find it. I even tried the Healthy Life Market in Charleston. HELP! I want to make some soooo bad!

    – Teresa

  31. Teresa says:


    Thanks so much. I got my Masa last night. It was even on sale!

  32. Monika Wood says:

    Kitchen has almost no counter space sounds like I need it.

  33. Sheila says:

    I got my tortilla press today , I can’t wait till this weekend to use it :).

  34. Sheila says:

    I’m gonna be using my press to make these tonight for beef and bean enchiladas 🙂 , hopefully they come out alright (I don’t want to end up throwing the whole thing at the wall again LOL).

  35. Sheila says:

    Thanks suzanne 🙂 , I made corn tortillas tonight (with my new tortilla press) and made enchiladas (they turned out really good) and it was nice to have tortillas that actually looked like tortillas and not crepes LOL , btw I have to different kinds of the masa , though I didn’t notice at the time when I bought them LOL.

  36. JennieS says:

    I LOVE homemade tortillas! and so does the my family! I make flour ones about once a week and never thought to try a tortilla press! (yes, i can act a bit lightheaded sometimes…) I think I will have to work a tortilla press into my budget soon!

  37. AspenFlower says:

    YUM! I’m gonna have to be me tortilla presser now. Thanks for sharing this recipe! Those tortillas look delicious & I’m getting hungry.

  38. AspenFlower says:

    *buy. I’m gonna have to *buy* me a tortilla presser

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