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Homemade Corn Tortillas

All through my childhood, I viewed corn tortillas as just being “okay”. They were often dry and bland. Flour tortillas, though not often completely insipred, had a chewiness and breadier flavor that I prefered. This opinion completely changed the day that I made corn tortillas at home. In fairness, since memory is not always completely accurate, I am sure that I had reached some level of acceptance of corn tortillas before I made them myself. If I hadn’t, why would I have thought to make them?

Corn tortillas, made fresh, are tender and flavorful. They also couldn’t be easier: masa harina and water. I often add a pinch of salt, but you can easily spice them up if you’d like. Masa harina is a very finely ground corn flour, finer than ordinary cornmeal. Masa harina is inexpensive and widely available in California, but you may need to visit a specialty store to find some in your area. Corn is dried, cooked, ground up and dried again. It is cooked in water with slaked lime, the only culinary application of this rock that I am aware of, which gives the masa its unique flavor.

Corn tortillas are usually made smaller than flour tortillas. Once you have your dough, roll it into 1 1/2-2 inch balls, roughly the size of a golf ball, and roll them out. You can use a tortilla press, but if you have a tortilla press, you probably already know how to make corn tortillas. Some very skilled tortilla-makers can press the dough out thin enough with their hands, but I use a rolling pin and place the dough between sheets of wax paper. The tortillas are dry cooked in a hot skillet. Once they come off the heat, store them between two dishtowels. The trapped moisture and warmth will keep the tortillas soft and tender until you are ready to eat them. Corn tortillas are best if eaten shortly after they are made.

In the photo above, I filled the tortillas with sauteed portabello mushrooms, fresh salsa and avocado. You can also cut them into triangles and deep fry them to make your own tortilla chips.

Corn Tortillas
2 cups masa harina
1 cup + 2 tbsp water
pinch salt (optional)

Combine masa and water in a large bowl. Mix until a smooth, but not dry or sticky, dough forms. You may need to add a bit more water or a bit more masa. Break dough into golf ball-sized pieces (1 1/2-2 inch balls) and cover it with plastic wrap. Placing dough between two pieces of wax paper, on a flat surface, roll each one until it is a rough circle, 6 inches in diameter. It should be fairly thin, but the thickness is a matter of taste. If the dough tears, simply roll it back up and try again. After a few, you’ll get a feel for how thick to roll them. Stack them up between pieces of wax paper.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place tortilla on the skillet and cook for 30-60 seconds on each side. The surface of the tortilla will look slightly dry. Taste the first tortilla to see if you would prefer it cooked slightly more or less. The timing is not critical.
Place cooked tortillas between two clean dish towels to keep them moist until ready to eat.
Makes about 12 tortillas.

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  • chronicler
    October 15, 2005

    I rarely find anything better than the simple corn tortilla. They have such a great flavor and are so easy to use with any filling. Nice pics too Nic.

  • valentinajacome
    October 15, 2005

    Hi Nic,
    I came here initially to thank you for the replying to my arugula question on the Culinary in the Desert Blog.What a wonderful and inspiring surprise to view your latest posting. I shall look for masa harina first. Will let you know how I get on.
    Till next time.

  • Beth - The Zen Foodist
    October 15, 2005

    I just started making my own corn tortillas, too. They are so delicious and hardly any trouble at all. I got a tortilla press from Amazon, which helps me keep them a more uniform size.

  • Ana
    October 15, 2005

    Wonderful this recipe. Can’t wait to try it. I really love the flavour of corn but do not like that corn tortillas are so tough. I’m hoping this will give me the flavour of corn and the texture of flour tortillas.

  • Shauna
    October 16, 2005

    I adore homemade corn tortillas. Until this past August, I thought they would be impossibly hard to make. Now, I know the error of my ways. I’ve been making them in thick, lumpen batches of goodness ever since. (And I wrote about it on my blog too! We have to share the wealth.)

  • Jessica
    October 16, 2005

    When I went to Mexico on a missions trip, I had fresh corn tortillas everyday. 🙂 They were fluffy, not gritty like the kind you get here. I even saw them grind the corn, and then I mixed the masa with water and formed tortillas. I formed some of them by hand but most with a press. Then we toasted them in a giant flat stone. The Mexicans’ fingers were so hardy that they took the tortillas off with their bare hands!

  • Heather
    October 17, 2005

    Thank you for this recipe. I would love to try and make my own as I truly believe I can make anything from scratch better than the prepared packaged stuff.

  • Randi
    October 20, 2005

    we cant find corn tortilla’s in my town or London, ON. When I lived in Long Beach, I had 5 mexican grocery stores right in my neighborhood. Now, I have to drive to MI and buy some lame refridgerated brand from Kroger’s( owned by Ralph’s). I bought some organic ones from Whole foods last time in ann arbor and I have to ration them out.

  • julie
    May 8, 2007

    I must beg to differ about the timing being crucial. I learned to make tortillas from masa harina while living in Costa Rica. After shaping the tortilla, it must be gently placed on the comal or hot ungreased pan. If it is left too long without turning, the surface will crack. Turn it as soon as it is possible, then leave it on the second side while you prepare the next tortilla. Turn the tortilla again, leave it about 15 seconds more, press it with a towel, and it will puff up. Now that is a proper tortilla. Now, living in China where there is no masa harina, I cook my own corn with lime, and then grind it on the special grinder I brought over from CR.

  • Paul
    November 2, 2007

    I’m also living in China and trying to figure out how to make corn tortillas. I can’t find Masa Harina so I need an alternative. Julie (or anyone else) can you help me? I tried using lime with corn and then grinding it but I think I’m only finding the wrong (not sweet) corn. Julie, what kind of corn do you use? anyone have any help?


  • pkxotly fxjyt
    January 15, 2008

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  • Kay
    September 11, 2008

    Today was my first try at corn tortillas. I was a bit disappointed as they turned out like small frisbees. They were supposed to be at least a dozen and i got 6. They were thick and chewey.I have a press but they still were small. I used two cups of the flour(got the right one)one and a half cups of warm water.Now what could be more simple than that?Still I screwed them up any suggestions? Kay

  • Strongman
    March 24, 2009

    It looks like a simple recipie. Hopefully it will turn out well.

  • Anna Mazur
    January 28, 2010

    I would put here some garlic too. Seems delicious. Mniaaaahm! 🙂

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