This easy corn tortilla recipe yields flexible wraps that are perfect for taco night! The dough is a mixture of just three simple ingredients, masa harina, salt, and water. It’s mixed, rolled, flattened into discs, then cooked in a hot skillet.
How to make corn tortillas from scratch
Making a fresh batch of hot and steamy corn tortillas is one of the simplest techniques to conquer. And once you do, you’ll want to skip the store-bought packs and wow your friends and family with homemade tortillas instead. There are minimal ingredients, I just use finely ground corn flour, salt, and warm water. The process is quick too!
There’s no need for a fancy press, although it is the traditional way to flatten the dough. I’ll show you my method that yields similar results using tools you already have. The recipe is naturally gluten-free, and the mixture yields a soft yet sturdy wrap that easily folds to hold your favorite fillings.
As an extra perk, you can make homemade tortilla chips by cutting them into triangles and deep-frying them until hot and crispy. Serve with some homemade churros and your fiesta will be complete!
Demystifying masa harina
When making corn tortillas at home, masa harina is the most convenient product to use. This type of flour makes masa dough which is the base for popular Latin staples like tamales, pupusas, empanadas, and sopes. It’s made from dried corn kernels that have been nixtamalized, dried, and ground to fine corn flour.
Nixtamalization is a process that soaks the vegetable in water and calcium hydroxide also called limewater, slaked lime, or pickling lime [source]. This process softens the kernels so that it’s easier to grind, while the alkaline solution breaks down the carbohydrates in the corn causing it to give a more complex, flavorful product. The dried and milled product is the corn flour, masa harina.
Use warm water to make a quick masa dough
For this recipe, I rehydrate the corn flour with warm water and salt. This enhances the sweet and earthy flavor while also making the dough more pliable and easier to knead. The higher temperature also more quickly hydrates the dried corn and helps activate the starches in the flour. This binds the ingredients together better for a flexible and robust tortilla.
Checking for the right consistency
After you mix the ingredients and knead the dough, it should become very smooth, similar to molding clay. It should not feel dry, sticky, or wet. You can easily adjust the texture by gradually adding a small amount of water or masa harina. The final check is to make a dough ball and press it into a flat circle. If the edges are very dry and fall apart then that’s an indicator to add more water until it becomes more cohesive.
Roll it up
Roll the dough into 1-ounce balls, about 2 tablespoon-sized portions. This will yield 5-inch diameter tortillas, perfect for street tacos or fajitas. This recipe makes a generous stack of eighteen tortillas. So you can make as many as you need for your meal, and just save the uncooked tortillas to use within 3 days.
Pressing the dough balls
If you’re lucky enough to have a metal or wooden tortilla press on hand, now’s the time to break it out. Place the dough ball between pieces of plastic wrap set in the press. Gently press down until the desired size is reached.
Don’t have a tortilla press? No Problem!
If you don’t have a tortilla press (Amazon), just grab a large gallon-sized plastic bag and a frying pan, skillet, or pie dish. Cut the seam edges off the bag, making sure that one side is left intact so you can easily open up the bag to add and remove the dough. Spray the inside of the bag with cooking spray to prevent sticking.
Press the bottom of the pan on top of the dough ball placed inside of the plastic bag. I like to press the pan straight down with even pressure, then check to see how wide the ball has spread. I’ll press it down one more time, or use a rolling pin to make it 5-inches in size. If you don’t have a plastic bag, parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap will work, the bag is just easier to use.
Unmolding the uncooked tortillas
When you’re ready to cook the tortilla, carefully remove it from the press or plastic bag as the dough will be thin and delicate. Lay the tortilla on your dominant hand, then slowly peel off the plastic. Immediately transfer it to a preheated greased pan by gently laying it down. Avoid flipping it into the pan. The wet dough will stick to the surface until it dries and releases on its own.
Cooking the tortillas
A large cast iron skillet does a great job efficiently cooking corn or flour tortillas as it retains heat in between batches. Lightly grease the surface with a high smoke point oil like vegetable oil, canola, or peanut to prevent the dough from sticking.
Use medium-high heat to quickly cook and dry the surface, about 30 seconds per side. I like to flip over the tortillas twice, cooking the tortillas for about 1 ½ to 2 minutes total. The surface should have some speckled brown spots.
Wrap them up
When cooked tortillas are first removed from the heat, they will be a little crisp. Immediately wrap them in a kitchen towel or tortilla warmer container. The trapped heat will steam them and complete the cooking of the centers, while also making them more pliable. Stack them up and keep them covered until ready to serve.
Tasty ways to fill those tortillas
Selecting the right masa harina product
Unless you have access to fresh masa, masa harina is your next best option. I recommend using Maseca brand instant corn masa flour. The product is affordable and sold at most major grocery stores or Mexican markets. I like that it gives a smooth consistency that’s soft and pliable. There are various other products that are more coarse in texture if you’re looking for a firm heartier wrap, but those are better suited for tamales.
Homemade Corn Tortillas
- 1 ½ cups (355 ml) warm water
- 2 cups (214 g) masa harina
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) kosher salt
- Heat water in the microwave-safe bowl until warm, about 45 to 60 seconds to reach 100 to 110ºF (38 to 43ºC).
- In a medium bowl whisk together masa harina and salt. Add warm water to the mixture and stir with a spatula or large spoon to combine.
- Use hands to knead the dough until the texture becomes very smooth, like modeling clay or play-doh. The texture should be pliable, moist, but not sticky.
- Test the consistency by rolling a small dough ball and flattening it. If the edges crack and don't hold together, add more water, about 1 teaspoon at a time, kneading until the consistency is reached. Add more masa harina if the dough becomes too sticky.
- Roll dough into 16 balls, 2 tablespoon-sized, about 1 ½-inches wide. Cover with a damp towel to prevent it from drying out.
- Working one tortilla at a time, use a tortilla press lined with two pieces of plastic wrap to press the rounds into 5-inch wide tortillas. Lightly spray the plastic wrap with cooking spray if needed to prevent sticking.
- Alternatively, use scissors to cut open the seams of a large resealable plastic bag, leave the bottom intact. Spray the inside of the bag with cooking spray. Place the tortilla ball in the center of the bag, use a flat bottomed pan or pie dish to press and flatten. If needed, use a rolling pin to gently roll out into a 5-inch circle.
- Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add ½ teaspoon oil to the pan, use a paper towel to spread a thin film. Skip oiling if using a nonstick pan.
- Add two tortillas, cook until the edges begin to dry, 30 seconds. Flip over and cook for 30 seconds. Flip over one more time, cook until tortillas start to slightly puff up, 30 to 60 seconds.
- Transfer tortillas to a kitchen towel. Wrap them to keep warm and steam. This allows the tortillas to finish cooking and become more pliable.
- Continue the rolling and cooking process with the remaining dough.
- Serve corn tortillas warm with desired fillings.
- Storing uncooked dough balls: Place dough balls in a resealable plastic bag and use within 3 days.
- Storing cooked tortillas: Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Heat tortillas in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 15 to 30 seconds on each side until warm. Alternatively, wrap 4 tortillas at a time in a damp paper towel, place on a plate, and microwave on high power until warm, about 30 to 45 seconds.