Here’s nice little masa tutorialvideo 1, video2

Processed Corn and Wheat Flours for Masa

Masa is the fresh dough used for tortillas, tamales, sopas and scores of other well known Mexican constructs.  It requires a rather laborious nixtamalization process that loosens the husks of the kernel and allows the human digestive systems to access the nutrients, especially niacin, that otherwise would not be available. Dried corn is blanched in a water and lime (calcium oxide) solution and left to macerate overnight, drained, the husks removed and then ground into a wet dough.  But it’s much easier to buy premade Masa Harina, add liquid, flavorings, and a little fat than to attempt the scratch method.  5 pound bag of this flour is available in larger grocery stores where brands vary although I believe the Quaker label is dominant in Panama and very easy to use.  You can make your own tortillas from this mix or one of the other available brands from the market but it’s a real pain unless you do it often. Futhermore most people in Mexico purchase the store bought variety, both corn and flour, although I’ve met many a Mexican who think wheat tortillas are elitist and gringo. Another easily accomplished nuance is to use some pureed canned hominy in your masa mix for added texture and taste.


Dough for Tamales, Tortillas, Gorditos, Chalupas

There is a very easy recipe on the bag of Masa Harina de Maiz for corn or Harina Preparada for flour tortillas that’s a slam dunk …  just adds water, roll out or use a tortilla press, then cook in a heat retentive pan. The formula for tamales and several other products requires a few more additions that bear further discussion. As with most peasant foods there’s lots of room for creating your own signature version and you could add sundried tomatoes, chopped green olives and capers,  mushrooms, smoked salmon, black beans, fresh or frozen whole corn kernels or a hundred other items. In making masa a good strong stock assures the most flavorful product so when the recipe calls for water at least use water enriched by some form of stock base and if you also use some processed hominy in you construct your guest will rave.


Corn Dough for Tamales and Empanadas

Of course the size of whatever you’re making will determine the amount of masa you’ll prepare.

In addition when you’re making items that need to rise you’ll need to add about one teaspoon of baking powder to each cup of mix as well as a portion of flour, pancake or bisquick mix.  I also often add some of the local corn meal or cream of corn cereal for texture and use a saturated solid fat, because, just as in pastry, it does make a difference but you can use vegetable oil if you must. Purist will argue that the masa should be bland acting as a foil for the other components and might object to several items in the following recipe that’s why I’ve annotated them optional, it’s your decision whether or not to include them. You could also use granulated garlic or even cinnamon and anise seed for sweet breakfast tamales.

1 Cup lard, solidified fresh pork renderings, butter, or olive oil

4 Cups corn masa mix or hominy grits finely ground

2 Cups warm chicken stock or water enriched with chicken powder

1 Tablespoon ground cumin, optional

1 Tablespoon chili powder optional

1 Teaspoon baking powder

To Taste chicken powder and white pepper


  1. Cream ½ of the lard until aerated and fluffy or place ½ of the oil in a mixing bowl
  2. Incrementally add, in equal portions,  masa then stock mixing well each time till
  3. When all the masa and stock have been processed add the remaining fat, mix well
  4. Adjust seasonings with chicken powder and white pepper

This dough is used for tamales which can be wrapped in corn husks, banana leaves, parchment or plastic food wrap to enclose almost any filling of your choice.  If you’re using husks they need to be soaked overnight or nuked for a few moments in the microwave. For banana leaves you’ll need to toast them over an open flame, after you’ve removed the steam portion of the leaf, to make them pliable just like a flour tortilla. If you’ve chosen plastic wrap just be sure to wrap them loosely so the masa can expand when they cook, the same applies to those enveloped in parchment.  These filled bundles are then steamed, baked, broiled or nuked to finish. You can also make empanadas, turnovers, using this dough without wrapping them instead just shaping and baking or frying.


Little corn bread or wheat  cakes that are pan fried, or baked, then topped with almost anything you have in the pantry, makes these fun to spring on unexpected guests or a great easy to prepare snack. You can also split them open like little pita breads and stuff them with Ceviche, egg or tuna salad and even loaded up with flavored cream cheese, dip them in egg and have little pain perdus,  petite French toasts. Liquid shortening or oil is used in this construct and a little pancake mix does a nice stand in for flour.


Using either corn or wheat tortilla dough form an oval-cigar shape about twice as thick as a regular tortilla. Cook in a pan as you would a tortilla or gordita but after the first flip pinch the edges up to form a berm to hold your sauce and toppings in the boat. And if you’re using Harina Preparada for flour tortillas you can deep fry just like hojaldres.