Corn Tortillas Recipe - Tortillas de Maiz

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This recipe and photos are courtesy of Cynthia Detterick-Pineda of Andrews, TX. More of Cynthia's Southwest Recipes.

Corn Tortillas

Population in the United State and far northern parts of Mexico, wheat flour is what the immediate assumption when someone mentions “tortillas”. Corn, however, was the starch used throughout Mexico and large portions of the southwest for hundreds of years before wheat flour was introduced. Even with the massive amounts of wheat grown in the United States, it remains second behind the production of maize (and corn) as a bread/cereal crop.

Even with the popularity of flour tortillas in the northern parts of the Southwest, the corn tortilla will always have its place. Enchiladas, tacos, chilequilas, flautas, and or course the chips served in almost every Mexican/Spanish restaurant are only a fraction of the numerous dishes centered on the corn tortilla. This is not to say you cannot use flour tortillas for these entrees, but there is a reason to using the corn tortilla versus the flour.

Corn tortillas are not as likely to soak up the sauces used in some dishes (enchiladas for example). Flour tortillas would simply become soggy, mushy gruel if used in a dish with a large amount of sauce. Corn tortillas also fry better, partly because they do not soak up as much oil as flour tortillas, but also because they will continue to hold their crisp shape even when they have cooled down. For dishes that would work equally well with either the flour or the corn tortilla, it simply comes down to personal taste. The same goes for serving tortillas on the side.

So why do almost all restaurants serve only flour tortillas on the side? Some will give patrons the choice, but even with a choice, most people of European descent will opt for the flour tortilla to go with their meal. Maybe it is because wheat flour based breads are what our ancestors ate for thousands of years, or because we simply have not been exposed to the wonderful, light and delicate flavor of a freshly cooked corn tortilla.

My first experience with corn tortillas came years ago when I was still in high school. I would go to the home of a friend after school, and as most of the “moms” in this area who are of Spanish descent, she would be in the kitchen cooking up a “snack”. I say snack because it was never intended to be a meal, even if there was most than enough food for at least one meal if not more.

Abby (my friend) was not Mexican, but Puerto Rican. Her mother cooked in a classically Puerto Rican style, which included fresh corn tortillas with every meal. I would watch her as she mixed the masa, form the balls, and place them in the tortilladora to press them. Seems easy doesn’t it? Well, I found out later that it wasn’t nearly as easy as she had made it seem. Maybe if I had been doing it for 20 years my first batch would have come out looking better and even edible! So for those of you who dare to try it, and you won’t regret the effort it takes. Below are some step-by-step instructions on how to make your own fresh corn tortillas.

Flour Tortillas
Also learn how to make Flour Tortillas (Tortillas de Harina).

Learn about the history of Tortillas and Tacos.


Corn Tortillas Recipe - How To Make Homemade Corn Tortillas:

Recipe Type: Quick Bread, History
Cuisine: Southwest, Mexican
Yields: 2 dozen corn tortillas
Prep time: 20 min


Masa Corn Mix*
1 1/3 cups warm water

* Most grocery stores now carry bagged masa pre-made in the refrigerator section of the store.


The below ingredient directions are from a package of Quaker® Masa Mix (Harina de Maíz). Although I try to keep all my ingredients as fresh as possible, I do not make my own corn masa because of the limited availability of calcium hydroxide (lime) where I live. I have seen older women soak their own corn in the water and lime mix, wash the husk off the corn and even grind them into using a metate, but I find the mix taste just as good when the tortillas are made.

In a large bowl place the 2 cups of Masa Mix.

Make a well in the center of the mix and add the warm water all at once. 

Using a large wooden spoon or your clean hands (my preference), mix the ingredients together, making sure to scrape the dry ingredients from the bottom and sides.

Once the masa has begun to stick together, use a kneading motion within the bowl to mix completely. You should have semi-clean bowl sides once you have mixed it all together.

Knead the masa for approximately 3 to 5 minutes. The masa should be slightly soft, but hold its shape.

masa dough balls

Using a spoon or cookie scoop, take small amounts of masa and form these into balls.

Unlike the masa balls for flour tortillas, these just need to be rolled in your hands to a ball shape.

The masa will dry out quickly, so keep the balls inside the bowl covered with a piece of plastic wrap while making your tortillas.


Mexican comal

Heat a Comal, cast-iron griddle, or small skillet to about 450 degrees F. over medium to medium-high heat until water droplets "dance" when dropped on the surface.

Definition of comal: Mexican Comal or cast-iron plate used to make tortillas. If you do not have a comal, a large cast iron skillet or griddle works well, or even an electric griddle can be used when heated up to 400 to 450 degrees F.


Tortilla Press, Tortilladora

Known as a "tortilladora" in the Mexican language, a tortilla press is a simple metal or wooden object with a base, top, and handle used to make corn tortillas. The press is used to make only corn tortillas.

Smooth Inside of Tortilla Press

Substituting for Tortilla Press:
If you don't have access to a tortilla press (tortilladora), you can hand roll corn tortillas. Use the same concept of the wax paper or plastic wrap to place on top and bottom of the masa ball. Then press and roll out between the them. This is not as easy, but it is possible.


Place either two (2) pieces of wax paper, or two (2) sandwich-sized plastic bags (with the zip top cut off) over each side of the tortilla press.

NOTE: Even if you have a press that says it is non-stick, you should use something to help the dough to release from the press and to help transfer the tortilla over to the pan, as they are very fragile before cooking.

Take one of the masa balls and place it on top of the wax paper or plastic bag on the bottom of the tortilla press. It should sit slightly towards the hinge side of the press.

Place the second piece of wax paper or plastic bag on top of the ball and press it with your hand to flatten it out to about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick.

Bring the tortilla press top down to flatten the masa ball. Use the handle to press the tortilla flat with a smooth even pressure.

Holding the press down for a few seconds will often help flatten the tortilla more completely.

Slide the tortilla off the press using the wax paper on the bottom and place it over the fingers of your other hand. Peel off the wax paper before gently flipping it onto the hot surface.

On the preheated hot Comal or cast-iron griddle, lay a tortilla round (working with 1 tortilla at a time). Cook no more than 30 seconds. Using a spatula, gently flip the tortilla over and allow the second side to cook another 30 seconds (it should take no more than 30 seconds on each side to cook the tortilla completely).
NOTE: Brown spots on your tortillas are good - an indication that they are handmade, rather than punched out of a big machine and cooked assembly-line fashion.

Place the cooked tortilla into a tortilla warmer or on a plate (lined with a dish towel or paper towels to keep them warm), to keep them moist and warm. Serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat.

Makes approximately 2 dozen fresh corn tortillas.

Using tortillas in recipes:
When making recipes that require you to quick fry the tortillas before using (such as enchiladas, which require you pass them through oil before stacking or rolling) you can use the freshly-made tortillas without this step. This can help cut down on the amount of total fat in a recipe. If the tortillas are not quite fresh enough to roll easily without breaking, spritz the tortillas with a small amount of water and place in a towel inside your microwave. Microwave on high for about 15 seconds, and this will restore the freshness to them.

Storage: Corn tortillas can be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic wrap, for about 4 days. To reheat for serving, sprinkle each tortilla with a few drops of water and heat on a preheated nonstick pan for 10-15 seconds on each side. They can be also frozen (corn tortillas freeze very well, much better than flour ones).


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