How To Make Corn Tortillas (Tortillas de Maíz)

updated Mar 22, 2023
Corn Tortilla Recipe (Tortillas de Maíz)

This step-by-step guide is proof that making tortillas from scratch is easier than you might think.

Makes16 (4 1/2-inch) tortillas

Prep15 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 30 minutes

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tortillas on a pink plate
Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Homemade corn tortillas are the cornerstone of Mexican gastronomy, whether it’s to tear and scoop up refried beans, to dip into your mole, or to wrap around your favorite food into a taco. There’s always a basket full of warm corn tortillas to go with your breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the center of every Mexican table.

Here in the United States, due to the long-distance shipping and added preservatives, some people may only be familiar with store-bought corn tortillas, which are shelf-stable and mass-produced. In this step-by-step guide and recipe, I’ll walk you through preparing the most delicious and pillowy-soft corn tortillas that no Mexican meal would be complete without.

Why Homemade Corn Tortillas Are Worth It

The first time I tasted homemade corn tortillas was in a restaurant called La Cocina de Lupita (Lupita’s Kitchen) in my little hometown of Ensenada, México. I would often go there with my dad, just the two of us, to eat comida corrida (the day’s specials) and we were always presented with a basket of warm corn tortillas.

As any person living in México, we always had access to fresh tortillas made in a tortillería (tortilla mill), but something about Lupita’s corn tortillas was special. They were thicker, softer, and incredibly fragrant. If you peeked in the back, next to the kitchen entrance, you would find a lady in front of a huge griddle making tortillas by hand. She worked very fast with her hands as she patted the little masa discs and always seemed to know when to flip each tortilla, which would immediately puff like balloons.

Going back to La Cocina de Lupita was always something to look forward to: Good food, good company, and delicious, pillowy tortillas. Every time I make corn tortillas from scratch at home, I’m reminded of this experience.

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Prep & Cook Corn Tortillas

To prepare corn tortillas from masa harina, all you need are two ingredients: masa harina and warm water (salt is optional). In addition, you’ll need a wide, shallow bowl to mix and knead the ingredients together, a

tortilla press

When cooking, one very important distinction from store-bought is that homemade corn tortillas will puff when ready. If they don’t puff, don’t get discouraged. Making tortillas, like any craft, takes practice — and puff or no puff, they will still taste delicious. Don’t forget to enjoy your first handmade tortilla with a few grains of salt then rolled between your hands; this is called taquito de sal, and it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

All About Masa Harina & Where to Buy It

Thanks to masa harina, you don’t need to go through the whole nixtamalization process to enjoy good corn tortillas. Masa harina (which translates to dough flour) is instant corn flour made from dried nixtamalized corn ground into flour.

All true masa harina is instant, because masa harina has already been cooked; regular corn flour will not yield the same results nor will it deliver that distinct, nutty tortilla flavor and texture that only nixtamalized corn bestows.

When purchasing masa harina, some brands add the label “instant corn flour’ and some brands don’t; to avoid any confusion, look for the label that says “masa harina” and on the ingredients list it should say “corn/nixtamalized corn and trace of lime/slaked lime.”

You can always find masa harina in Latin American grocery stores, but I’ve also had good luck finding it in larger chain grocery stores in either the baking aisle or near the other Latin American ingredients. You can also buy masa harina online:

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Tips for Making Perfect Corn Tortillas

When making corn tortillas from scratch, it’s helpful to keep a few pointers in mind.

  • Consider using a tortilla press: While you don’t have to have a tortilla press to make corn tortillas, it makes the whole process much easier. The beauty of the tortilla press is that it provides very even pressure, making perfectly round, thin tortillas batch after batch.
  • Salt to taste: Adding salt to your masa is definitely a matter of taste. If your fillings will be salty, it’s preferred to use less or no salt.
  • Hydrate your masa properly: This is the best tip to get your tortillas to puff. If after combining and kneading the ingredients the masa still cracks around the edges, it needs more water. Go slow while adding more; sometimes all it needs is 1/2 of a teaspoon, so take your time to add water and knead a few times to get the right consistency. It should have the look and feel of new Play-Doh.
  • Masa is very forgiving: If when making your masa you added too much water and it’s sticking to your hands or to the parchment paper while trying to press into a tortilla, add a sprinkle of masa harina and knead for a few moments and try again. Or leave it to rest uncovered for a bit and it will naturally dry out.
  • Medium heat is ideal: Give sufficient time for your pan to preheat. Along with proper hydration, if your pan is not hot enough your tortillas won’t puff.
  • Practice makes perfect: If your tortillas come out dry or aren’t easy to roll once cooked, it could be one of the following: The masa needs more water, the masa dried out while resting, or it was cooked for too long.
  • Handle cooked tortillas with care: If eating the tortillas right away, keep them covered with a kitchen towel inside a tortilla basket. If making them for later, lay them in a single layer on a countertop, kitchen towel, or cooling rack to cool down.

Corn Tortilla Recipe (Tortillas de Maíz)

This step-by-step guide is proof that making tortillas from scratch is easier than you might think.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 30 minutes

Makes 16 (4 1/2-inch) tortillas

Nutritional Info


  • 2 cups

    blue, white, yellow or red masa harina

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt (optional)

  • 2 cups

    water, plus more as needed


  • Medium wide, shallow bowl

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Tortilla press or heavy object, such as a book or wooden chopping board

  • Parchment paper or plastic produce bag

  • Kitchen towel

  • Plastic wrap (optional)

  • Nonstick frying pan, crêpe pan, or griddle

  • Tortilla warmer or basket


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  1. Combine the dry ingredients. Measure out 2 cups masa harina by spooning it into the measuring cup rather than scooping straight from the bag. Place in a medium wide, shallow bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt if using and stir to combine.

  2. Mix in the water. Heat 2 cups water until warm to the touch (about 100ºF). While mixing with a spoon, gradually pour 1 1/2 cups into the masa and eventually knead by hand as it comes together. Focus on how the masa feels rather than on the exact measurements, since different varieties of masa harina have different levels of starch and coarseness varies from brand to brand. The masa is ready when it feels soft but doesn’t stick to your hands, the texture similar to play-doh. You will also notice that you’re able to wipe away all traces of the masa when you rub the whole dough against the bowl without sticking. Test by rolling a small ball of masa between your hands and press it in a patty cake motion or make an indentation with your finger: If the masa cracks around the edges it needs more water. The success of the masa depends on how well it’s hydrated, so you may use less or more water as needed.

  3. Let the dough rest. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and top with a plate, or cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for about 20 minutes.

  4. Prepare for shaping the tortillas. Cut 2 square sheets of parchment paper. Alternatively, cut a plastic produce bag or large plastic zip-top bag in half along the folds to form 2 pieces. Each piece should be about the size and shape of your tortilla press.

  5. Form the masa balls. Divide and form the masa into 16 (about 2-inch wide) walnut-sized balls (3 tablespoons or 1 1/2 ounces each). Place on a work surface and cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.

  6. Press the tortillas. If using a tortilla press, line the bottom with one piece of the parchment or plastic. Place a masa ball in the center. (If the masa looks dry, dampen your hands with a bit of water and give the masa ball a gentle massage in your palms.) Flatten it slightly in the middle of the tortilla press. Cover with the second piece of parchment or plastic. Flatten the tortilla with the press but not all the way. Rotate the tortilla, still covered, 180 degrees. Press again until about 4 1/2-inches wide and a scant 1/4-inch thick, making sure it is of an even thickness.

  7. If you don’t have a press, sandwich the masa ball between the sheets of parchment or plastic and place on a work surface. Place a large, heavy hardcover book or chopping board on top and press down to flatten until a scant 1/4-inch thick, making sure it is of an even thickness.

  8. Cook the tortillas. Cook each tortilla as it is shaped (or as many tortillas as can fit in your pan in a single layer): Heat a large griddle or nonstick frying pan to medium heat for at least 5 minutes before you start cooking. Remove the top sheet of plastic or paper from the tortilla. Gently flip tortilla-side down onto your dominant hand, then remove the second sheet of plastic or paper (the tortilla should rest halfway across your palm and the other half dangling, to make the transition from your hand to the hot pan as smooth as possible). Carefully flip or lay onto the pan or griddle.

  9. Follow the 10-40-30 rule, which is how many seconds the tortilla should be cooked per side. Cook until it slides around easily, 10 to 15 seconds. Flip with your hands or a heatproof spatula and cook until the edges are drier, 35 to 40 seconds. Flip a second time and cook for 30 seconds. During this time the tortilla might puff; if it doesn’t, you can gently press on the edges with the spatula to encourage puffing. Flip a third time and cook 10 to 15 seconds more. The tortilla should be browned in spots and it looks slightly dry on the surface.

  10. Keep the tortillas warm. Transfer to a tortilla warmer, or basket or large plate lined with a kitchen towel. Cover and continue making tortillas, stacking and keeping them wrapped and covered so they steam.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover uncooked masa dough can be rolled into a ball, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or placed in a plastic zip-top bag, and refrigerated for up to 5 days. This also works if you plan to make tortillas the next day but don’t have time to prepare the masa. When ready to cook, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Knead for about a minute and do the hydration test before shaping into balls.

Freezing: You can freeze corn tortillas by storing them in a freezer-safe zip-top bag, placing a piece of parchment paper between each tortilla to prevent them from sticking together. This also allows you to take only the amount of tortillas needed while the rest remain frozen.

→Add herbs, edible flowers, color, or a hint of flavor: This works particularly well with white masa harina. After the first press, add any herbs or flowers of your choice — particular favorites are whole squash flowers, epazote, or cilantro. Blend a handful of greens or vegetables with your hot water before combining it with the masa harina. Use raw tender leaves such as spinach or hardier greens or vegetables cooked. Some ideas are a small piece of beet to make pink tortillas, cooked nopal (edible cactus) for green, or cooked guajillo chile to make them red.
→Try blending different masa harinas: Use different color masa harinas to make color patterns on your tortillas. Prepare two or three masas separately, then roll together into one ball and press. Cook in the same way as regular tortillas.

Ways to Enjoy Homemade Corn Tortillas

Mexican novelist Jorge Ibargüengoitia famously said that “the tortilla is, at the same time, a plate, a spoon, a napkin, and a tablecloth.” Here are a few of my favorite things to make with homemade corn tortillas.

  • When fresh corn tortillas are soft and pliable they can be made into quesadillas, wrapped around food as a taco and seasoned with your favorite salsa, rolled into enchiladas, or folded over a filling and fried into taquitos dorados.
  • When the tortillas are dry and slightly stale, cut them into triangles, fry, and prepare chilaquiles bathed with red or green salsa. Or fry into strips to use to top tortilla soup.
  • Whole tortillas can also be fried or brushed with oil and baked until crispy to make the best homemade tostadas to slather on refried beans and pile on one of a hundred toppings.

A Brief Explanation of Nixtamalization

The process of making corn tortillas starts with good-quality corn. Corn starts as a vegetable that, when fresh and tender, is called elote. When it’s left on the plant to mature and dry, it transforms as it absorbs every nutrient. No longer a vegetable, this grain is called maíz (hominy). After harvesting the maíz, the dry kernels are removed from the cob and can be stored for several months until it’s time to prepare the masa (fresh corn dough).

The maíz kernels are then gathered in a large pot and covered with water and mixed with an alkaline solution (a popular one is calcium hydroxide or slaked lime). After boiling for about an hour, it’s left to steep in the same solution for approximately 16 to 18 hours.

During this time, a wondrous transformation occurs: The alkaline solution penetrates and releases the nutrients that were once dormant in corn, bringing forth a super grain that is rich in bioavailable calcium and vitamin B3 (niacin) as well as resistant starch. The grain, now called nixtamal (from the náhuatl words nextli, meaning “ashes,” and tamalli, meaning “cooked maíz dough”) is then washed and rinsed several times to remove the excess alkaline solution as well as the pericarp (outer hull), all ready to be ground into fresh masa.