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This Masa for Tamales recipe is a keeper! Be sure to print it.
We have used this recipe for generations and generations in my family, and it has never done us wrong.
It’s a basic and very easy recipe that’s perfect for making delicious tamales.
Keep reading! I provide several Pro Tips to ensure success in your kitchen.
Authentic Mexican Tamales Recipes:
Red Pork Tamales
Pickled Jalapeño and Cheese Tamales
- Masa Harina – In a nutshell, this is a special type of ground corn.
- Warm Water – Good substitutes are chicken stock and vegetable broth.
- Baking Powder
- Shortening – or Lard
Nowadays, most stores will carry all the ingredients you need to make flavorful tamales.
Or, if you are lucky enough to live by a Mexican grocery store, they will carry prepared masa or fresh masa. Just know that if you buy prepared masa dough it will most likely include LARD.
Another thing you can do is ask your local Mexican restaurant if they sell prepared masa.
Other Recipes that use Masa Harina:
How to Make It
- Start by whipping the vegetable shortening.
- You can also use pork lard.
Traditionally, masa is made with lard. It is used for both sweet and savory tamales – think pie crusts made with lard.
Not a fan of lard or shortening? Try masa with oil. 100% vegan and “better-for-you” than the traditional type.
- After the shortening is whipped, set it aside.
- In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together.
Notice how there are no spices mentioned in the recipe. This is a basic recipe.
Spices you can for savory tamales:
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Spices to add for sweet tamales:
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground anise
- Add some of the dry mixture to the whipped shortening. Little by little on low speed.
- You want it to be light, creamy, and fluffy. Think cookie dough.
By the way, the tamales that you purchase at the store are supposed to be big.
Sometimes, the corn husks come small or ripped. It’s ok to make smaller tamales.
More Tamales Recipes:
Chicken Salsa Verde Tamales
Northern Style Bean Tamales
Turkey Pibil Tamales
- Add water (or chicken broth) and the masa harina mixture, little by little.
- Mix slowly on the stand mixer. Scrape down the sides from time to time.
- Take turns adding the broth and masa harina mixture until it forms a soft consistency.
If you are making savory tamales, use chicken broth, pork broth, beef broth, or vegetable stock.
Some people will add the liquid from the cooked meat to the masa mixture. This will give your tamale dough very good FLAVOR.
How to tell if the masa is ready:
The float test! (Note: This is not waterboarding. Masa never talks) 😀
- Take a dollop of masa and drop it in a cup of water.
- If the masa floats, it’s ready!!
- If it doesn’t float, beat it some more. There’s NO such thing as over-mixing here.
- Mix until it floats. It might just need more shortening.
- After that, you’re ready to spread, fill with your favorite filling, wrap tamales, and load up your steamer pot.
Making tamales is not hard. It’s just time consuming. That’s why you must try Instant Pot Pork Tamales and Instant Pot Chicken Tamales.
They cook in nearly half the time!
Advice for the newbie tamale maker:
- Grab a couple of friends and have a tamalada, or tamale party. It will go quicker with friends.
- If your masa for tamales is grainy, add more liquid and more fat (shortening or lard, whatever it is you are using).
- If the masa is too stiff, add more liquid (whatever broth or water you are using).
- If you run out of broth, use water but adjust the salt by adding more.
- If you run out of shortening or lard, you can add oil. Be careful what type of oil you add. Olive oil will change the flavor.
- Have your filling and masa for tamales ready to go.
- Soak the corn husks the night before.
- Make as many tamales as you can and freeze them.
- Invest in a good steamer.
- Invite friends to help…. I might have already said that, but I can’t stress this enough.
How Long Do Tamales Last?
- Tamales last 5 days in the refrigerator.
- Tamales last 6 months in the freezer.
For leftover masa, make champurrado. It goes perfectly with tamales.
How to reheat tamales:
- For thawed tamales, place in hot steamer for 20 minutes.
- For frozen tamales, place in hot steamer for 25-30 minutes. Check after 25 minutes.
- Oven reheat method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Wrap in foil paper and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes if thawed and 25-30 minutes if frozen.
You’re going to LOVE this masa for tamales recipe. From my family to yours, hope you enjoy!
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How to Make Masa for Tamales
- 2/3 cup lard (or shortening)
- 2 cups masa harina 20 ounces (for tamales)
- 1 1/2 tspn salt
- 1 tspn baking powder
- 1 3/4 cups hot water (or chicken broth)
- Beat the lard with your mixer until smooth. About 2 minutes.
- In a large bowl, combine the masa, salt, and baking powder.
- Add the dry ingredients in small batches to the mixer.
- Alternate with the water until completely mixed.
- Beat until smooth, and scrape down each time.
- Knead until you form a smooth dough.
- The masa should look like wet sand.
How much masa do I need?This recipe only makes 1 dozen (12 tamales). To make 50 tamales: 8 cups masa harina, 7 cups broth, 5 tsp salt, 4 tsp baking powder, 2 1/2 cups shortening. To make 100 tamales: 16 1/2 cups masa harina, 14 cups broth, 10 tsp salt, 8 tsp baking powder, 5 cups shortening. Please note: if you are using broth, taste for salt before adding as the broth might already have salt in it.
Ingredients Notes:You can use all water and omit the chicken broth. You can also use the broth from the cooked meat filling. If you run out of shortening or lard, you can also use oil. Be careful on what type of oil. Some oils such as olive oil will change the flavor of the masa and the tamales. This is a basic masa recipe. Add spices to flavor the masa. See post for suggestions. The Float Test: Drop a small ball of masa into water. If it floats, the masa is ready.
How Long Do Tamales Last:
- Tamales last 5 days in the refrigerator.
- Tamales last 6 months in the freezer.
Masa and tamales are new to me, thank you for this detailed post. You have explained so well, can’t wait to try this in my kitchen too 🙂
Thanks for your comment. Hope you make this recipe soon.
this was my first time making my own masa, and i found your recipe easy and straightforward, my tamales turned out perfectly delicious!
Glad you enjoyed this recipe.
How long should I cook my tamales?
It depends on the tamales filling. Most will take 1 1/2 hours to cook. It can take up to 2 hours. If they are not cooked after 2 hours, turn the heat off, lid on, and leave them in there for a 1/2 hour. Masa hardens as it cools.
Do it Correctly
Oh no. Haha. You didn’t make your own masa. You just hydrated powdered masa. Making your own masa would start with whole corn that you would treat and grind yourself. Actually this looked like it would be legit but it’s just another recipe from pre-ground, pre-nixtamalized corn flour. No one who made tamales with this recipe actually made tamales from scratch. Sad what passes for homemade
I understand your disappointment, but there are different ways to make masa for tamales. Although the traditional method is to make masa from whole corn, it can be a laborious and time-consuming process. This recipe is adapted for making masa at home using masa harina, especially when you don’t have space or access to a grinder. Also, nixtamalizing corn at home can be risky if you are unfamiliar with the process and, if done incorrectly, can spoil the corn. So, while making masa with whole corn is a great experience, using masa harina is a great alternative that still produces delicious tamales.
Wow this recipe looks so flavoursome and delicious and I can’t wait to make this for me and my family this weekend! Thank you for sharing this recipe!
Glad you liked it. Thanks for your comment.
Homemade tamales are truly amazing. I really loved the video that showed how easy it was to make the masa — so much easier than I expected!
Making masa for tamales is not hard. Glad you found the video useful.
This looks like something I would like to try one day. Looks fun and like something my family would enjoy.
Hope you do. I know you and your family will enjoy it.
Loved this recipe. I made these this past weekend and can’t wait to make them again over Christmas.
Thank you! Hope you make it again.
I have always been intimidated to try this on my own but your recipe and directions give me all the confidence I need!
That is great to hear! I am not a fan of store bought masa because you never know what’s in it. This recipe never fails. It’s worth making homemade masa for tamales.
I am new to Mexican food, but I am so pleased I came across your recipes. Really good instructions with great tips for a beginner like me! Thanks!
Masa for tamales can be tricky, but I have tested this recipe over and over again. It’s a sure thing.
I purchased fresh masa from my local market. It is unprepared. Would the recipe be the same still as the powdered masa harina?
It really depends on what type of tamales you are making. You can make any type of tamales with unprepared masa. Prepared masa usually has lard and chicken broth. It’s best for meat tamales. This recipe for masa for tamales, you can use for any type of tamales unless you swap out for lard and meat broth.