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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.
If I were to buy the Prepared Masa at the local grocers, once I bring it home, do I need to add anything to it or is it ready to spread on the corn husks. A few years ago I bought it prepared and the masa was pretty dense and hard to spread. The flavor was bland. Please advise. Thank you.
You can add seasonings to pre-made masa. Cumin. Oregano. Paprika. Garlic powder. Onion powder. Those are all great additions. How much to add really depends on how much masa you buy. If it’s too dense, add a few splashes of water and stir. Hope this helps!
1st time making tamales. They were delicious. Beginners luck. But why did my masa stick to the shuck after cooking. We made 6 dz. Cooked them for about 1 1/2 hours.
They needed more time steaming and not related to the masa for tamales. Tamales can take up to 2 hours to steam.
I’ve made this, it is wonderfully easy. I do have a question though, I live in a rural area and all I have is Butter flavored Crisco. Do you think it will change the Masas flavor a lot, if I use this instead? I’m trying to avoid a trip into town.
So glad you enjoyed this recipe. I think you’re safe using butter flavored Crisco, but I wouldn’t make it using any of the meat tamales. It would interfere with the meat sauce flavors. However, I’d use it making Jalapeno and Cheese, Rajas, or sweet tamales.
I made tamales for the first time tonight, using this recipe and they turned out really great. I added garlic and onion powder into the masa mixture, and used beef broth. The recipe was wonderful and the steps, with pictures/video were extremely helpful. I don’t think my first attempt would have been so successful without your recipe Maggie, so thank you!
I added potato (cooked in tomato bouillon), green chilies, and Monterey Jack cheese as the filling. Will definitely be making them again, maybe next time I’ll try one of your recipes with meat filling.
I love reading comments like this. So glad you enjoyed this recipe!
Samantha, that sounds amazing. I have never made tamales but have always wanted to. They are my favorite Mexican food. That combo you used is mouthwatering.
Finally! My tamales turned out. I think I may have overfilled though because they burst. I want to say how much I appreciate the jump to the recipe link. So many times people, and I love reading but they just write and write and write and write and I’m thinking please just get to the recipe. Although I did read your article and it was very good. Do you have to use baking powder? My previous mother-in-law taught me how to make tamales and I don’t feel like she used baking powder and her daughter was a little more dense which I like both both ways so I was just wondering about
I’m SO happy that your tamales turned out ok! The baking powder makes them poofy.
Very good recipe…I definitely will make it…thanks
Yes, it’s so good! Thank you.
Thank you so much for this recipe, it’s wonderful! Everything turned out perfect!
I also want to say how much I appreciate all the other recipes you included, I plan on trying all of them 😋
Aww! Thank you for your kind words and super happy to hear that this recipe came out perfectly. I look up my recipe every time I make masa. 🙂
It doesn’t say how many tamales in total this makkkeee???? Only 2 it says but 2 really can mean anything ???? So my question is does this only make enough dough for 2
This recipe is to prepare the masa for about 12 tamales, the information is on the recipe card. Hope you enjoy!
How many does it make?
I updated the recipe to add more information. Please see the recipe card. 🙂
Haven’t tried your recipe but sounds great. Just wondering, i like a little color in my masa, if i add red sauce to the broth will i have to adjust ingredients somewhere else. Better yet, do you have a recipe ? Thank for your time.
You need to check out my https://inmamamaggieskitchen.com/red-pork-tamales/
I share how to make the red sauce and how to it to the masa. There’s a video on that post too.
I really appreciate your tips for newbies since I’ve never made anything like this before, you made it seem possible for me to do without a lot of stress it won’t turn out right 🙂
Thanks for your comment.
I am a newbie tamale maker and this recipe not only helped me learn how to make them the correct way but they turned out amazing! Super helpful information in here. Thanks so much!
You just made my day! I’m so happy this recipe helped you.
Awesome! Great post, this will definitely help anybody to make these incredible Tamales. I’m just thinking about this and I see your post, such a time for me. Thanks, will post after!
So glad you liked this recipe! Thanks for your comment.
This was such useful information!! I am so excited to make this over and over, thank you so much for this how to! 🙂
Hope you make this recipe soon. Thanks for your comment.
I’ve been using your tamale recipes for years. They always work and my tamales come out better than my favorite Mexican restaurant. Thanks for sharing such ah-mazing and easy to follow recipes!
Thanks for your comment.
This masa was so tasty and your directions were so easy to follow. I’ll be making them again for our Christmas Eve celebration.
Thanks for this super useful guide to making masa for tamales. I have bookmarked it for future use. Going to use it for vegetarian tamales.