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Mar 20, 2012 06:21 PM

Everything I know about making corn tortillas from prepared masa

Soooo, I have been fussing with this for a long long time and though I still feel I have lots more learning to do, I thought now would be a good time to collect my thoughts and pass them along (in hopes that others would add to this and help me make even better torts).

Things I know:

--The very worst fresh tortilla I have ever made is MUCH better than the best store-bought I've ever purchased. (This is important to remember when you're scraping off a mis-shapen blob.)

--The masa preparado I can buy in Northern California is MUCH too wet to work with when fresh.

--that cheap little cast aluminum machina is worth its weight in gold when making tortillas

--it's quirky/difficult to get the griddle/cornal heat correct

So here's what I do--please let me know what YOU do!!!

1. trim a zip top freezer bag to fit my machina (leave a tongue to slide through the hinge area so the plastic stays where it's meant to be.

2. Form the masa in balls and let air dry for ~24 hours. (The balls should not be sticky to the touch. When I dry "too long," there's a darker splotch on my tortilla but the taste does not suffer.)

(I have now figured out I should do this when I buy the masa, and then put the dried balls in the fridge--I haven't tried this yet, but I believe it will give me much more flexibility in impromptu tortilla making.)

After your griddle is hot (hard to determine the right heat on someone else's stove, sorry):

3. Place the ball a little south of center on the machina.

4. Press down. (If you like thicker tortillas, feel free to stop pressing before the machina forces you to stop.)

5. Peel the tort off the top plastic piece--holding it in your other hand and then peel it off the bottom plastic. (If your masa wasn't really dry enough, this will be very difficult and frustrating. The VERY best thing to do here is wait until tomorrow. If tomorrow's not an option, it's easier to pull the plastic off a too wet tortilla than it is to peel a too wet tort off the plastic.)

6. lay the tort onto the griddle

Repeat steps until you have no more griddle space.

7. Flip torts

If they puff up you can be pretty sure they're ready to take off the griddle, but loooook... do they have that nice speckle look? You may have to taste here. (I did until I got it down.)

8. Place torts in a stack inside a nice clean folded dish towel. (This step helps them get more bendy--mine are pretty stiff when they come off the griddle.)


And please share what works for you!!!

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  1. I don't have an answer, but a question.

    Here, in Texas, we have masa harina. A dried product used for making tamales and tortillas. We also have "fresh" masa that is sold in stores (refrigerated) in large quantities in a clear plastic bag. Is that what you are calling masa preparado? I have tried making corn tortillas from masa harina but the flavor is so limey. I don't like it at all. Does the masa preparado have a better flavor? Less lime? Can you freeze the stuff to use later? It's only hubby and me so the huge quantity sold is a problem.

    Also, I once ate at a Mexican restaurant and ordered their tostada. It was more like a very thick corn tortilla that tasted as if it was made from white corn meal. I've been toying with the idea of making corn tortillas with basic corn meal -white or yellow, lately. Because I just can't stand that lime taste in a tortilla. In a tamale, that's fine though.

    Appreciate your thoughts.

    8 Replies
    1. re: thymetobake

      Thyme, sorry for the delay. Yes, the fresh masa in a bag is what I'm calling prepared masa. I like the prepared flavor much better, but must admit the liminess of the masa harina did not bother me so maybe my tastebuds aren't as attuned as your are. I haven't frozen the fresh kind, but have stored it for weeks (in the fridge) with no problems. I find the tortillas taste so much better when made at home that we use a LOT more than we ever did before.

      Tell me more about your idea for using regular corn meal for tortillas... how are you planning to make them come together? I think corn meal and water alone would be a grainy mess, but maybe that's a failure of imagination on my part.

      1. re: miss louella

        Well... my grandmother used to make 'hot water cornbread'. It was a mix of white cornmeal and boiling water. She would form it into a patty about an inch thick. Then fry in a tiny bit of oil until it was done all the way through - flipping occasionally.

        I make hot water cornbread still, but I use more water than she did, and I wind up with a batter. Thicker than pancake batter... And I fry in a tiny bit of oil also. They come out crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They taste as if they have tons of butter but they have none. The way Grammy did it was very dense and dry. They needed butter applied to eat them. Mine don't. Again, the only ingredients are white cornmeal, salt, boiling water. That's it.

        So, since the usual directions for tortillas are kind of the same.,, I thought why not just use white cornmeal, boiling water, and salt and do the same thing? Only use less water. White cornmeal seems to be less grainy than yellow. So, it may work. I dunno. Haven't tried it yet. Just an idea I've had floating around in my head.

        Thanks for answering!! Love hearing about your experiments. :-)

        1. re: thymetobake

          Yum, this sounds delicious! Do you soak the cornmeal in the boiling water or just mix and go?? Do let us know if you try making tortilla-like delights this way.

          1. re: miss louella

            M L,

            Yes, I let the batter soak for about 30 minutes before cooking. Mainly for the idea that they may be grainy / gritty if I don't...

          2. re: thymetobake

            Mmmmm, was over on the what's for dinner thread and read this: ... sounds a lot like what you're talking about.

            1. re: miss louella

              Yes, that sounds like the same thing. I've looked them up online before and there are quite a few variations on the theme.

        2. re: thymetobake

          I absolutely agree that the strong lime flavor from dried masa harina is a turn-off for me. (I never knew that's what it was, but as soon as you mentioned it I realized that's it - that sort of dusty, minerally flavor that reminds me of the smell of Play-Doh, for some reason.) Because of that, I actually prefer decent-quality storebought corn tortillas to my homemade ones, after they've been revived with a minute on a hot griddle.

          Never found the prepared masa around here, though I'll have to give it a try. My understanding is that it's really only good the day you buy it, though, so not something you can just keep around the house.

          1. re: monopod

            monopod, if you find the prepared masa, make sure to check with the folks who sell it about how long it lasts. Mine lasts for a week or two in the fridge. (Not sure how long it lasts because it seems like we're always running out.)

        3. By machina I'm assuming you mean a tortilla press or maquina tortilladora? Those definitely make the process a lot easier. That's pretty much what I do, I can't say I'm too great at it yet though. I have never used the masa preparada, there seem to be a lot of conflicting opinions on it. Probably depends a lot on the brand I suppose.

          1 Reply
          1. re: StringerBell

            Yes, sorry to be unclear. I did mean a tortilla press. Mine is cast aluminum and I LOVE it.

            No doubt you're right on differences in brands. Here in northern CA I haven't found a dud brand yet, but there's still time. :-)

          2. What brand do you use? Here in the East Bay, La Finca seems to be the prevalent brand available in the mercados for masa preparada. I don't recall having a problem with it being too wet to use right away. I roll into the size of golf balls and use a wood tortilla press (I don't care for the feel of the metal press).

            Instead of a ziploc bag, I use parchment paper. I cut a piece about the width of my press and fold it in half, then press the dough between the paper. Because it is not attached to the press, I just pick it up, peel off the tortilla. (Note: come to think of it, there is a wee bit of a damp spot on the parchment where the dough was pressed and does become distorted with "lines" from absorbing moisture from the dough. When that happens, I just smooth them out and continue to use the same sheet.)

            My griddle fits over two burners. I set one on medium flame, the other on medium-high. I cook one side of the tortilla on medium until the edges start to curl (about 30 seconds). Using a spatula, I flip the tortilla and cook it on the medium high side for about 30 seconds, it gets lightly browned. Then I flip it a third time (still on the medium high side) for another 30 seconds, and gently press around the tortilla to encourage it to puff up. I also stack them into a folded dish towel until I'm done cooking.

            I'm curious to know how large your tortillas are using a metal press. While I'm satisfied with the wood press, no matter how large a ball I roll the tortillas are no larger than 3-1/2"-4" in diameter.

            3 Replies
            1. re: RandomCookingDisordr

              Random, I haven't paid too much attention to the brand, but know I used La Finca and La Mexicana in the last two batches. This last batch I bought has a closer expiration date and this bag was dramatically drier than the ones next to it. (The masa did not stick to the inside of the bag and it had broken into two clumps. This would never happen with my "usual" masa.) I wonder if your masa is typically drier than mine is or if the wooden press helps?

              I guess my main point for anyone who has trouble getting the pressed tortilla off of whatever it was pressed onto, to try letting the masa balls dry out before pressing.

              I'm glad to hear parchment is working so well for you. My parchment adventures all ended with adult language. I wonder if the wooden press has anything to do with that?

              As for size, my metal press lets me make tortillas as large as the press itself. I can't remember if I mentioned this in my original post, but I do place the masa ball just south of center to end up with a centered tortilla after the pressing.

              1. re: miss louella

                Just a thought, you are not confusing Masa Preparada para Tamales with the Masa used for Tortillas are you? I have never seen plain Masa for Tortillas labeled "Preparada"
                Usually fresh ground Masa is ready to press right out of the grinder, But the other has lard mixed in, is coarser ground and is used for tamale. It would stick like crazy if you tried to press it.

                1. re: chefj

                  Thanks for the clarification... definitely no confusion on this one since the stores I'm buying at have labels in both English and Spanish. But I miiiiiiiiiiiight not have actually *read* preparado on my label. For sure it's wet, is for tortillas, and sticks like crazy if I haven't dried it out.

                  Thanks again!