Category Archives: Masa for Tamales

Making Masa for Tamales

Corn masa for tamales is an easy thing to whip up, especially if you can lay your hands on fresh masa straight from a tortilleria. Failing that some good instant masa is a fine substitute (make sure it says “for tamales” on the package). Here are proportions for both.

1 pound fresh coarse-ground corn masa
4 ounces lard or shortening, chilled
1 teaspoon baking powder
about 6 ounces (3/4 cup) chicken stock
about 2 teaspoons salt


9.25 ounces (1 3/4 cups) instant masa
8.5 ounces (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) hot water
4 ounces lard or shortening, chilled
1 teaspoon baking powder
about 6 ounces (3/4 cup) chicken stock
about 2 teaspoons salt

The same procedures apply to both for the most part. In the case of instant masa — which I’m using here — you’ll just need to rehydrate it first. Begin by pouring the instant masa into a bowl and adding the hot water:

Stir it until everything seems moist (if not add a little more hot water). If the mixture is putty-like at first, that’s OK. Let it sit until it’s completely cool.

With everything ready, put the lard (or shortening) and baking powder into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle (beater).

Beat on medium-high until the fat is light and fluffy.

Now add the corn masa (fresh or reconstituted), about a third at a time, beating on medium speed. As the mixture gets more pliable you can increase the speed.

You should have a semi-pliable putty, which isn’t light enough. Not yet. Add about half the chicken stock and…beat it. Here I should insert that you want a nice, light chicken stock for this, not a thick or concentrated one. Mexican cooking — as opposed to say, French — is based on very light stocks. So dilute it until it’s a nice, thin broth of the kind you might use for a refreshing summer tortilla soup.

Good tamal masa is light in every way: light textured, light tasting, and with just enough lard to make it rich without being heavy. But I digress…

Beat the mixture until it’s as fluffy as, oh say, a frosting or buttercream…adding a teaspoon or more of the salt as you go.

How to tell when it’s ready? Take a pinch of it and drop it into a glass of cool water. If the masa quickly bobs to the surface, you’re ready to rock n’ roll.

If not, you’ve got more beating to do. If the mixture needs more stock or water, add it. When you think you’re ready, taste it. Scrape the bowl and beat in additional salt until it’s just barely seasoned enough. Don’t worry, you can’t over-beat this mixture…which is not to say you should try.

Use the masa right away. Or, if you want to store it in the refrigerator for a few hours, you can. You’ll need to re-beat it with some extra water when it comes time for tamal making. That’s the down side. The up side is the masa will be even lighter and lovelier for the effort.

Filed under:  Masa for Tamales, Pastry | 29 Comments