How to Make Dough for Tamales With Masa Harina

Dough for tamales

The Spruce

Ratings (278)
  • Total: 30 mins
  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 6 to 10 Servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
644 Calories
44g Fat
56g Carbs
8g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 10 Servings
Amount per serving
Calories 644
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 44g 57%
Saturated Fat 17g 83%
Cholesterol 39mg 13%
Sodium 899mg 39%
Total Carbohydrate 56g 20%
Dietary Fiber 6g 20%
Protein 8g
Calcium 125mg 10%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

In some areas of the United States, you can get ready-made dough for tamales, either fresh from a tortilla factory or in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. If you don’t live in such a place—or if you just want to make your tamales completely from scratch—use this basic recipe. It calls for masa harina, a commercial corn flour product which is used to make tortillas, tamales, and many other Mexican and Central American foods.

The number of tamales that you will be able to make with this recipe will depend upon the size of the tamales and the quantity of filling used in each one. 

Note: Masa harina (which translates as “dough flour”) is the dry product; by itself means “dough” and is what you have after rehydrating the flour.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups masa harina
  • 5 cups warm water or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups pork lard
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Optional: 3 tablespoons onion powder
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons powdered cumin
  • Optional: 3 tablespoons chili powder

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Dough for tamales ingredients
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  2. In a large mixing bowl mix the masa harina with the warm water or broth. Allow the mixture to sit for about 20 minutes to soften somewhat, then beat with an electric mixer on low speed until a dough forms. (You now have masa.)

    Add masa harina with water and mix
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  3. Sprinkle the salt, onion powder, cumin, and chili powder over the dough, if desired, and mix again until well combined.

    Add salt, onion powder, cumin, and chili powder to dough
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  4. In a separate bowl, whip the lard with an electric mixer for about three minutes or until fluffy.

    Whip lard in bowl
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  5. Add the lard to the dough, beating in a little at a time, until well combined.

    Add lard to dough
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  6. Your masa should be about the consistency of peanut butter. If it’s too dry, mix in a little more water or broth; if your dough is too loose, add more masa harina until you get the desired texture.

    Add more water or masa to dough for the best consistency
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  7. Use your masa immediately or cover and store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

    Store masa for tamales
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  8. Your tamale dough is ready when you need to make tamales!

Variations on Homemade Tamale Dough

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with different herbs and spices in your dough, varying them according to your personal preferences or to complement the flavors in the filling(s) that you intend to use.

  • Try, for example, a couple of tablespoons of dried epazote (either in place of or in addition to the spices mentioned in the recipe) for a rustic and very Mexican note. Or replace the spices mentioned with powdered cinnamon and cloves to complement a pork filling or for sweet (dessert) tamales.

  • Once you’ve become comfortable making the basic recipe, you will begin to think of your own favorite add-in seasonings.