Homemade Tamale Dough With Masa Harina

Dough for tamales

The Spruce

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 8 to 12 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
515 Calories
36g Fat
44g Carbs
5g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 515
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 36g 47%
Saturated Fat 14g 68%
Cholesterol 32mg 11%
Sodium 359mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 44g 16%
Dietary Fiber 4g 13%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 82mg 6%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 149mg 3%
*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 just want to make your tamales completely from scratch—use this basic recipe. It calls for masa harina, a commercial corn flour product that is used to make tortillas, tamales, and many other Mexican and Central American foods. Some brands include Maseca and Bob's Red Mill, which are easy to find in most supermarkets.

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; masa is “dough” and is what you have after rehydrating the flour. Sometimes you may see masa harina labeled as "instant," which is to indicate that it comes together instantly when you add water. Making masa for tamales is as simple as that.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups masa harina

  • 5 cups warm water (or low-sodium chicken broth)

  • 2 cups pork lard

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 3 tablespoons onion powder, optional

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder, optional

  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for tamale dough
    The Spruce
  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).

    Masa harina and water mixed together in a bowl with a mixer
    The Spruce
  3. Sprinkle the salt, onion powder, chili powder, and cumin over the dough, if using, and mix again until well combined.

    Salt, onion powder, cumin, and chili powder added to masa bowl
    The Spruce
  4. In a separate bowl, whip the lard with an electric mixer for about three minutes or until fluffy.

    Whipped lard in a bowl with mixer
    The Spruce
  5. Add the lard to the dough, beating in a little at a time, until well combined.

    Lard mixed into masa in a bowl
    The Spruce
  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.

    Close-up of masa on a wooden spoon
    The Spruce
  7. Use your masa immediately or cover and store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Your tamale dough is ready when you're ready to make tamales.

    Tamales on a plate and pico de gallo in a bowl
    The Spruce

Recipe Variations

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with different herbs and spices in your dough, varying them according to your personal preferences or complimenting 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.

How to Use

There's no limit to what you can put inside a tamale, but here are few ways you can use this recipe:

  • Homemade pork tamales are loaded with pork, seasonings such as cumin and chili powder, along with pepper, tomato, and onions.
  • Green chile and chicken tamales are packed with shredded chicken, green chiles, loads of seasonings, cheese, and sour cream.
  • Vegetarian tamales with corn, cheese, cilantro, tomato, and green onions are a garden-fresh experience.

Are Cornmeal and Masa Harina the Same?

Both cornmeal and masa harina are made from hominy (dried corn), but they are treated and ground differently and are used in different types of recipes. Cornmeal is coarsely ground hominy often used as a breading, in cornbread, and more. Masa harina is made from hominy that is treated with a lye solution and ground very fine, more like flour. It is used to make tortillas and tamale dough.

What Is the Difference Between Masa for Tamales and Masa for Tortillas?

The masa dough for tamales tends to have more fat (such as lard added) and is whipped until fluffy. Masa for tortillas can be made with just water and masa harina or with a small amount of fat added.