Adding Creativity to Handmade Corn Tortillas

Pressing out handmade corn tortillas is a must-do when I’m teaching Mexican cooking classes. It adds a hands-on element to the class, brings the students together and gives them confidence to attempt making corn tortillas at home.


The key to success lies in assembling very few ingredients: a bag of masa harina, salt and water, a tortilla press, plastic sheets to press the tortillas in, a hot cast iron griddle or comal to cook the pressed tortillas in, and maybe a salsa or two, or delicious fillings to create a taco feed.

My standard recipe is:

2 1/4 cups of masa harina (masa para tortillas)
1 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cups water (approx.)

Measure the masa into a large bowl and stir in the salt. Add the water and mix it into the masa. It might not look like it’s combined, but start to work the dough with your hands and the dough will become smooth and workable. If the dough is still dry, sprinkle more water over the top, about a tablespoon at a time. Work that in as well until you have the consistency of  shortbread dough, or what some say, like playdoh.

Roll into walnut-sized balls and flatten slightly. Press between two sheets of heavy plastic, (like the kind available at the produce department), in our tortilla press. Lift the lid of the press and turn the tortilla in the plastic 180 degrees and press again. With a hot cast iron pan or comal at the ready, and the plastic-lined tortilla in your hand, carefully remove the top layer of plastic. Carefully, turn the tortilla into your other hand and lift the plastic off the tortilla and quickly place the tortilla onto the hot surface. Let it sit and set on the heat before you start fiddling with it, otherwise, you’ll just have a mess. Once it’s set, you’ll be able to easily lift it off the surface, flip it over and cook the other side until the surface is light brown in spots. Remove to a basket or bowl lined with tea towels to keep warm until ready to use. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

You can make up the tortillas ahead of time, as long as you have multiple sheets of plastic. You can keep the flattened tortillas in a stack, as much as five hours ahead of time. This allows you to prepare all your taco fillings, or dinner, and then cook the tortillas all at once before the meal.

To add a little creativity to your next tortilla making session, try adding a leaf of cilantro to the middle of the tortilla before pressing. (Thanks to my friend, Ben Herrera Beristain, for this idea).


And from a handy text called  Just Tacos, by Shelley Wiseman, comes more masa and tortilla inspiration. Adding in some of the luscious sauce from a can of chiles en adobo, slightly colours the masa and gives it a slight kick from the chile heat. At one of my classes we played around and mixed half adobo masa with regular masa and added the cilantro leaf.


If you really want to have fun, try the hibiscus-flavoured tortillas from the Wiseman book. While the dried flowers are normally reserved for making agua fresca, Wiseman’s recipe hydrates the flowers with less sugar for the corn masa. (Her ratio is 1/4 cup sugar to 2 ounces or one heaping cup of dried hibiscus flowers to 5 cups water).


The process is still the same. Working the magenta liquid into the masa until you have a smooth and pliable dough. What a colour!!

rolling redtort

The result is a brillantly-coloured tortilla with a slightly tangy flavour profile.


The flavour seemed to lend itself to some shitake mushrooms and beet greens, braised, with some onions.


You could easily substitute Swiss chard or kale for the beet greens, and any wild mushroom would work well to replace the shitakes. A bit of grated jack or mozzarella cheese and you have yourselves the makings for a delicious and visually exciting taco party!


Get creative!


One Response to “Adding Creativity to Handmade Corn Tortillas”

  1. Wes says:

    What a great bunch of ideas I have fallen in love with the Mexico City street style taco, and I love the fact that you can have a plate of three and have a different flavor profile in each. One of the most unique I got in San Diego was Korean Barbequed Rib with hot kimchee and sweet pepper sauce. But I have never tried add ins to my masa.

    I wonder if dilute mole would Work to make a dessert shell? Cheers on inspiring ideas!

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