Tamale Dough Recipe

Tamale dough(masa) is the foundation of the perfect tamal. Tamale masa can be made in two ways; buy it already made from a tortilleria or make it yourself with masa harina. If you don't have access to fresh masa from a tortilleria, this recipe from Maseca is a great substitute. This recipe takes only a few ingredients and is easy to make.
Tamale Dough (masa) Recipe

Tamales originated from Mesoamerica from as early as 8000 to 5000 B.C. From here it spread to Mexico, Guatemala, and the rest of Latin America. The word "tamale" derives from the Nahuatl word "Tamal" one of the Aztec's primary languages during their empire.

Tamales are a simple mixture of corn masa (dough) – sometimes filled with sweet or savory fillings and then wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks for cooking. 

What's in Tamale Masa

Corn Flour (Masa Harina)- I use two brands when making masa for tamales, Maseca Tamal or Masa Harina de Maiz. I prefer Maseca, but if I can't find it in the grocery store, I use Masa Harina.

Lard/Shortening - I use lard for a more authentic taste, but vegetable shortening is a perfect substitute for making tamale masa.

Spices - Salt, garlic powder, and onion powder give the masa that mouth-watering taste. I make just masa tamales...just masa wrapped in a corn husk. My younger grandkids love the masa tamales, and I love them with salsa on top.

Broth - The chicken broth is what my Abuelitas (grandmothers) used, some of my Tias (aunts) used half water and beef broth. If you don't have either, just use plain old water.

Baking powder Baking powder is used in some tamale dough as a leavening agent, which helps the dough rise a bit, and provides a thicker dough. 

How to Make Tamale Masa/Dough

Step by step Instructions:
  • Gather dry ingredients in a large bowl, Masa Harina, salt, baking powder, garlic powder, and onion powder

  • Tamale Dough Recipe

  • Add chicken broth or water, mix thoroughly in the stand mixer or by hand until you have a soft moist dough

  • Tamale Dough Recipe

  • Add the moisten Masa Harina/Maseca mixture to the whipped lard/or shortening mixture. 

  • Tamale Dough Recipe

  • Mix until a pea-size piece of masa floats in a cup of cold water

  • The consistency of masa should be smooth like peanut butter and spread easily on tamale husk. Spread about a 4-inch square on husk...I like tamale dough so I spread it extra wide.

  • Tamale Dough Recipe

    Variations of Tamales Dough:
    • Add 1/2 cup red chile sauce to the dough for red masa
    • add cheese to masa when making green corn tamales
    • Add 2 tablespoons of sugar for sweet tamales


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    Tamale Dough Recipe
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    Quick and Easy Tamale Dough (Masa) Recipe

    • 6 cups Maseca Tamal or Masa Harina de Maiz
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 2 cups lard or vegetable shortening
    • 5-6 cups chicken broth or water
    • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1 teaspoon onion powder


    1. Mix Maseca Tamal or Masa Harina, baking powder, salt, garlic, and onion powders in a bowl. Add enough chicken broth/or water and mix thoroughly with your hands to make a soft moist dough.
    2. In a standup mixer, mix the lard or shortening with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
    3. Add the masa and continue beating until the batter becomes smooth and slightly sticky. Drop a pea-size piece of tamale masa(dough) into cold water, if the dough floats...your dough is ready.
    4. Prepare your tamales with the filling of your choice. Yields: approx. 5 dozen tamales
    5. Tamale dough can be refrigerated for 3 days in a sealed container, or frozen in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 5 months.