Basic Mexican Tamale Dough Recipe

Basic Mexican Tamale Dough Recipe

A light and flavorful dough to make the best tamales. [Photographs: Joshua Bousel]

This master dough recipe for Mexican tamales starts with either fresh masa (the nixtamalized corn dough used to make tamales and tortillas) from a tortilleria or masa harina (nixtamailzed corn flour that's reconstituted with water or stock). Then lard, baking powder, and chicken stock are beaten into it to create a light, tender, and flavorful tamale that can be stuffed with your favorite filling, like green chili and pork, rajas and queso, or red chili with chicken.

Why It Works

  • Back lard adds a mild porky flavor.
  • Beating the dough until light and airy creates the most tender tamale.
  • Resting the masa for an hour allows for better hydration and lighter tamales.
  • Yield:Makes enough dough for about 30 tamales
  • Active time: 15 minutes
  • Total time:1 hour 15 minutes


  • 2 pounds fresh masa for tamales from a tortilleria or 3 cups of masa harina para tamales mixed with 2 cups water or chicken stock and left to rest, covered, for 15 minutes (see note)
  • 8 ounces lard, preferably back lard (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup homemade chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth, plus more as needed


  1. 1.

    Combine lard, salt, and baking powder and, using an electric mixer, beat at medium-high speed until well whipped, about 1 minute.

  2. 2.

    Add one-fourth of the masa at a time to the lard, beating between additions until thoroughly incorporated. Add chicken stock and continue beating until dough is light and has a soft and spreadable hummus-like texture. Cover masa with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

  3. 3.

    Remove masa from refrigerator and re-whip, adding additional chicken stock 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to return it to original hummus-like texture. Use tamale dough in any tamale recipe (see links above for ideas, assembly, and cooking instructions).