Finding one masa dough recipe to use for several different tamale fillings can be difficult. This basic recipe yields a light, fluffy dough that can be used for practically any tamale you can come up with.
What to buy: Lard, or rendered pork fat, gives masa dough its distinct piggy flavor. You can make your own or buy it at Latin markets; you’ll find it in the refrigerated or frozen section. Vegetable shortening makes a fine substitute if you are vegetarian or can’t find lard.
Masa harina is dried, powdered masa (dried corn that has been cooked and soaked in limewater, then ground while wet); we like Maseca, an instant slaked cornmeal that is useful in making tamales. It’s widely available in Latin markets or the ethnic aisle of many grocery stores, and yields consistent results. You can also purchase freshly made masa dough at many Latin markets.
Game plan: The masa dough can be kept frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator before using.
1Combine masa harina and water in a large bowl and mix with your hands until ingredients are evenly incorporated and dough is moist throughout; set aside.
2Combine lard or shortening and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on high speed until shiny and white in color, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium high and add dough in handfuls, letting it mix in before adding more, until all the dough has been added, about 2 minutes. Continue beating until ingredients are well combined and a smooth, soft dough has formed, about 1 minute more.
3Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days before using.