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I'm a vegetarian, so naturally I don't use lard when making the masa for tamales. I've experimented with butter, non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, and solid coconut oil. I've tried beating the dough for a long time in my stand mixer, as I've read some suggestions that that is the key to make a fluffy dough. I've also tried both fresh masa and MaSeCa.

My tamales are ok, but I inadvertently had a bite of a lard-based tamale last year, and it was drastically fluffier and lighter than anything I've achieved. I don't know if the difference is the choice of fat, or if the restaurant that made them employs a better mixing technique. Help?

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Have you asked the restaurant what their technique is? :) – Tobias Op Den Brouw Sep 1 '10 at 7:22
I don't have enough Spanish to ask :) – Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 1 '10 at 14:12
Michael can you describe your current method? – Didgeridrew Aug 22 '12 at 22:59
Basically beat the shortening and masa for about 10 minutes on medium speed with the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, trying to work in as much air as possible. – Michael at Herbivoracious Aug 25 '12 at 4:19
up vote 8 down vote accepted

You can use Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening: its is on PETA's (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) shopping list of baking goods, but can work just as well for frying as lard.

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I was just looking at an all-tamales cookbook at a store, and they said the best choice was a mix of crisco-type shortening for texture and butter for flavor. – Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 5 '10 at 2:33

I have made tamales for over 50 years and I learned how to make them from my grandmother. I have changed the recipe and now use Crisco. Whether I make them with lard or Crisco, I ALWAYS add baking powder and salt to help make them fluffy (and so did my grandmother).

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I've never made tamales, so take this with a full shaker of salt, but you could try adding a bit of chemical leavening (baking powder) to the dough. It makes everything else fluffy; it just might help your tamales!

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thank you for your suggestions. How much Baking power and Salt? I used 2 table spoons of baking power for 5 lb of masa. I forgot to add the salt. Also how long do I mix the masa? – user22087 Dec 23 '13 at 4:38

I have made tamales for about 30 years and I too learned from my grandmother and my mother. But the secret to fluffier tamale dough is baking powder and salt.

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Hey Rosa, welcome to the site. It seems there is a previous answer that says the same thing as yours. Please upvote that answer, unless you have any new information to add... – talon8 Aug 23 '12 at 14:15

Add baking powder and mix a few minutes longer to make it fluffier.

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