As I have mentioned, there is an endless variety of tamales in Mexico; in my previous post, I shared my recipe for savoury tamales wrapped in corn husk, with an assortment of fillings. For this post, I have prepared a batch of sweet tamales.
Sweet tamales are not as well known outside of Mexico as their savoury counterparts, but they are equally tasty, and easier to assemble, because the flavourings are usually mixed in with the corn paste. The classic flavour is cinnamon & raisin, often coloured pink; another popular flavour is pineapple, and some others include chocolate, peaches in syrup, mango, strawberry, etc. Old recipes call for lard as the fat of choice, while more contemporary ones use vegetable shortening or butter. For savoury tamale paste, the addition of hot broth is recommended, but for the sweet version, hot water or a cinnamon infusion are preferred. Finally, a touch of sweetness comes from either raw sugar (piloncillo) or regular refined sugar.
For this batch, I chose the classic cinnamon & raisin, and the popular pineapple, flavours. I like to use a mix of butter and margarine for the fat for a more cake-like texture (and a vegetarian-friendly choice), and plain hot water to keep the flavour of the paste neutral. I used regular granulated sugar, mixed in after the paste is ready, for better control and flexibility on the level of sweetness.
Sweet Tamales – Tamales de dulce
Ingredients (for approximately 16 small tamales)
2 cups white corn flour (masa harina or tamale flour, not corn starch)
2-3 cups hot water
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup non-hydrogenated margarine
2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4-5 drops red food colouring; optional
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup pineapple jam, preferably chunky (my homemade, or from jar)
Dry corn husks
Clean and re-hydrate corn husks: Rinse in water, carefully separating individual husks and removing stained pieces. Soak in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain, propped up in a colander. Set aside (printable detailed instructions, above).
Prepare sweet tamale paste with flavourings: Beat butter and margarine together (photo below, left). Once very creamy and fluffy, add tamale flour and baking powder (photo below, centre); mix until it becomes grainy, then gradually add two cups of hot water (photo below, right):
Continue mixing and add more water, as needed, until a smooth and fluffy consistency is achieved; I used three cups for this batch.
To add flavourings, divide the paste in half into two bowls. For the first bowl, add 4 tablespoons of sugar, food colouring (if using), and cinnamon (photo below, left). Mix to incorporate very well, then combine with raisins (photo below, right):
For the other half, add 2 tbsp of sugar, and mix thoroughly; incorporate chunky pineapple jam (photo below, left). Continue mixing until the jam is evenly distributed in the paste (photo below, right):
Prepare steamer pot by filling the bottom of a large pot with at least one inch of hot water (photo below, left), then place steamer basket on top, making sure the water does not touch. I do not own a large steamer, so I always use a metal colander fitted on top of a large pot (photo below, right):
Assemble tamales: Arrange rehydrated corn husks, and prepared bowls of corn paste for assembly. Take a corn husk and scoop about a third of a cup of corn paste, forming a lump the middle (photo below, left, with cinnamon & raisin paste). Do not spread, but simply fold corn husk lengthwise to wrap around the paste (photo below, right, with pineapple paste):
Bring edges of husk together over the paste (photo below, left), then roll to form wrap. Press corn paste away from the pointy end (photo below, right):
Fold that end to close the wrap (photo below, left). A long strip of corn husk may be tied around the tamale wrap, to keep it from opening, and also to differentiate if cooking with other flavours, especially savoury (photo below, right):
Continue with all the husks and flavoured corn paste, to make approximately sixteen small tamales. Using leftover husks, line the bottom of the prepared colander/steamer (photo below, left), then arrange tamales vertically, with the open end facing up (photo below, right, showing an assortment of savoury and sweet tamales):
Cook tamales: Cover with more husks (photo below, left), then with a clean kitchen towel, tucking over the tamales inside the edge of the basket/colander, so the tamales will not get wet with condensation during steaming. Place lid, completely closing the top (photo below, right):
Place prepared steamer on the stove top, and bring hot water in the pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a rolling boil, and let tamales steam for at least one hour. Always check the bottom of the pot halfway through, to make sure it is not drying too fast; if needed, add boiling water. Carefully open the pot and remove one tamale; check doneness by opening husk, the tamale is ready when it separates easily from the husk. This batch took one hour and twenty minutes.
Turn off heat; the tamales may be left in the pot for a while until serving time. In the photo at the top of the post, and below, a selection of sweet tamales – tamales de dulce, still in the husk, in cross section:
it is really hard to choose a favourite between these two flavours; they pair equally well with the corn paste. They are so fluffy, that the texture is close to enjoying a light cake, as it may be appreciated below, in a close-up of a piece of pineapple tamale:
Tamales will keep in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for up to three months; reheat in the microwave oven or in the steamer, still in their wraps, and their flavour and texture should not deteriorate.
All plans for social gatherings are still going down a precipice due the pandemic; we all have to continue educating ourselves about staying safe and complying with safety measures to contain the spread of COVID19. A batch of homemade savoury tamales and these sweet treats will sure allow my husband and me to stay safe, and still enjoy a tamale feast on Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas), coming this February 2.
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I am also sharing my recipe at Thursday Favourite Things #475, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode. Special thanks to Bev and to Katherine for featuring my Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce at their parties.