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Tamales Dulces

(Sweet Tamales)

By Taylor Benson

Published: February 2002

Tamales are a true labor of love. Considering the work involved you'll want to make good sized batches, so recruit some help!

This recipe makes 14 dozen excellent tamales (mas or menos). We like to refrigerate the masa and filling overnight. The masa seems easier to spread and the filling thickens, so more juice goes into the tamal. Plan ahead -- the entire process takes two days.

This recipe calls for ingredients that are available at the grocery store here in Corpus Christi, Texas, and could probably be improved by substituting products found in Mexico.

(Carl's note: in Spanish, "tamales" is the plural of "tamal". As in, "Last night I ate a delicious tamal but Lorena ate six tamales.")

Day 1: Prepare the Filling (Base) and the Masa

Filling (Base)

4-16 oz. boxes golden raisins
4-20 oz. cans crushed pineapple in heavy syrup
1/2 cup water

Put the raisins in a sauce pan. Strain the liquid from the pineapple into the raisins, add water and set aside the pineapple.

Sweeten with:

1/2 -cup maple syrup
1/4 -cup honey
1/4 -cup cane syrup

Season with:

1 tsp fresh nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground coriander
3 Tbs Mexican vanilla
1 Tbs rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs shoyu (Shoyu is traditional Japanese soy sauce. Shoyu is high in glutamic acid, the precursor to MSG. "Tree of Life" brand is unpasteurized and very tasty.)

Something to keep in mind when you season the masa and filling; steaming leaches out spices and salt, so use intense flavors.

Cook the raisin mixture until the raisins are fully hydrated (fat and swollen).

Strain the raisins and add a cup of Kahlua to this reserve liquid.
Place raisins, reserve liquid and the drained pineapple in separate containers.
Refrigerate overnight


3 -5 Lb. bags fresh white corn masa
3- cups pecan meal (roasted)
2-lbs. Brown Sugar
4-lbs Unsalted Butter
2-Cups corn oil
2-Cups lard (melted)
2-3.5 oz. packet of Pasta de Achiote
4- Tbs salt

Roast 3 cups of pecan meal in the oven -- on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes @ 300°F. Remove the roasted pecan meal from the oven and add 2 lbs. of brown sugar and 2 Tbs cinnamon. Stir until cool and then sift.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the following: white corn masa, melted butter, lard, oil, pulverised dried Achiote paste, 4 cups of raisin reserve, 2 cups pecan meal mix, and 4 Tbs salt.

Refrigerate overnight (seems to spread more evenly).

Day 2:

Filling: Yesterday you made the Base and today you will complete the Filling.

Additional ingredients:

1-14 oz. can Eagle Brand Milk
1- 5 oz. jar of Bonne Maman's Cherry Compote
1-14 oz. bag Baker’s Sweetened Coconut
Traditional Shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
2- 10oz bags Pecan Halves

In a large bowl mix the following: raisins, pineapple, last cup of reserve, 1-14 oz. can Eagle Brand milk, 1- 5 oz. jar of Bonne Maman's Cherry Compote, 1- 14 oz. bag Baker's Sweetened Coconut, 1 cup Shoyu, 1 cup vanilla, 1 cup Kahlua, 5 cups pecan meal mix, 2- 10 oz. bags pecan halves and 1 lb melted butter.

Put this mixture back into the fridge.

Corn Husk covering for the Tamales

5-6 oz. packs of dry corn shucks

To soften the corn shucks, place all of the hojas in 2.5 gallons of water. Bring the pot to a boil, simmer for 1 hour, then turn off the heat and let the shucks soak for one more hour. Once they've soaked, drain them.

Sort through the hojas (shucks) and pick out small ones. Lay these smaller shucks flat in the bottom of the pot, on top of the steamer rack, to act as a cushion for the tamales.

Clean off any debris from the remaining hojas and stack them in piles, ready to fill.

Let the fun begin!

Making the Tamales

Terri and I can fill 14 dozen tamales in about 2 1/2 hours.

The Pot: We have three different steamers we use, depending on how many tamales we are making. We bought our tamal steamers here in the States (imported from Mexico). The pot that holds 14 dozen is 17" in diameter and 13" tall. Something they all have in common is a rack that nests towards the bottom to support the tamales well above the boiling water, so any large steamer that accomplishes this will work.

Put your steamer on the stove and add water to a level a couple of inches below the rack.

Organize your work space into an assembly line: hojas, masa, filling.....

The "Spreader" takes an hoja and spreads it out flat on a plate (or small tray). The typical corn shuck is somewhat triangular -- arrange the hoja with the narrow end pointed away from you. Using a spatula, spoon or butter knife (we've been spoiled using the small stainless spreaders available at restaurant supply houses) spread a heaping tablespoon of masa so that it covers the lower 2/3's of the right 4 inches of the hoja, and pass it to the "Filler".

The "Filler" takes a heaping teaspoon of filling and spreads it over the length of the masa, and then rolls it closed -- starting with the filled side. Fold the unfilled narrow end over and place the tamales around the pot. Put the tamales shoulder-to shoulder, with the open end of each tamal facing up.

(Note: how much masa and filler you use is a matter of personal preference. Some of the best tamales I ever ate were from an outdoor market in Eugene, Oregon made by women from the San Luis Potosi area. The tamales were huge with thick masa wrapped in banana leaves. Yummmy!)

After the pot is filled (isn't that a grand sight!), place the lid on and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a steady boil and steam the tamales for an hour. If you have to add more water, be sure it is boiling hot.

Tamal Test: Take a tamal from the middle of the pot, let it cool for ten minutes and then taste. Cooling the tamal for ten minutes will stiffen it if the masa is properly "set". If the masa hasn't "set" yet and is still "doughy", keep cooking for an additional 30 minutes. Test another tamal and repeat this sequence until they are all done.

After your tamales have cooled, wrap any you can't eat soon in foil. Tamales freeze well and can be quickly reheated by steaming.

Buen Provecho!

PS: I just bought a beautiful book entitled "Tamales" by Mark Miller, Stephen Pyles and John Sedler from McMillan. This is one serious book and though I haven't tried them, I can tell that many of it's recipes are outstanding. (To order the Tamales book.)

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