Christmas traditions don’t just appear, they’re made; again and again until Christmas doesn’t seem right without them.
I’ve been trying to make sweet tamales our Christmas tradition mainly because I looooooove them and because I have these sugar plum-visions of my family gathering in the kitchen to make dozens upon dozens every year, laughing and talking and having them tell me all their deepest, darkest secrets over bowls of fluffy masa and steam. I know that’s about as likely as me winning the New York Marathon…neh, any marathon, but a girl can dream. For now I’m content making them myself and watching the rest of my crew gobble them up.
There are many types of sweet tamales, ones filled with fresh pineapple and toasted coconut or stuffed with rum-soaked raisins. There are the lovely pink ones that have pureed strawberries mixed in the dough or cinnamon-spiced tamales made with apples, but my favorites are these lime tamales that are as light and fluffy as a sponge cake.
Tamales of any sort can be a bit intimidating but I will walk you through how to make them.
First things first, these tamales get their vivid color from food coloring but if you are against food coloring not to worry, they taste just as wonderful without. The green food coloring gets mixed with the milk (I use unsweetened soy milk so they are dairy free for the hubs but if you aren’t concerned about that use whole milk instead).
All the ingredients get beat together in a stand mixer until super fluffy. To test to see if the masa is ready, drop a spoonful into a glass of cold water. If it floats you’re good to go, if not, keep beating a little longer.
When the masa’s ready, place about 1/4 cup on a dried cornhusk that’s been soaking in hot water.
The nice thing about these tamales is there’s no filling so you don’t need to worry about spreading the masa super thin or anything, just fold one side of the cornhusk over the other and roll it up.
To make sure the tamales don’t open while cooking, tear a couple long, thin pieces of corn husk and tie them together. Then tie it around each tamal making sure you get it around the part where the pointy bottom part is folded over.
Then place open-side up in a tamale steamer, cover and steam for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and let them sit, covered, for at least 15 minutes or until you’re ready to serve.
Want more tamale fun?! I’ve teamed up with The Kitchn to throw a Christmas tamale party with two more savory tamale recipes plus a jicama slaw you are going to want to make. Hop on over there to check it out!
Sponge cake-like in texture, this vibrant sweet tamale recipe is light, airy, and full of sweet lime flavor. Gluten and dairy free!
Recipe adapted from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson
A tamale steamer makes quick work of cooking the tamales. They can be found pretty inexpensively at any Mexican market or online here
This recipe is dairy free but if you'd like to make a more traditional version substitute unsalted butter for the lard and whole milk for the soy milk.
- 20-30 dried cornhusks, each at least 5-6 inches wide at the widest part
- 1 1/2 cups lard
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups masa harina (preferably the Maseca brand labeled "for tamales"
- 2 cups unsweetened soy milk or any other non-dairy milk
- 1/4 teaspoon green food coloring (optional)
- 2 tablespoons lime zest
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Rinse cornhusks under cold water then place in a large heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Push cornhusks down with a heavy lid or plate until completely submerged. Let soak 30 minutes.
- Beat lard and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add masa and mix to combine.
- Stir food coloring into soy milk then with the mixer on low slowly add milk to masa. Turn off mixer, scrape down sides and add remaining ingredients. Beat until well combined and fluffy, about a minute more.
- To test to see if masa is light enough, take a small piece of dough and place in a glass of cold water. If the masa floats it is ready, if it doesn't beat a little longer and try again.
- Lift cornhusks out of the water and squeeze dry. Lay one cornhusk on a flat surface, place 1/4 cup of the masa in the middle of the widest side of the cornhusk, press down slightly. Take one of the long sides and fold it over the masa until it touches the other side. With your left hand holding down the left side of the cornhusk, pull the right side towards the right creating a tight cylinder of dough, then roll to close completely. Fold the pointed end over the wide end.
- If you'd like to tie the tamale to make sure it stays closed, tear two long, thin strips off of a cornhusk and tie together, then wrap around the tamal making sure it goes around where the bottom and top are folded. Tie tightly to secure. Continue until all the masa has been used.
- Place tamales vertically, open-side up in the tamale steamer, keeping them snug in the pot so they don't unravel during cooking. Make sure water is at a steady simmer and producing lots of steam. Cover tightly and steam until masa is cooked through and not doughy in the middle, about 45 minutes. Check occasionally and add more water if the pot looks dry.
- Remove from heat and let sit, covered for at least 15 minutes or up to an hour to keep warm.
- Serve tamales, warm, room temperature, or cold. Tamales will keep for a week, covered in the refrigerator or up to 3 months well-wrapped in the freezer.