How to make Strawberry Tamales! Delicious, fluffy strawberry-infused sweet tamales drizzled with creamy horchata sauce. Perfect for Las Posadas, Christmas, or holiday parties! An easy step-by-step guide.
Last week we talked about savory pork tamales and this week we are indulging our sweet tooth with these gorgeous rose-hued strawberry tamales.
Tamales are very special during the holidays and often made in big batches at Tamaladas—parties dedicated to making and enjoying tamales. We love them so much we make them for every special occasion. Birthday parties, Easter, Father’s Day, and so on.
All this tamal-making has given me plenty of opportunity to experiment with all sorts of fillings, masas, and flavors but I was especially excited to come up with these strawberry tamales because they are made in partnership with my friends at California Grown and feature fresh California strawberries.
California grows about 88 percent of the US-grown strawberries on approximately 34,000 acres right here along the California coast.
In fact, I drive by acres of strawberry farms every day on my way to, well, just about anywhere. Which is a ton of strawberries, or technically, about 50,000 pounds per acre each season.
Last year, 206,037,844 trays of fresh strawberries were harvested – that’s more than 1.8 billion pounds of strawberries!
what are strawberry tamales?
If you’ve never dipped your toe into the delicious world of sweet tamales or tamales dulces you are in for a treat!
They are like a steamed, light sponge cake wrapped in corn husks that are incredible, especially warm straight from the tamalera, or steamer.
Tamales dulces have the same base of corn masa as savory tamales but instead of pork or chicken or cheese they are sweetened with sugar, vanilla, and fruit or chocolate or nuts.
This strawberry tamal recipe has a combination of chopped fresh strawberries, strawberry jelly, sugar, and vanilla extract.
Like last week’s post about Pork Tamales with Salsa Verde, I’ll slowly go through every step to ensure tamales success. So let’s get started!
what you’ll need to make these strawberry tamales
The nice thing about these strawberry tamales is they are a bit simpler than most savory ones.
You don’t need a separate sauce, filling and dough, you mix everything all together, fill the corn husks, and steam. Which means much less equipment or ingredients. Let’s check out what we’ll need.
- 1 large stock pot. One large pot (at least 12 quarts) for soaking the corn husks.
- Stand mixer with paddle attachment. For mixing masa.
- 1 large bowl.
- Large spoons for filling the corn husks.
- Steamer pot. Also called a tamalera or vaporera. You could also use a large pot (at least 12 quarts) with a lid and steamer basket.
- Dry corn husks.
- Freshly ground corn masa for tamales. Also called masa quebrada preparada or masa preparada para tamales (more on this later).
- Fresh strawberries
- Strawberry Jam
- Vanilla extract
- Granulated sugar
- Almond milk. Or whole milk. I used almond milk to keep them dairy free.
- Red food coloring. This is optional if you’d rather leave it out, but there are lots of plant-based red food dyes out there and they give the tamales their signature pink color.
how to make strawberry tamales
Like I mentioned, mixing strawberries, jam, and sugar into the masa means these tamales are much easier to make than traditional savory tamales.
P.S. For more details on the Horchata Sauce, see the recipe instructions!
Even though these are more simple, all tamales that are wrapped in corn husks start with the same first step:
step 1: soak the corn husks
Dried corn husks are the wrapper that the tamales get steamed in. You don’t actually eat them.
When you buy them they are very stiff. You need to soak the corn husks at least an hour in hot water to be soft enough to fold around the masa without breaking.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Turn heat off and place about 1/2 pound of corn husks in the hot water. Weigh down with a bowl so they are fully submerged. Soak at least 1 hour.
Drain well before filling.
You may not use all these corn husks, but it’s better to have too many, than not enough. Many are too small or broken and can’t be used. You will use those to line the tamalera or you can overlap two smaller ones to make one bigger corn husk for filling.
If you do have leftovers, you can freeze the soaked corn husks and use them again later after they’ve thawed out.
Make ahead: Corn husks can also be soaked overnight in the refrigerator.
step 2: make the masa dough
Look for this at your local Latin market, they should sell it if they make their own tortillas.
There could be several varieties of this masa, which can make things confusing.
What you want is coarsely ground corn that has lard, baking powder, and salt already added to it, ready to be used to make tamales. It is usually labeled: Masa quebrada para tamales or masa preparada quebrada para tamales. Meaning: Coarsely ground masa for tamales.
They could also have masa para tortillas which is a more finely ground masa for making corn tortillas. Don’t use that, it’s not the same.
If you can’t find fresh masa, follow the instructions in this Sweet Lime Tamales recipe for making masa with masa harina.
The secret to making fluffy, tender tamales is to beat all the masa ingredients (except the chopped strawberries) together on medium high speed for a really long time until it is light and airy, at least 5 minutes.
Depending on the size of your stand mixer, you may have to do this in batches. My KitchenAid is only 4 quarts and I do two batches to give the masa plenty of room to mix. If you have a 6 quart KitchenAid or similar you can probably do it in one batch.
After the masa is as light as buttercream frosting, add the strawberries and gently fold them in.
step 3: prep the steamer pot
The water in the steamer needs to have boiling water in it before you put the tamales in there.
Fill the bottom half of the steamer pot with water. Place the steamer insert inside the pot and line with corn husks that are too small or torn for filling.
Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so it’s just simmering.
step 4: assemble the tamales
Now we can finally put everything all together!
Take one corn husk that is about as wide as your hand on the bottom, dry both sides with a kitchen towel.
Spoon about 1/2 cup of masa in the middle of the wide end of the corn husk. Fold the right side of the corn husk over the left side and pull as tight as you can without the filling spilling out the top. Roll up.
Fold the triangle tip over the wide bottom. Tie with corn husk strips if you’d like. Set up-right in a baking dish with high sides to prevent the filling from spilling out the top.
Repeat with remaining masa and filling.
Make ahead: Tamales can be frozen at this point for up to 6 months. Place a dozen or so tamales in gallon-sized plastic sealable bags and freeze. Steam from frozen (for an extra 10-15 minutes) when ready to eat.
step 5: cook the tamales
Place tamales, vertically, open-side up in the tamale steamer. Lean the tamales against the side of the pot to keep from falling until you have enough in the pot that they support each other.
Place over medium high heat so there’s lots of steam. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and then the lid.
Steam until masa is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Check occasionally to add more warm water to the steamer if needed.
To see if the tamales are ready, remove one from the pot and let cool for a few minutes. Unwrap and see if the masa is cooked in the middle. It should be firm, fluffy, and spring back when you press on it.
If they are ready, unwrap, drizzle with horchata sauce and enjoy!
how to store
As I mentioned, tamales can be frozen before or after they are cooked.
Let cool completely, then place a dozen in a gallon-sized freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
They also keep for 4-5 days, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator.
how to reheat
Dessert tamales can be enjoyed cold, room temperature or warm.
If you’d like to heat them up, you can reheat in the microwave, but I don’t recommend it. The edges tend to get hard and rubbery.
The best way to reheat tamales is to place a few in a skillet, add 1/4 cup or so of water, cover and heat over medium heat until warm all the way through, about 15 minutes.
more tamales recipes to try!
- Mexican Chocolate Sweet Tamales with Hot Honey
- Sweet Lime Tamales
- Chicken Tamales with Pumpkin and Mole
- Apple Braised Beef Tamales
- Tahini Potato and Kale Tamales
- Chile Verde Chicken Tamales
- Red Mole Pork Tamales
You Can Do It!
You can make your own strawberry tamales! I promise. You’ll have these down in no time. And when you make them, I want to hear about it! Share a photo and tag me on Instagram @holajalapeno and #holajalapeno or leave me a comment!
For the tamales:
- 8 ounces (1/2 pound) dry corn husks
- 5 pounds masa preparada para tamales (see post for details)
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup strawberry jam (1 10-ounce jar)
- 1/2 cup almond milk or whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3-4 drops red food coloring
- 4 cups chopped fresh strawberries (about 24 ounces strawberries)
For the horchata sauce:
Soak the corn husks. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add corn husks. Place a bowl on top and press down to completely submerge husks under water. Let soak for at least 1 hour or until very pliable. Drain completely.
Beat the masa. Combine masa, sugar, strawberry jam, almond milk, vanilla, and red food coloring (if using) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. You may have to do this in two batches if your mixer is small. (see post)
Turn mixer on low until combined then increase speed to medium-high and beat until very light and fluffy, like buttercream frosting, about 5 minutes.
Fold in strawberries. Add fresh strawberries and fold in with a rubber spatula.
Prepare the steamer pot. Fill the pot about a third of the way full with water. Place the steamer insert on top and line the insert with corn husks that are too small or torn to use for tamales. Cover with the lid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Assemble the tamales.
Dry corn husk. Take one corn husk that is about as wide as your hand on the bottom, dry both sides with a kitchen towel
Place filling in corn husk. Spoon about 1/2 cup of masa in the middle of the wide end of the corn husk.
Roll up. Fold the right side of the corn husk over the left side and pull as tight as you can without the filling spilling out the top. Roll up. Fold the triangle tip over the wide bottom. Tie with corn husk strips if you’d like. Place open-side up in a baking dish with high sides to keep from tipping over while you fill the remaining corn husks. Repeat with remaining masa and filling.
Cook the tamales. Place tamales, vertically, open-side up in the tamale steamer. Lean the tamales against the side of the pot to keep from falling until you have enough in the pot that they support each other.
Place over medium high heat so there’s lots of steam. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or extra corn husks and then the lid.
Steam until masa is cooked through, about 30-40 minutes. Check occasionally to add more water to the steamer if needed.
Check to see if they are cooked. To see if the tamales are ready, remove one from the pot and let cool for a few minutes. Unwrap and see if the masa is cooked in the middle. It should be firm, fluffy, and spring back when you press on it.
If they are ready, unwrap, drizzle with horchata sauce and enjoy!
For the horchata sauce: Combine rice, almonds, cinnamon stick, and salt in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over the mixture and let sit at room temperature overnight.
Blend rice mixture. The next day, pour soaked rice mixture—water and all into a blender. Add cornstarch and blend on high until very smooth. Strain into a medium saucepan through a fine mesh strainer.
Cook sauce. Add cream and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer whisking constantly until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool.
The rice, almonds, and cinnamon for the horchata sauce needs to sit overnight, so plan ahead.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 0Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 0mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g
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