I catered a Mexican-themed dinner party last week. The menu included four different types of fresh salsas, guacamole, chicken and vegetable fajitas, rice, and black beans--Nothing too fancy, just standard healthy Mexican fare. Where I did take some creative license was with the dessert: Tamales dulces, in two flavors.
I love tamales, but it's been a while since I've made them. They can be time-consuming so there is no sense in making them in small batches; There better be a crowd ready and waiting to enjoy them.
Most people in the US think of tamales as a savory food, but according to Rick Bayless (Mexican food expert, cookbook author, former PBS host and chef extraordinaire), tamales dulces are wildly popular throughout Mexico. Flavors range from rich and decadent (chocolate) to colorful and bright (strawberry) to textured and simple (sweet corn and sugar cane).
I took the opportunity to expiriment with a couple of new fillings utilizing cupboard ingredients that I'm trying to get rid of before I leave for Brazil: a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, rum, mejool dates, and finely ground coconut.
They turned out fantastic. The chocolate chip resembles chocolate cookie dough in texture and would be great with vanilla ice cream. The rum-date combination, however, has a much darker, more sophisticated flavor.
If you're interested in trying a breakfast tamale, I suggest adding nothing but unsweetened blueberries , or any berry for that matter. Even the frozen kind work great. If you don't have a lot of mouths to feed I highly recommend freezing these once cooked and cooled.
The first step is to soak your corn husks in boiling hot water for about 20 minutes. You can buy corn husks from any Latin American grocer.
Traditional masa-making is quite a process. I opted for the short-cut version.
2 cups instant masa
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 stick of butter or 1/2 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons of sugar (any kind)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (or regular milk)
First, mix the masa and corn meal with the hot water and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.
Next, cream the butter, sugar, salt and baking powder together. Then add the corn masa mixture. A food processor will help to combine these two but is not necessary. Finally, mix in the coconut milk until the mass is homogenized.
1/2 cup chopped, pitted dates
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons finely-ground dried coconut (optional)
Simmer all ingredients in a small saucepan until the dates have begun to dissolve and release their sugars into the liquid. Add more water if necessary, then allow the mixture to reduce, and cool before adding to the tamales.
Fill your steamer with enough water, then line the bottom with smaller, less desireable corn husks.
Spread a couple of tablespoons the masa mixture over one third of the corn husk. Ideally, you will use the smoothest husks first, avoiding those with deep ridges. I was at the end of my bag with these...
Put a tablespoon or less of the filling in the center of the dough (There is too much on the tamle pictured above.). Fold one edge over horizontally, enclosing the filling in the wrapper. Then fold the bottom, facing the seam.
Place the tamales in the steamer so that they hold their shape. To help with this, you can tie them with twine, but it isn't necessary. It can make them look more decorative though.
Steam for 10 minutes. Wait for them to cool sufficiently before serving, otherwise they'll be nothing but a gooey mess!