Around this time four years ago, my roommate brought home a plastic bag brimming with husk-wrapped tamales prepared earlier that day by his family. I remember being overly excited because I had never had tamales before. I eagerly unwrapped my first tamal unaware of what I was going to find inside. Nestled inside the corn husk was the most amazing shredded pork encased in tender corn masa. After one bite, I was addicted. The next tamal was a sweet variation filled with strawberry preserves. So. Yum. Since that evening, I have been wanting to make tamales of my own. I’m not sure why I waited so long. I guess I was thinking I would have to intern with a Mexican grandmother for several months before I could even tackle the process. I found out this past weekend that no internship was needed.
These sweet tamales are stuffed with chunks of vanilla roasted pineapple and golden raisins poached in riesling and honey. The batter is made with corn masa, butter (lots of butter) and vanilla infused pineapple juice. The resulting sweet tamal is nothing short of pure heaven.
The tamal-making process outlined below is quite lengthy; however, it can easily be broken up. You can make the filling and batter a day in advance. Also, this is a fun group recipe. Invite friends or family over and give everyone a different task. A fun and delicious time is almost guaranteed. Continue reading for the recipe.
Pictured below is a whole roasted pineapple. Studded with bits of vanilla bean, this pineapple was cooked in a bath of fresh pineapple juice. Cooking the fruit this way heightens the pineapple flavor and infuses it with vanilla. PS. Your kitchen will smell un. real.
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- For the pineapple:
- 1 large ripe pineapple, peeled
- 3 vanilla beans
- 2 - 3 cups fresh pineapple juice
- For the raisins:
- 2 cups riesling
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons honey
- For the tamales:
- 1 8-ounce package dried cornhusks
- 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 pounds (about 4 cups) fresh coarse-ground corn masa
- Cook the pineapple. Preheat oven to 350°F and place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Stand the pineapple in a 9 by 13 baking dish. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise then cut into thirds (you'll end up with 6 pieces from 1 bean and 18 pieces total). Using a small knife, make a small slit in the pineapple then insert the vanilla bean into the slit. Repeat with remaining vanilla bean pieces. Pour pineapple juice into the baking dish. Transfer to the oven and roast for 40 to 50 minutes, basting with the juice every 10 minutes. Also, turn the whole pineapple over after about 20 minutes (to ensure even roasting on all sides). Let cool to room temperature. Remove all vanilla beans and discard. Cut fruit from the core then slice into 1/4 inch cubes. Set aside. Also reserve pineapple juice.
- Cook the raisins. In a small saucepan, combine riesling, golden raisins and honey. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the raisins have plumped (7 - 8 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, remove the plumped raisins from the liquid and set aside. Continue to simmer the liquid until it has reduce to a 1/4 cup. Let cool then pour over the raisins. Set aside.
- Prepare the corn husks. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place corn husks in a large roasting pan (I used a 15" pan). Carefully pour the boiling water over the corn husks. You'll want to fill the pan up about half way. Place a smaller baking dish (9 x 13) on top of the corn husks to keep them submerged in the water. Let soak for 2 hours until pliable.
- After 2 hours, go through the corn husks and find 24 of the largest and most pliable husks. They should be at least 6 inches across on the wider end and at least 6 inches long. If you can't find ones that large, you can overlap two to make a large enough surface. Pat the selected corn husks dry with a towel. Tear some of the remaining corn husks into 1/4 inch strips. Keep these strips in the water until you are ready to form the tamales.
- Prepare the batter. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add butter, sugar, salt and baking powder. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add masa in three additions, beating on medium-high until fully incorporated. Reduce speed to medium-low, then add 3/4 cup of the reserved pineapple juice (from above). Beat for another minute then do the float test. If a 1/2 teaspoon of the batter floats in a cup of cold water, then its ready. If your batter doesn't float, beat for a little while longer and test again. Beat in a little additional pineapple juice if needed to give the mixture the consistency of soft cake batter. The batter should hold its shape in a spoon. You don't want a runny mixture.
- Set up the steamer. I cooked my tamales in a tamal steamer. Place several coffee mugs in the bottom of the steamer. Set a wire rack on top of the mugs. Fill the bottom of the steamer with water. The water should come about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the mugs. Line the rack with some of the leftover corn husks. If you don't have a tamal steamer, use the largest pot that you have. You'll need enough room to stand all of the tamales up inside with space in between each tamal. If you dont have a wire rack, you can also use a collapsable vegetable steamer insert.
- Form the tamales. Lay out one of the chosen corn husks with the narrow end towards you. Spoon about 1/4 cup of batter on to the middle of the musk then spread into a 4 inch square. This does not have to be exact. Just make sure you don't spread the batter all the way to the edges. Place a small spoonful of pineapple chunks down the middle of the batter. Spoon over some of the poached raisins. Don't overfill! Bring the two long sides of the corn husk up so the ends meet and the batter surrounds the pineapple-raisin filling. Roll both sides in the same direction around the tamal. Fold up the bottom tip then tie with a strip of corn husk (see images below for process). Stand the tamal up tied end down in the prepared steamer (the top end remains open). Repeat with remaining corn husks. Be sure to leave a little space between the tamales in the steam. They will expand a bit.
- Cook the tamales. Once all tamales are standing in the steamer, cover with a clean kitchen towel. Cover the kitchen towel with a plastic bag and then the lid. Steam over constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 hours, adding boiling water to the pot if needed. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let the tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up.