A traditional Mexican meal, these tamales are quite the hearty dinner! This post shows how to make tamales and links to two different fillings.
Christmas Tamale Dinner
I obviously love food. And I have a lot of traditions that revolve around food, esp around the holidays. Christmas Eve I basically repeat Thanksgiving (here is my Thanksgiving e cookbook), Christmas morning I usually make my Liege Waffles, but sometimes we make Cinnamon rolls, or Eggnog French toast.
And for Christmas dinner we have Tamales! Now tamales tend to take some work and they are easier to make with multiple people. Luckily for me we do Cousin Christmas a week or two before Christmas and my Brother in Law, sister and I make a huge batch of tamales!
We set up an assembly line – Chelsea (my sister) makes the masa dough mixture and creates the balls. I flatten the balls and add them to the corn husks and my Brother in Law fills and folds the dough and stacks them in the steamer.
We steam half an enjoy them for dinner that night and we freeze the unsteamed ones to take home and cook up Christmas night! Then we all make gingerbread houses together. I love Cousin Christmas.
And of course I make tamales during the rest of the year as well. It’s never quite and fun as making them with the family, but still delicious. My kids are learning to make them with me though which is also super fun and a great tradition.
Just take me to the best Tamale Recipe already!
If you’d rather skip my instructions on how to make tamales, along with links to other Mexican recipes and get straight to these delicious tamales – simply scroll to the bottom of the page where you can find the printable recipe card.
How to make tamales
First thing you do is soak corn husks. You can always dry them out again so we soak an entire bag at a time – place them in a bowl with water and keep them weighed down with another bowl on top.
Make the Tamale masa dough
Make the Masa dough for tamales – Start with the masa flour – we like Maseca brand – whisk in the salt and baking powder. Now mix in the chicken broth until combined. mixing the broth in here helps soften the masa leaving a smoother final dough
In a separate bowl your going to beat the lard until it is light and fluffy. This is the key to the best texture for your dough. Now add the beaten lard to the masa mixture a little at a time, mixing it together by hand until you get the right texture.
You can always add more lard, but if you add too much it’s hard to “dry out” the dough more – because adding straight masa at this point (without mixing it with some broth first) leaves the dough with a slightly grainy feel.
The final mixture should feel like a mix between playdough and moon sand. To test is make a ball – it should come together easily and smoothly – then flatten it out – it should flatten smoothly without cracking.
You don’t want the dough to dry out while your assembling the tamales so when your not making dough balls keep a damp paper towel on top of the dough. Also we never make a double batch, we make a fresh batch every time, and we do usually do 2-3 batches a session.
Assembling the tamales
Once your happy with the dough start by making a dough ball – about 1 1/2 inches is the size we found we like best.
Pull out a softened corn husk and wipe it dry with a paper towel.
We use a tortilla press and a plastic bag (we like the freezer back for thickness – cut off the sides and top so it’s just the plastic sheet) to flatten our dough.
Place the ball in the plastic in the press and flatten – I turn the bag/dough and flatten again to keep it even. Then peel the bag away from the dough and top with the corn husk – flip and peel the bag off the other side.
if the dough rips it needs more whipped lard – so we always test a ball before starting the full assembly line. Add the circle towards the top, wide side of the corn husk.
Now add 1 1/2-2 Tbsp filling (be careful not to let it get too wet) and now it’s time to fold up the dough and enclose the filling. Start by folding one side of the dough in – using the corn husk to help with the folding vs using your hands.
Fold the other side over as well, now fold up the bottom and now wrap the corn husk around the tamale tightly, fold up the thin side of the husk and now pinch the bottom – this will seal the dough folds we just made.
Now use a finger to fold over the top of the dough enclosing the top and pinch the top to seal that as well. The filling should be completely enclosed by the dough. (see the video if this explanation doesn’t make sense)
If you want to be fancy you can now take a strip of a corn husk and tie a bowl around the tamales, holding the folded bottom into place. Personally we don’t bother – it just takes extra time and if you stack them with the fold down it isn’t necessary.
Now in a tamale pot or a steamer basket in a normal pot start stacking the tamales. I see some people stack them vertically but it takes a lot longer to steam that way – we have found the best results by stacking them chimney style, horizontally in a circle then off setting each additional round.
Cover the pot with a damp towel and steam until the mass dough pulls away from the corn husks easily and isn’t wet. It usually takes about an hour we’ve found. Just make sure you don’t run out of water in the bottom of the pot while cooking.
Can you freeze Tamales?
YES! you can freeze the filling if you have extra – always make the masa dough fresh though.
You can freeze the assembled tamales before steaming, just stack in a freezer bag and freeze right away.
You can also freeze them after they’ve been steamed – let them cool til they are easy to handle, stack them in a freezer bag and freeze. They are good in the freezer up to 3 months.
How do you reheat tamales?
You can steam them again – just until heated through as the dough is already cooked so it’s much faster – about 15 mins. (I do this if I’m heating up enough for everyone)
You can unwrap them from the corn husk, wrap the tamale in a damp paper towel and microwave them for a min or two. (I do this if I’m only heating a few for me)
Or you can wrap them in foil and bake them at 350 for about 15 mins – my least favorite way though.
To make these Tamales you’ll need
- Plastic bags—I prefer the stronger freezer gallon bags
- Tortilla press
- Corn husks
- Tamale steamer
The Best Tamale Recipe
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If you love Tamales you’ll want these with them!
Red Pork Tamales | Instant Pot Pinto Beans | Green Tomatillo Chicken Tamales
Homemade Tortillas | Churros | Creamy Jalapeno Dip
To watch me make this Tamale dough and the fillings play the video in the recipe card. There will also be a short teaser video auto-playing.
Tamale Dough Recipe
- 2 C maseca
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 C chicken broth
- 2/3 C lard
- 50+ Dried Corn husks
- red pork filling
- green chicken filling
- soak the corn husks in water until soft
- whisk the Maseca, baking powder and salt together
- add the broth and combine
- in a separate bowl beat the lard until fluffy
- add add most of the beaten lard to the maseca mixture and combine with your hands – mix until the texture feels right – this might take a little playing – add more lard as needed
- keep a damp paper towel over the dough your not using to keep it from drying out
- roll a ball about 1 1/2 inches wide, flatten it (I use a tortilla press with a plastic bag) – if the texture is right the flattened circle won’t break or crack, if it does add more whipped lard
- dry a corn husk, and place the flattened circle in the corn husk
- fill with a few tablespoons of filling of your choice
- fold one side, then the other over the filling, then fold up the bottom and press closed. I recommend using the corn husk vs your hands – try not to touch the filling.
- wrap the corn husk around and fold up the bottom and use the husk to fold and press the top dough down, seal.
- stack the wrapped tamales chimney style in a large steamer
- add a damp towel over the top and steam for 1 hour – text to see if they are done – they might need to steam for an extra 30 mins.
- Serve with Beans!
- you can freeze extras before or after steaming
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