Next Up: Tamales

No, they’re not pastry and not really bread, either. They’re not even baked now that I think about it. However last year I swore that when tamale season returned, I’d do them. Also given all the holiday breads, cakes and cookies we’ve all been exposed to I think they might make a nice breather from the business-as-usual baking blog routine. Homemade tamales are, if you haven’t made them before, ze bombe. (El bomba?). Whatever, they’re good.

29 thoughts on “Next Up: Tamales”

  1. Yippee, steam baked yummies. I have a “thing” for Boston Brown Bread, or as my wife mockingly calls it, “bread in a can”, and British-style steamed puddings. Will you be creating a new section between Pugliese and Soda Bread… or maybe a completely new section between Pastry Components and Techniques? (I hope… I really hope.)

  2. Why stop the desserts at the end of the holidays? 🙂 Maybe I’m really behind on this, but I have recently learned that tamales are often sweet, too! A food blogger from my city just made tamales filled with vanilla-infused pineapple and riesling-poached raisins. I was pretty amazed!

    1. Oh certainly. Tamales can be sweet, savory or anywhere in between. And pretty much any color under the rainbow these days. Tamales are a whole world unto themselves. Should be an interesting week!

      – Joe

  3. Ooo! I was so excited to see this post! I tried making tamales for the first time for my fella and I this past NYE. They turned out alright…but definitely not how they should have. Can’t wait for the post! Thank you for all you do! I love reading your blog!

    1. Thanks for stopping in so often, Chelsea! I have a lot of fun doing this, mostly because I get to meet baking enthusiasts from places near and far…like Norway! I’ll do my best to make some decent tamales this week!

      – Joe

  4. Now you’re doing tamales? In Los Angeles they’re traditional for Christmas Eve.

    1. They’re pretty much a winter time thing in my experience…big for Catholic winter feasts like Christmas or Epiphany. Or just any time it’s cold out. Come to think of it, my youngest daughter seems to crave tamales pretty much all the time. Luckily for her we go to a heavily Hispanic church where they’re in steady supply whenever there’s a party.

      – Joe

      1. As Panamanian/Mexican who has lived in CA, NM, TX, Boston, and Latin America, I can tell you that tamales are de rigeur party/important occasion food. Funerals, weddings, First Communions, Engagement Parties, Christmas, New Year’s, fund raisers, major birthdays, and welcoming heroes home are all significant to rate tamales. Now, if you REALLY like the person, you go for home-made or a lady who home-makes them for you. Otherwise, ordering from a restaurant or caterer is fine.
        In Panama, we are OBSESSED with traditional, banana leaf wrapped savory tamales with stewed chicken filling, 4-5″ square, with everything made outside over a cooking fire. They can then be brought inside for the final steaming. Or steamed outside if you have enough wood. The smoke from the fire gently infuses the masa and the chicken and they are to-die-for. As with many developing countries, people cook with outside fires only in the country-side. In the major cities, everything is cooked inside.

        1. Wow, Melinda, was that ever a great comment. And yes, in Chicago you also see tamales all the time, at significant events all year round. However they always seemed more prevalent to me in the winter. As for the outdoor cooking tips, those are like treasure! I may in fact try that when I get over my flu!

          Thanks so much,

          – Joe

  5. Joe, I read your blog. Thank you for all the great information. Now, if you are talking about Tamales in Spanish then the word for the season where these are served is Tamal season not Tamale season (just FYI).

  6. Love the Tamales! I use an old recipe I picked up from El Rancho de las Golondrinas (a living history museum in N.M.) many years ago.

    I figured it was a southwest thing but of course cultural foods go where the people god. The Hispanic ladies around here make them for all the fiestas… weddings, funerals, birthdays…
    Gotta love the lard!

    1. Hehe…indeed! And I intend to put it to work this week, Connie! 😉


      – Joe

  7. Perfect! I was just saying that I wanted to give making tamales a try. I’d looked around a little for recipes and technique tips – one that looks clever suggested using a tortilla press to get the masa dough spread evenly over the husk. That’d bring the total potential uses of that device up to two!

    I’ll definitely have to try the recipes you post – looking forward to it. Will there be pork?

    1. When I’m doing them, Nicole, there will always be pork. That’s an interesting idea, using a tortilla press. I’ll have to fiddle with that! Thanks for the email!

      – Joe

  8. YAY! We’d discussed tamales and buche de noel before Christmas and decided that the yule log couldn’t wait and be done later as easily as the tamales. We are ready to tackle tamales.
    One time in San Francisco’s Mission District a woman passed us, pushing a stroller. She spoke quietly as she walked by, “Tamales, tamales.” We bought several from the cooler hidden under a blanket in the stroller. They were wonderful!

    1. Hi Dianne! That really takes me back…to Montrose Beach in Chicago, not far from my old apartment. Mrs. Pastry and I would go there all the time in the summer, and find both little old ladies and sometimes who families selling their homemade goodies on the sly. Tamales, tacos, gorditas sometimes. Wow that was good food.

      How I miss the old home town!

      – Joe

  9. I love tamales and have been making them with olive oil as the fat. Am I going to have to get over my lard-phobia too?

  10. Hi Joe,
    I like your blog, and live in Mexico. I think, tamales is a everyday dish here for breakfast and celebrations, but we have a special day in which tamales have a special importance and are mainly dish: candle day or Dia de la Candelaria on february 2nd.This day celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple, forty days after Christmas, with his godparent, choosen on Kings Day, january 6th,kings day In Mexico  is celebrated usually with toys for the kids and eating Rosca de Reyes a round sweetbread laden with dried fruit. The bread rolls are commonly available in grocery stores and are served at homes and businesses throughout the day of the feast. In the Rosca is hidden 2 or 3 small plastic baby dolls representing the baby Jesus, so, if your slice contains one, you and other 2 arevresponsible for hosting tamales on February 2.
    Beware and eat carefully when o
    It is considered not only bad form, but provides bad luck for the year should be “codo” (cheap) and fail in your obligation to provide tamales.
    Other curiosity about tamales, is a special test for tamal dough: after you mix the ingredients for dough, look for a glass with water and put a pinch of dough, if you are doing the things right, it Must be fluffy and float on surface, if don’t, there is more work to do!
    Best regards and the best for 2012

    1. Thank you very much for the comment, Sandra! It was last year right around Candelaria that a reader from Mexico asked me to do tamales. I was on the hook to make some (since I got one of the babies in my King Cake), but the organizers of the party asked me to make bread instead. It was a good decision. It was a big party and there were lots of little old ladies that made better tamales than I ever could.

      Thank you for the terrific tips. I shall incorporate them into the tutorial!

      Tomorrow night is the big party at our Parish. I fear I’ll get another baby (they bake lots of them into the king cakes). But this time I’ll be prepared to make tamales! Cheers and thanks,

      – Joe

      1. Dear Joe,
        Other tips we usually use making tamales are:
        – Be sure to make a good soaking of corn leaves –  two hours at least before preparation- with boiling water, to soften the leaves, otherwise, the already cooked tamales will not take off well. 
        -To prevent confusion, you can put a mark on every different filling or flavor  in each tamal already done, like tying a ribbon of the same piece of corn, and put in same side of steamer.
        -Many people often use in the preparation of dough, water in which it has been boiled green tomato peels to lighten the dough, but I think the most important thing is to beat on a mixer for a considerable time.
        -The steam cooking reduce the flavor, is better to put a little more salt or sugar than usual.
        -In sweet tamales, once sugar is added to the dough, it becomes more liquid, so extra care must be taken for not to over beat, and when placing dough in corn leaves, it will not slip.
        -Cooking tamales takes at least one hour – depends on the steamer- so, if you want to be sure if there is enough liquid in the steamer, you can put a coin inside, it sounded when level of water is low.
        – A funny story around tamales – of grandmothers times – is that if a pregnant woman is present during preparation, the dough does not rise, even beating a lot, I’m not sure if is true, but The grandmothers did not have a kitchenaid right?

        Hope you enjoy the preparation! Because mood is always an ingredient!

        Happy cooking and my best wishes….

        1. This is gold, Sandra, GOLD! Thank you so much for taking the time to send such helpful tips!

          – Joe

  11. If you do make Brian’s steam-baked section, you definitely should give Chinese bao a try. It’s a yeast (and sometimes baking powder too) roll filled traditionally with pork, but is flexible in all manners and downright delicious!

    1. This isn’t the first request I’ve gotten for those. Clearly I need to try them.

      Thanks, Melanie!

      – Joe

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