While many Americans are familiar with savory tamales, the sweet ones are less commonly served in restaurants; they’re more of a special-occasion, make-at-home dish. As is typical of family recipes, there are as many variations as there are cooks. This recipe doesn’t come from any particular region in Mexico, but it features ingredients you’ll find in many sweet tamales: nuts, fruit, and spices.
What to buy: Masa harina is dried, powdered masa (dried corn that has been cooked and soaked in limewater, then ground while wet); we like Maseca brand, an instant slaked cornmeal that is useful in making tamales. It’s widely available in Latin markets or the ethnic aisle of many grocery stores, and yields consistent results. You can also purchase freshly made masa dough at many Latin markets.
Corn husks can be found at Latin markets.
Game plan: The dough and filling can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated in a covered container. Alternatively, you can form the tamales up to 1 day ahead and keep them covered in the refrigerator until ready to steam and serve.
To help you make the perfect tamale, see our step-by-step guide to forming tamales. And to help master tamale dough, see our easy masa recipe.
This recipe was featured as part of our Tamales for the Holidays project.
- Yield: About 35 tamales
- Difficulty: Medium
- Total: 2 hrs 35 mins, plus soaking and chilling time
- Active: 1 hr
- 35 corn husks
- 1 1/2 cups golden raisins, also known as sultanas
- 4 1/2 cups masa harina, such as Maseca
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 3/4 cups water, at room temperature
- 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 1 cup toasted pine nuts
- Place corn husks in a large bowl or baking dish, cover completely with hot water, and weigh down with a plate or bowl to fully submerge. Soak until husks are very pliable, at least 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain, squeeze out excess water, and wipe dry.
- Place raisins in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and soak until plumped, at least 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Place masa harina, salt, baking powder, anise seeds, and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Pour in water and stir or mix with your hands until the dough is wet throughout.
- Place butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium high until light in color and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add dough in handfuls, letting it mix in before adding more, until all the dough has been added, about 2 minutes. Continue beating until ingredients are well combined and a smooth, soft dough has formed, about 1 minute more. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in reserved raisins and nuts. Cover and refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
- Place a steamer basket in a large pot and fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the steamer. Cover and bring the water to a simmer over low heat.
- Lay a corn husk on a clean work surface with the wide edge toward you (this is the bottom). Measure 1/3 cup dough and shape into a cylinder about 3 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Lay dough lengthwise in the center of the husk, leaving about a 1/2-inch border at the bottom.
- Tightly close the left side of the husk over the filling and roll to the right as if rolling a cigar. Fold the top of the husk (the empty, tapered edge) back over the filled husk to close. (If your husks are particularly small or they don’t want to stay closed, use a bit of butcher’s twine to tie them closed.) Repeat to make about 35 tamales.
- Arrange tamales upright in the steamer with the open ends facing up. If your steamer is too big to hold all of the tamales snugly together, place a small heatproof bowl upside down in the center to stabilize the tamales. Cover and steam until the dough is set, no longer raw-tasting, and pulls away easily from the husks when unwrapped, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Turn the heat off and let the tamales rest for 15 minutes before serving.