Phil's International Flair

Welcome to Seasoned Cooking and to Phil's International Flair!

Tamales are a Mexican tradition for the holiday season. Every year, members of our family make meat tamales seasoned with red chili sauce. Some family members preferred tamales made stuffed with green chilis and with creamed corn in the masa. However, when teaching me to make tamales, my grandmother always told me not to waste any leftover masa. Masa is the corn flour based dough that is spread on corn husks before stuffing the tamale.

The last time I made tamales a few weeks ago, I had enough masa left over for about a dozen more tamales. I had used up all the meat. So, remembering my grandmothers wise words, I decided to experiment and came up with an excellent desert tamale. I will describe what I did with my leftover masa and give you suggestions on how you may innovate tamale recipes of your own. Read on and enjoy!

The recipe presented this month are from my yet to be published cookbook, Phil's Family and Friends Cookbook. Feel free to email me at with your comments and requests.

Now, on to the recipe!

Holiday Tamales

My grandmother loved figs. She often used figs to fill tamales with her leftover masa. However, the majority of the family did not share her enthusiasm for figs. So, she would sometimes innovate other tamales to suit the families tastes. Likewise, I have innovated some new tamale recipes inspired by my grandmothers creativity.
  • 2 cups masa mix
  • 2 cups broth or water
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening, whipped prior to using
  • 1 pkg. dried corn husks
  • Sliced apple, figs or other fruit
  • 2 tbsp. cinnamon powder
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • Sliced apples or apple pie filling
First whip the lard or shortening in a large bowl as you would whipping cream until it peaks and is fluffy. Add the masa mix, baking powder, salt and broth or water to the lard a little at a time until it is all well mixed into a somewhat thick batter. Once it is all mixed, this will be your basic prepared masa. For desert tamales, you will want to add the cinnamon, raisins and brown sugar to the mix and make sure these ingredients are well blended in.

Soak the dried corn husks in warm water for about 15 to 20 minutes to soften them. Separate them carefully so as to keep them whole and as large as possible. Rinse and remove any corn silk that may be present.

To prepare a tamale, spead some of the masa (not too thick) on the lower half (broad side) of a corn husk. Place 1 or 2 slices of apple into the tamale and roll it up in the corn husk. Fold up the smaller bottom tail and set aside. Repeat this procedure until you have enough tamales to fill the pot for steaming.

As an alternative to sliced apples, you may use canned pie filling, figs, apricots, pumpkin pie filling, or any other filling that may be to your liking. You may also season the masa with pumpkin pie seasonings if you prefer, or don't season it at all. For desert tamales, I would suggest adding sugar to sweeten the masa however.

To complete the process, you will need a large pot for steaming the tamales and a steamer rack set inside the pot. Add enough water to the pot with the steamer rack in place so that the tamales will not get wet when placed inside. Arrange the tamales side by side, open side up, until the pot is full. My tamale pot is filled with about 2 dozen tamales. Cover the tamales with a cloth or towel, cover the pot, and turn the head up to medium. Allow the tamales to steam for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and remove the cover, allowing the steam to escape. Also remove the cloth or towel covering with some tongs and allow the tamales to set for about 15 minutes.

Once they are partially cooled, you may remove the tamales one at a time with a pair of tongs and place them into a cooling tray or baking dish. The tamales may now be served hot or allowed to cool and later reheated. They also freeze very well. Tamales can be reheated in a microwave or in the oven. The masa will have a better texture if you reheat them in the oven.

The perfect masa will be similar to bread in texture, having small porous holes throughout. This texture is obtained by whipping the lard properly prior to mixing in the corn flour, baking powder, salt and broth. The steaming process will melt the lard, and you will find that nearly all of the lard remains at the bottom of your steaming pot after steaming, and little remains in the tamale. It is best not to dispose of this melted lard or shortening down the sink as it may solidify and clog your drains. It is better to dispose of it outside in the garbage, or flush it down the toilet which has much larger pipes.

Use your imagination when preparing desert tamales for the holidays! Desert tamales can be put in the kids lunch for a healthy snack, or served as a snack. I sometimes eat mine for lunch. They can be stored for several months in the freezer if wrapped properly in air tight bags or vacuum sealed.

Try some Holiday Tamales this season and enjoy these unique desert treats!

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours