Making homemade tamales is a daunting task.  And the first time I attempted it…I would say I failed.  The dough was too runny, and the first time we ate them, they were a gloopy mess, although the leftovers did firm up.  But I would call attempt number two a success.  It’s a time consuming process, but not terribly difficult, and you have the freedom of making whatever kind of filling you like!

To make tamales, you do need a Tamale Steamer.  The first time I made these, I was going to try and use a tall pot I have with a regular steamer, but the pot wasn’t tall enough to accommodate the husks, and wasn’t nearly big enough for the double batch I was making.  So my husband went to the grocery store and bought me one.  I think he also picked up beer.  ….My hero…..

In the future I will make a double batch, because they freeze well.  With this single batch, I made about 16 tamales.


  • 2 Ears of Fresh Sweet Corn, kernels cut off of the cob
  • 2 Cups of Fresh Masa or reconstituted masa harina (Masa comes in different textures for tamales and for tortillas.  I use the fresh masa for tortillas because the fresh masa for tamales I have access to has lard already incorporated, but I like using the fresh stuff.)
  • 1/2 Cup Crisco
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Cup Milk (I may try replacing this with 1/2 cup of sour cream some time)
  • 8 oz Corn Husks

First, prepare the corn husks by placing them in a bowl and covering with warm tap water.  Place a plate on top to keep them submerged for at least 30 minutes.  I found it helpful to add a little more weight with a can of beans and the heavy lid to my dutch oven.


In the bowl of a stand mixer, add crisco, sugar, salt and baking powder and whip until homogeneous and light, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add the sweet corn and mix on high for about a minute to incorporate and slightly break down the corn.  With the stand mixer running, slowly add the fresh or rehydrated masa until it is all incorporated.  Whip on high for a couple of minutes.  Turn down the speed and slowly incorporate the milk.  Scape down on the sides and make sure the dough is well mixed.

tamale dough.jpg

It will be a very loose dough, kind of more like a batter.  If you have the time, refrigerating the dough for 30 minutes and then giving it another whip, adding more milk if necessary, create a really nice fluffy texture.




  • 1 Poblano Chile
  • 6 oz Chihuahua or Monterey Jack Cheese

Roast the poblano over an open flame, or under a broiler until completely black and charred.  Shock the poblano in ice water, and remove the papery skin.  Thinly slice, or chop.  Here, I sliced the cheese into matchsticks to place in the tamales, but I think I’d prefer the texture if the cheese was grated.

poblano tamales.jpg


This filling is derived from Rick Bayless’s Greens and Beans with Red Chile taco filling.

  • 8 Dried Guajillo Chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Mexican Oregano
  • Ground Black Pepper to taste
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • 1 Bunch Kale, stems removed, chopped
  • 8 oz Baby Bella or Crimini Mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Goat Cheese

We’ve made this red sauce and other similar Rick Bayless recipe red sauces a couple of times, so I admit, I didn’t read the recipe too closely.  So I dry roasted the guajillo chiles instead of frying them in oil.  It seems to work well both ways.  Using a spatula seer both sides of each chile until it becomes aromatic and change a little in color.  Put the pan aside, saving the oil if you used it.  Place chiles in a bowl and cover with hot water, use a plate or bowl to keep the chiles submerged for about 20 minutes.

guajillo chiles.jpg

Place the chiles into a blender or food processor with 2/3 cup of the soaking water, garlic, oregano and pepper.  Blend until a smooth puree, scraping down the sides.

guajillo sauce.jpg

Heat the oily pan from the peppers, or add a couple of tablespoons of oil to a sauté pan, and heat.  When hot, press the chile mixtures through a medium-mesh strainer into the pan and cook, stirring constantly until reduced to the consistency of tomato paste.  Add 3/4 cup of water, and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce is slightly reduced.  Add half a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and taste.  It may take another half teaspoon or more of salt, depending on your tastes.

kale red sauce.jpg

Add the kale and cook until the kale is wilted.  In the future, I may cook the mushrooms straight in this sauce as well, but I was worried about the sauce being a sloppy tamale filling, so I cooked the mushrooms separately to help create a barrier.  I also had goat cheese to place in these tamales, but I forgot to add it until I ran out of mushrooms, so it became a garnish.  If you don’t love mushrooms, the tamales with the red sauce with kale, and goat cheese was also delicious.

To cook the mushrooms, heat butter in a skillet, add chopped mushrooms and cook until browned, about eight to ten minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.





Sort through your softened corn husks and pull out the husks that are at least 6″ at their widest point.  With some of the ones that are too small, tear into thin strips to use as ties for your tamales.

making tamales.jpg

Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup to measure your dough into a corn husk, and flatten into a 4″ish by 4″ish square.  Place some of your filling in the middle, and then bring the husk together so that your dough meets in the middle, and roll the corn husk around the rest of your tamale.  Fold the skinny end of the corn husk up, and tie with one of your corn husk strips.  Set aside.

wrapping tamales.jpg

When you’re about halfway through, fill up the base of your tamale steamer with water, place the steaming place in place and line the bottom with extra corn husks.  Bring to a boil, covered.  Then you can hold at medium/low heat during the cooking process.  (I keep the gas range at about 4 on my largest burner.)

Once all of your tamales are assembled,  place them in the pot with the open end facing up.  If there is extra room, you may wish to ball up a little aluminum foil to help keep your tamales from falling over while cooking.  Cover the tops of your tamales with more spare corn husks to keep condensation from dripping down into them, and cover with the lid.  Cook for an hour to an hour and a half.  Check periodically to make sure your pot has not run out of water.  After an hour, check for done-ness.  When you remove the corn husk, the tamale should pull away easily, and be firm.

Some of the internet says that the tamales aren’t done yet.  They are best to allow to cool and then re-steam before eating.  I guess this may have been the problem I made tamales last time, but I’m guessing there was more to it than that.  If your tamales are firm, by all means enjoy.

finished tamales.jpg

I made an avocado-tomatillo salsa (also derived from Rick Bayless) and served with Queso Fresco and/or goat cheese.


  • 4 Tomatillos, cut into quarters
  • 1 Avocado, roughly chopped
  • 2 Serrano Chiles or 1 Jalapeño, roughly chopped
  • 3 or 4 Cloves of Garlic, blanched (remove skins, place in a small bowl and cover with water, microwave for one minute)
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • Handful of Cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons Peanuts (Optional)
  • Salt to taste

Place everything in a food processor and blend until smooth.


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