It's that time of year again when the cold starts creeping in and we yearn for a nice mug of hot chocolate and a tamal. If you have never tried a sweet tamal you are in for a treat. The best tamal is a warm tamal just out of the steamer, and the scent of cinnamon and the melted bittersweet chocolate interior of these chocolate tamales will surely conquer your taste buds and these tamales just happen to be vegan and gluten free.
Why This Recipe Works
Sweet tamales recipes are as popular in my house as the savory ones. They are delicious as a dessert, breakfast, or a mirienda with some tea and friends. They are both vegan and gluten free!
During the 1870's, tamales became a symbol of Mexican culture and some people in the United States did not like what they represented. There were efforts to place bans on the sale of tamales in Los Angeles, CA and San Antonio, Texas. San Antonians were able to ban tamale street vendors in most places in the city. At the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair the tamale was revealed to the public. After that, the tamal exploded into popularity in all of the metropolitan cities in the U.S.
Sweet tamales were just as prevalent in Pre-Columbian Mexico as the savory ones. Aztecs offered up different tamales for each of their different gods. There were shrimp tamales that were offered to the fire god and bean tamales were served to the jaguar god. Sweet tamales were offered up to the god of life, death and rebirth. Xipe Totec (zshi-pe toe-tek) or also known as The Night Drinker. Xipe Totec is credited by the Aztecs to have created war and was the god of agriculture, goldsmiths and the east.
Mexican Chocolate: Mexican chocolate is made from ground roasted cocao nibs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice, as well as chilies for heat, and nuts for texture. Mexican chocolate has a slightly granular texture. I recommend using Hernan Chocolate for this recipe.
Masa Harina: Masa harina means "dough flour" in Spanish. This flour is the dried fresh masa dough, which is made from ground field corn treated through a process called nixtamalization.
Corn Husks: Dried corn husks are the main vehicle for the tamales to be steamed and served in. They are not edible but are readily available online and are not expensive. Corn husks are available in most Mexican grocery stores.
Vegan Butter: Plant-based butter is a nondairy butter substitute that is made by combining water with a plant-derived oils, like avocado, coconut, palm, olive or a combination of oils.
Step by Step Instructions
- Soak the corn husks in hot water
- Beat the butter and sugar until the butter has doubled in size and is nice and fluffy. Add the Mexican chocolate, cinnamon, baking powder, salt.
- Add half of the masa harina and the almond milk.
- For lighter and fluffier tamales, let the dough rest for an hour in the refrigerator. Remove the dough from the fridge and rebeat it.
- Remove the corn husks from the water and set on paper towels.
- Set up the steamer.
- Using a spoon, spread the dough onto the corn husk, forming a square.
- Fold the tamal.
- Place the tamales in the steamer.
- Cook the tamales.
- Remove steamer from the heat, uncover and let cool.
Tips and Tricks
If you are oil free, use unsweetened pumpkin puree to replace the fat. If you don't like vegan butter, replace it with coconut oil or vegetable shortening. If you would like to make these tamales with fresh masa, replace the masa harina with 2 lbs. of fresh masa.
Serve warm right after steaming with chopped pecans and shaved Mexican chocolate on top. For an extra decadent treat serve with vegan whipped cream.
Store the tamales with the corn husks still on in an airtight container for up to three days in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Masa harina is finer ground corn where as corn meal is course ground dried corn.
Carefully unwrap the corn husk and throw away. Eat the tamal with a fork with salsa of your choice.
Mexican chocolate is made from ground roasted cocao nibs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice, as well as chilies for heat, and nuts for texture. Mexican chocolate has a slightly granular texture.
Plant-based butter is a nondairy butter substitute that is made by combining water with a plant-derived oils, like avocado, coconut, palm, olive or a combination of oils.
- 1 cup (8 oz.) Vegan Butter room temperature
- ⅓ cup Sugar granulated
- 4 cups (1 lb. 2oz) Masa harina
- 1.5 tsp. Baking powder
- 1 tsp. Salt
- 1 ½ cups (9 oz.) Mexican chocolate ground
- ½ tsp. Cinnamon ground
- 2 cups Almond Milk unsweetened, warm
- 2 cups Water warm
- ½ cup Pecans chopped
- 2 cups Chocolate chips bittersweet
- 30 Corn husks dried
To prepare the husks:
- Soak the corn husks in hot water, in a large pot or in your kitchen sink. Place a plate over them to weigh them down so they are completely submerged. Let them soak for at least an hour.
To make the dough:
- Chop the Mexican chocolate into small pieces and grind to a powder in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the chocolate with a standard kitchen grater.
- Beat the butter and sugar, on medium-high speed, with an electric mixer, until the butter has doubled in size and is nice and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the Mexican chocolate, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and beat for 1 minute to incorporate into the butter.
- Add half of the masa harina then add the almond milk. After it is completely incorporated, add the other half of masa harina and water. Beat at low speed, until thoroughly mixed. It should have the consistency of a thick cake batter. If necessary add more water until you reach that consistency.
- For lighter and fluffier tamales, let the dough rest for an hour in the refrigerator. Remove the dough from the fridge and rebeat it, adding enough liquid to get it to the consistency it had before.
- Remove the corn husks from the water and set on paper towels.
To set up the steamer:
- Fill the bottom with water making sure the water is not touching the steamer rack. Line the rack and sides of the steamer pot with corn husks. Set aside.
To wrap the tamales:
- Pull 24 pencil thin strips off of the corn husks and set aside. Take a husk and dry off the excess water on it with a paper towel. Place the husk in your hand with the tapered side away from you and the smooth side up. Using a spoon, spread 2-3 tbsp. of the dough (¼ inch thick) onto the corn husk, forming a 3 - 4 inch square. Leave a border of at least 3/4 inch on each side of the square.
- Place 5-10 chocolate chips, and a sprinkle of chopped pecans in the center of the dough. Bring the two long sides of the corn husk together, this will cause the masa to surround the filling, and roll them in the same direction around the tamal. (If the husk is too small, fold one of the long sides towards the center, and then fold the other long side on top.) Fold down the empty tapered section of the corn husk, forming a closed bottom. This will leave the top of the tamal open. Tie with a corn husk strip to secure the bottom of the tamal.
- Place the tamal in the steamer vertically leaning against the side of the steamer, with the folded part of the tamal on the bottom. Repeat this process until you run out of dough and all the tamales are in the steamer. Cover them with a layer of corn husks. If the steamer is not full, fill the empty spaces with more corn husks. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 40 minutes. Check the tamales, when they separate easily from the corn husk it means they are done. If they are not done, steam for 10 more minutes and check again.
- Remove steamer from the heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Uncover and let cool. Don’t be alarmed if the tamales seem really soft. As they cool, they will firm up.