Tamales de Dulce (Sweet Tamales)

Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico tamal de dulce sweet tamal recipe

From the cookbook OAXACA: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico

 These tamales are considered a dessert, and, like many other desserts, they are best enjoyed with a cup of atole for breakfast. Consider it the Oaxacan version of croissant and coffee. The deep-pink color of the masa traditionally comes from cochineal bugs, which is a natural traditional source of red food coloring that many American and European products now use. What makes these tamales particularly special is the rougher grind of the masa, which means you’ll get mouthfuls of sweet, chewy corn bits mixed in the masa.

Makes 11


½ lb lard

2 ¼ lbs fresh masa quebrajada 

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, freshly ground in a molcajete (2 teaspoons when ground)

1 teaspoon anise seeds, freshly ground in a molcajete or a spice grinder

¼ cup shredded coconut

½ cup raisins

½ cups canned pineapple chunks in syrup, plus ¼ cup syrup

1 ½ cups water

A dozen corn husks, soaked in water for at least 2 hours


For Corn Husk Color Solution

2 teaspoons carmine powder, dissolved in ¼ cup water


For Masa Quebrajada (Makes about 5 lbs of Masa)

½ cup pickling lime

4.4 lbs white field corn


Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico tamales de dulce sweet tamal recipe


Making the Masa

In the largest heavy-bottom pot you have, dissolve the pickling lime in 5 ¼ quarts water. Once all the powder has dissolved, add the corn. The corn should be completely submerged in water. If not, add more water so there is at least 2 inches of water above the corn.

Place the pot over low-medium heat and gently simmer for 1 hour.

When the nixtamal changes from white to yellow and the corn easily peels away from its skin, turn off the heat. Let sit for at least 16 hours more.

The next morning, dump the pot into a colander on top of your sink and discard the water. Rinse until the water comes out clear. You’ll know the corn is ready for masa when its tender to the bite. It should be al dente like pasta.

If using a tabletop wet stone grinder, carefully add about ½ cup of water in batches to grind a pound of cooked nixtamal. It takes about 20 minutes to make the masa quegrajada. Repeat until you’ve gone through all the masa. Make sure to follow the instructions and safety guidelines of your grinder.

Using your hands, work the masa until a dough forms. When all the dough has stuck together and a putty has formed, it is ready.


Making the Tamales

In large mixing bowl, add the lard and use your hands or a rubber spatula to beat until the lard is whipped. This should take around 5 minutes.

Slowly add the masa to the lard and continue whipping. 

Add the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, anise, concunt, raisins, pineapple chunks in syrup, and 1 ½ cups water, and continue mixing. The masa for this sweet tamal should be runnier than fro the savory one you’re used to.

When ready to assemble the tamales, lay a soaked corn husk flat on your hand and, using a kitchen brush, apply a thin layer of the carmine dissolved in water on the corn husk in an upward motion. Once the husk has been colored a vibrant pink color, apply a layer of the masa. Fold it from left to right, so that the left side of the slather husk covers three-quarters of the leaf. Do the same with the other edge of the husk to close it up. Fold the point top toward the center of the tamal and set aside, folded side facing down. Repeat this process until all tamales are done.

Arrange the folded tamales in a circular pattern, lengthwise, with the open end facing up in your tamal steamer filled with the indicated amount of water at the bottom of your pot. Once all the tamales are neatly arranged, cover everything with plastic wrap and a kitchen cloth. Steam for 1 hour. The tamales are ready when the masa easily peels off the corn husks.