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Corn Tamales



Tamales can take a couple of days to make if you’re using an intricate filling. In this easy recipe, the masa ingredients are all mixed in a bowl and just spread on dried corn husks, making for softer tamales with a shorter prep time. Traditionally, tamales are made with lard, but in this recipe (and in a lot of traditional ones) butter is used instead to bind the ingredients. I’m often asked what the best substitute is for lard or butter when making a tamal. My answer? Make enchiladas instead.

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*Note: Corn husks, the leafy outer covering of an ear of corn, can be purchased dried at Latin markets and some supermarkets. They need to be soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, or until they become soft and pliable so they can stand up to the long cooking time of tamales. Dry them with paper towels before using. People often ask me what a good substitution is. You could use banana leaves, but they’re even harder to source and because they aren’t porous like corn husks, tamales steamed in them come out greasy-looking to me (though some cooks actually prefer this!). Parchment paper can be used; just make sure to coat it with cooking spray first. I also recommend making your tamal masa not too loose in that case; otherwise you’ll find it very difficult to enclose the masa in the parchment.


Tamal and rajas casserole: Remove tamales from husks. Chop the tamales and arrange in a glass baking dish. Top with Mexican crema or sour cream, strips of roasted poblanos, and shredded Monterey Jack cheese, then broil until the cheese bubbles.

Sweet corn tamales: Warm the tamales and top with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk, some ground cinnamon, and raisins.


  • 20 dried corn husks*
  • 7 cups fresh corn kernels (from 7 ears of corn)
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup corn flour (harina de maíz)


Soak the corn husks for 30 minutes in cold water.

Puree the corn kernels in a blender or food processor until smooth.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale. Mix in the egg, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the corn flour and mix until fully incorporated. Add half of the puréed corn and mix well. Repeat with the remaining flour and puréed corn to make a loose dough. Let dough stand in the refrigerator overnight.

Position a corn husk vertically in front of you with the wide side closest to you. Spread 3 tablespoons of the dough all over the bottom half (wide side) of the corn husk, leaving about a 1-inch border on the left and right sides and along the bottom. Pick up the 2 long sides of the corn husk and unite them. Roll them together in the same direction over the tamal. Fold down the empty top section of the corn husk and secure it by tying a thin strip of corn husk around the tamal (the top will be open). Repeat with the remaining corn husks until the dough is used up.

Create a tamal steamer by crumpling a large piece of aluminum foil into a ball the size of a large orange. Put the foil ball in the center of a large saucepan and arrange the tamales vertically, with open sides up, standing around it. You can stand tamales in front of each other; just make sure that the open end of each tamal is facing upward.

Pour in ½ inch of water. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the corn husks separate easily from the masa, about 1 hour.

Remove the tamales from the steamer and let cool for 5 minutes before serving in the husk.