Cookbook author Marcela Valladolid showed us how to put on a tamalada--a tamale-making party--at her house near San Diego; this was one of the several tamales that day. These use corn flour rather than masa harina, with corn kernels mixed in. If you're choosing frozen corn, advises Valladolid, get the best you can find--juicy and sweet--and try not to add much, if any, water to the dough; otherwise it may ooze out of the cornhusk wrapper. See the "Tamalada Shopping List," below, for information about ingredients.
Makes 3 dozen tamales (serving size: 1 tamale)
1. Soak cornhusks: Submerge in hot water, weighted down with a plate, until pliable, about 30 minutes. You'll have extra, but that's good; invariably some rip or are too ridged to fold properly.
2. Purée 1/2 cup corn kernels in a food processor or a powerful blender, adding 1 tsp. water if needed to make a smooth purée. Add half of remaining corn and whirl to purée smoothly, drizzling in up to 1 tbsp. water if needed (try to use as little as possible). Repeat with remaining corn.
3. Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in whole egg and yolk, salt, and baking powder. On low speed, mix in half of flour, then half of puréed corn. Repeat with remaining flour and corn. Dough will be spoonable, like muffin batter.
4. Meanwhile, drain cornhusks and pat dry with a kitchen towel. If you won't be using them immediately, chill them in resealable plastic bags for up to 2 days.
5. Carefully tear 4 husks into long, narrow strips to yield about 36 strips (to tie the tamales closed).
6. Fill tamales: Set a corn husk on a work surface, smoother side up (or hold it in your hand), and dollop 2 to 2 1/2 tbsp. dough in center. Bring sides of husk to meet over filling, then fold both of them snugly over filling in same direction. Bring bottom end up to meet top end; then tie empty ends closed with a strip of cornhusk, circling ends twice, to form a purse shape. Repeat with remaining husks and dough. (For a video on how to fold, see sunset.com/tamalevideo.)
7. As you work, set tamales upright (open ends up) in steamer baskets of pots, packing them loosely. Or, if you don't have enough room on your work surface, put them in baking pans or some other container with sides, arranging them upright; then transfer them to pots on stove.
8. Cover pots with foil (or a thin kitchen towel) and lids, which must fit tightly to keep the steam in. Bring pots to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high to maintain a steady boil. Steam tamales vigorously until easily separated from husks but still somewhat soft (open one to check), 1 to 1 1/2 hours, adding hot water to pot every 20 minutes or so. Remove pot from heat, remove lid and foil, and let tamales cool in pot 20 minutes, uncovered, to firm up.
Tamalada Shopping List
Before everyone comes over to make tamales with you, make sure you have the following ingredients, along with whatever else you'll need for the fillings you've chosen.
Dried cornhusks: Find bags of husks at Latino markets, well-stocked grocery stores, and online at mexgrocer.com. Choose husks that look fresh and smell sweet.
Lard: Widely available, hydrogenated lard will work in these recipes. But for tamales with the best flavor and lightest texture (and no trans fats), get fresh lard from a butcher shop or Latino market. Or make your own; it's easy.
Masa harina: Masa harina is fresh corn dough dried and ground into flour; to use, mix with lard or butter, baking powder, and broth or other liquid. Brands vary in texture; Maseca was used in these recipes, since it's easy to find. Or, choose fresh masa, which you can use as is; look for the label "para tamales" at a Latino market. You'll need 4 lbs. for 3 dozen tamales.
Tamalera: This large pot has a tall steamer insert that allows for plenty of hot water (a 20-qt. tamalera will hold 3 dozen tamales). Find one at Latino markets or mexgrocer.com. Or, use 2 (12 qt.) stockpots with regular steamer baskets set on upturned ramekins (custard cups), or 1 pot, cooking in 2 batches.
*Find at well-stocked grocery stores.