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. They are sweet, and, unlike the savory tamales, they aren't filled; instead, the masa is mixed with fresh pineapple and moistened with pineapple syrup, and constitutes the entirety of the tamale. They're especially good for dessert, drizzled with crema--a slightly tangy Mexican-style cream. See the "Tamalada Shopping List," below, for information about ingredients.
Makes about 3 dozen (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. Put pineapple and juice, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring just to a boil over medium heat, covered; then reduce heat and simmer uncovered 15 minutes to meld flavors. Drain pineapple, reserving syrup; discard cinnamon. You should have about 3 1/2 cups syrup.
3. Meanwhile, using a mixer with the whisk attachment, whip lard in a large bowl on low speed, then increase to high, until it's as fluffy as frosting, about 5 minutes.
4. In a bowl, sift baking powder into masa harina and whisk in salt. Spoon 2 cups masa mixture into lard and beat on low speed until fully incorporated (scrape beater and bowl at least once), then beat in 2 more cups masa mixture. With mixer still on low, drizzle in 3 1/2 cups warm syrup so it doesn't splatter, and beat 5 minutes to hydrate masa mixture.
5. Add pineapple chunks to bowl and beat to break up chunks a little. Dough should be like very soft cookie dough but not sticky. Test dough by rolling a small ball of it over the back of your hand; if it sticks, beat in more masa mixture, 1 tbsp. at a time, until dough is no longer sticky.
6. Cover dough with a damp towel and let rest for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour, or chill up to 2 days.
7. Prepare cornhusks and steamers: 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.
8. Put 4 upturned ramekins in a 10- to 12-qt. stockpot equipped with a tight-fitting lid and set a steamer basket on top (or use a tamalera; see shopping list, below). Pour in water to a depth of at least 1 1/2 inches but below the steamer basket level. Repeat with a second stockpot. (Or use 1 pot, but cook half the tamales at a time.)
9. Carefully tear 4 husks into long, narrow strips to yield about 36 strips (to tie the tamales closed, optional; these differentiate the sweet tamales from the savory ones).
10. Fill tamales: Set a cornhusk on a work surface, smoother side up (or hold it in your hand), and dollop 2 to 2 1/2 tbsp. dough onto wide (top) half of husk. Smear with back of a spoon (or pat out with your fingers) until about 1/4 in. thick, leaving about a 1-in. border at the top and sides. Bring sides of husk to meet over filling, then fold both sides over filling in same direction. Turn tamale seam side up, then fold narrow (bottom) end under tamale. Tie with a strip of husk around middle, like a belt. Repeat with remaining cornhusks and dough.
11. Steam tamales: 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.
12. 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.
*Piloncillo, sold as hard cones, is available at Latino markets and mexgrocer.com.