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Cinnamon Apple Tamales

January 2, 2014

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Happy new year!

Paula and I rang in the new year together with my parents who are in town, visiting from Wisconsin and enjoying temperatures about 70 degrees warmer than they would be back home.

On New Year’s Eve, we all spent a cozy night in, enjoying moule frites, fresh from the local seafood market, and sparkling rosé. (And instant Netflix.)

We have a lot to look forward to in 2014. Paula and I will be (legally!) getting married in California in September. My little sister is getting married in Wisconsin a few months before we do. I will finally (fingers crossed) be finishing my linguistics PhD in 2014, after a respectable 7 years!

Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

This all obviously calls for many celebrations and pre-celebrations.

Good thing we still have a freezer full of tamales.

Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

Paula told me that tamales are both a Christmas and a New Year’s food. These cinnamon apple tamales are especially new-years-y, in my opinion, since they remind me of the Jewish new year tradition of eating apples and honey, for a sweet new year. Sure, Rosh Hashanah usually falls in September, but the same principle could apply to the December/January holiday: eat something sweet for a sweet year. (And to borrow from the Chinese new year that often falls in February, eat long noodles for a long life!)

Making Homemade Applesauce for Cinnamon Apple Tamales

Instead of apples and honey, these are little bundles of apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon, all steamed up inside a cinnamony sweet tamale masa dough.

Making Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

Cinnamon apple tamales are not traditional, as far as I know. According to Paula, the more traditional dessert-y tamales might have pineapple and raisins. Paula loves pineapple, but I’m skeptical of any pineapple that’s come into contact with any kind of heat source—and neither of us can stand raisins in things, so that was out.

Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

Last time we made tamales, two years ago, we filled some with cinnamon applesauce and some with fresh strawberry… sauce. Unfortunately, I got a little overzealous in cooking down the fresh strawberries into a thick compote, and ended up with a somewhat liquidy strawberry syrup situation instead, which as you might imagine led to some very messy—but festively rosy red—strawberry tamales. The applesauce version turned out much better.

Making Homemade Applesauce for Cinnamon Apple Tamales

Every year I make a lot of applesauce as soon as fall hits, and I keep going right on through the winter until we get apple-d out.

Making Homemade Applesauce for Cinnamon Apple Tamales

Homemade applesauce is wonderful because you can make it as chunky or as smooth as you want; make it as sweet or tart as you want; and you can sprinkle in cinnamon to your heart’s desire (as long as you’re not in Denmark…).

Making Homemade Applesauce for Cinnamon Apple Tamales

It is infinitely better than storebought baby-food-style pureed applesauce, as everyone who’s ever tasted my applesauce has agreed. Even the chunky applesauce skeptics have come around. It’s good on latkes and warmed up, in a bowl, with a spoon. So it follows that it’d also be delicious wrapped up inside a tamale (as so many things are).

Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

Think of it as a Mexican cinnamon apple dumpling. Like dessert dim sum.

We’ve been unsuccessful in ever eating them for dessert, though, after a dinner from our homemade freezer stash of Adobo Chicken Tamales, since we always end up far too full for anything else.

Making Cinnamon Apple Tamales

Luckily, these tamales are just as nice for breakfast as they are for dessert; my parents enjoyed them for breakfast one morning (even with Paula’s homemade bagels tempting them from the counter).

Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

They may (accurately) seem like an incredible amount of work to make, but you can make them alongside a batch or two of savory tamales, all on the same day, and as I went on and on about here and here, your efforts will be well worth it.


Wishing all of my blog readers and followers, recipe followers and non-followers, and fellow food-lovers a very happy, sweet 2014!

Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

Print this recipe. (PDF)


Cinnamon Apple Tamales
(Adapted from Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez)

(Makes about 28-30 tamales)

Active time: 2.5 hours; Total time: 4 hours, plus soaking husks overnight.

For the Tamales:
~ about 60 tamale husks (for 30 tamales, since some will be used to cover tamales while steaming, and some will be un-useable)

For the Applesauce Filling (can be made in advance):
~ 7-8 apples (I prefer Macintosh or Cortland but this time used Honeycrisp and Pink Lady)
~ 1¼ cups water
~ ½ cup brown sugar
~ 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (or more!)
~ 3-4 Tbsp. orange juice

For the Tamale Masa (Dough):
~ 3 cups tamale masa harina
~ 1½ tsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. fine sea salt
~ 2 cups warm (room temperature) water
~ 1 cup vegetable shortening (or ½ cup shortening, ½ cup vegetable oil)
~ ⅔ cup vegetable oil (in addition to any used instead of shortening)
~ ¾ cup powdered sugar
~ 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Special equipment needed:
~ a potato masher
~ an electric mixer
~ a pasta pot with a steamer basket, or other way of holding tamales upright for steaming

How to make it:

1. Soak the corn husks in a large bucket or stockpot of water overnight, weighing them down to submerge them if necessary.

Making Homemade Applesauce for Cinnamon Apple Tamales           Making Homemade Applesauce for Cinnamon Apple Tamales

2. Make the applesauce filling: Peel and roughly chop the apples. Toss them in a large stockpot along with the water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and orange juice. Cook over medium-high heat with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes, until the apples start to soften. If the apples are still very firm, continue to simmer longer with the lid on; otherwise, start to simmer with the lid off to reduce the liquid, occasionally stirring and gradually mashing the apples using a potato masher. The apples may take an additional 20-30 minutes (depending on the firmness of the apple varieties, the size you chopped them, etc.). Cook until the sauce is thick and not too liquidy; it’s fine if it has a varied texture, with not all of the apples completely mashed. Let cool before filling the tamales. (You can make this up to several days ahead and store in the fridge.)

3. Make the masa: In a medium bowl, whisk together the tamale masa harina, baking powder, and salt. Then pour in the water and mix well with a rubber spatula (or your hands). In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the shortening for 5-6 minutes until fluffy (if substituting some vegetable oil, do not add any oil yet). Add half of the dough mixture from the medium bowl to the shortening in the large bowl, and beat with the mixer. Then add the remaining dough along with all of the vegetable oil, and beat for 5-10 minutes. Mix in the powdered sugar and cinnamon and beat several more minutes until the whole thing is the texture of frosting. Set aside until you’re ready to assemble the tamales.

Making TamalesMaking Cinnamon Apple Tamales

4. Assemble the tamales: drain the soaked corn husks; inspect them for holes, mold, or insects (and discard any bad ones); then pat dry and stack on a clean dish towel. To fill a tamale, first identify the smooth side of the husk, then place a heaping spoonful of masa near the top of the center of the smooth side and use a spoon or silicone spatula to spread out the masa into a square (leaving the bottom half of the husk and the two side edges uncovered). Then place a few small dollops of applesauce down the center of the square.

Making Cinnamon Apple Tamales: How to fold a tamaleMaking Cinnamon Apple Tamales: How to fold a tamale

Holding the two edges of the husk, bring them together so that the masa square seals around the apple filling; then roll up the rest of the husk around the tamale and fold up the bottom. Stack on a plate, tray, or baking sheet until the tamales are all folded and ready to steam. (You will likely still have some extra applesauce after using up all of the masa.)

Making Cinnamon Apple Tamales: How to fold a tamaleMaking Cinnamon Apple Tamales: How to fold a tamale

5. To steam, pack tamales tightly together—open side-up—into a steamer basket of a pasta pot (like so), or into any type of steamer that will keep the tamales suspended over at least an inch of boiling water. Cover the tamales with additional corn husks then a damp kitchen cloth (to keep all of the moisture and steam in), then the lid, and steam for about 1 hour, until a tamale that has been taken out and cooled for 5 minutes separates easily from its husk when unwrapped. Remove steamed tamales carefully and let cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm.

To freeze tamales, wrap individual tamales (or bunches of 2-3) in plastic wrap, then place wrapped tamale bundles into a large freezer bag. Defrost overnight in the fridge, then re-heat by microwaving them while still in their husks.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

Cinnamon Apple TamalesPin it!

Related recipe posts:

Crepes with Homemade Applesauce Adobo Chicken Tamales French Apple Tart Skillet Cranberry Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free)
Crepes with Homemade Applesauce Adobo Chicken Tamales French Apple Tart Skillet Cranberry Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free)
51 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2014 9:10 am

    Ooh, what an interesting and scrummy variation xx

    • January 2, 2014 9:29 am

      Thanks, Deena! I swear I hadn’t even realized that Paula and I kind of just made this variation up two years ago until she told me that this year. :)

  2. January 2, 2014 9:11 am

    Mmmm, these look goooood, you must be one of those lucky people with large freezers, I’m a little envious!

    • January 2, 2014 9:36 am

      Thank you! :)

      We’re not actually those lucky people, though… we have a normal-size freezer (although in a weird fridge that has the freezer on the bottom and the fridge on the top—don’t know if that’s more or less convenient, but it’s what we’ve got!). Our normal-size freezer is always WAY TOO FULL of stuff—homemade soups, salmon cakes, falafel, pie and cookie dough, bagels, and lately, tamales, not to mention non-homemade stuff like coffee, butter, frozen fruit, and the occasional frozen pizza—so full that something cold falls out on my toes nearly every time I open the door.

      The tamales aren’t taking up *that* much room—we bundled about 30 each into 4 gallon-size freezer bags, which then barely closed; they’re just taking up all the remaining room we had in there before making them. :)

      • January 2, 2014 10:25 am

        Aha, I guess everything’s relative… We have the same sort of fridge freezer set-up (pretty normal over here), but the freezer section has barely two shelves. I dream of the day that we can have a freezer as stocked as yours!

      • January 2, 2014 10:30 am

        Haha well it’s not going to remain that stocked for long! (I mean it will, but bagels will probably replace the tamales within the next few weeks…)

        Our freezer has two large shelves, plus some room in the door—maybe yours is a little smaller than ours after all…. I really do wish that we had a bigger freezer, though—Paula’s even talked about wanting to buy an extra freezer chest, if we ever move to a place with room to store it! I’d be torn between buying an extra freezer and buying an extra fridge chest that I’d use for fermenting kimchi!

  3. January 2, 2014 9:17 am

    Looks fantastic. We seriously love tamales or all kinds. Baby Lady loves the sweet tamales. We will definitely need to give these a try.

    • January 2, 2014 9:37 am

      Thanks! Paula and I both seriously love tamales, too! I’m so glad to hear that you’re planning to try these—hope you enjoy them, and if you get a chance, let me know what you think! :)

  4. The Editor permalink
    January 2, 2014 9:19 am

    The name of this recipe makes you feel warm all over. This would definitely be a unique twist for a brunch buffet.

    • January 2, 2014 9:41 am

      What a lovely thing to say. :) We are big cinnamon fans; it’s definitely a flavor that evokes warm and cozy feelings.

      These would definitely make a wonderful brunch! (Come to think of it, the savory ones would be nice for brunch as well!) Especially because you could keep them in the freezer right up until your brunch guests arrive, and then re-heat them all at once simply by re-steaming them for 20-30 minutes (if you’re warming up too many to microwave them individually).

      Or actually, if you’re re-heating them from the fridge rather than the freezer, you can re-heat a lot at once by baking them for a bit in the oven instead (still in their husks until it’s time to eat them, of course).

  5. January 2, 2014 9:34 am

    your 2014 sounds WONDERFUL, i am so excited for you. happy happy joy!

    where do you find your husks?

    PS. what are you watching on netflix? we are finishing up the Following, which is so SCARY and SO GOOD.

    • January 2, 2014 9:53 am

      Thanks, Lan! It sounded like you had a wonderful 2013… hope your 2014 follows suit! :)

      I bought the husks at a local Mexican grocery store, which we have no shortage of in Santa Barbara… They come in plastic packages—maybe 40-60 husks to a package? I can’t remember now. Any decent-sized Mexican food store should have some; they should be located near the masa harina, if not adorning the end of every single aisle in the store.

      Paula and I are crazy behind on most good tv things on netflix… we recently finished Orange is the New Black and Friday Night Lights… haven’t quite made it through all of House of Cards yet. We’re gradually watching all the Dr. Who episodes (re-watching, for Paula), and have many many things on our list, including Breaking Bad, Call the Midwife, Bomb Girls, the West Wing and a bunch of Korean dramas. I haven’t heard of the Following, but Paula’s much more into scary stuff than I am. Oh and with my parents, we watched a cute French movie called “Romantics Anonymous,” followed by West Side Story on dvd, since Paula had never seen it!

  6. January 2, 2014 10:16 am

    Congratulations on a big 2014 (and your upcoming nuptials – just legalized in Utah, which was a huge victory for one of the most conservative states)! These tamales looks delicious too – great step-by-step instructions!

  7. January 2, 2014 10:17 am

    Sounds fantastic! I’ve always been curious as to how people sweeten the masa for sweet tamales… A little powdered sugar and cinnamon would definitely do the trick!

    • January 2, 2014 10:26 am

      Yes, it was Paula’s idea to make our sweet version of the tamale masa that way. I can’t remember for sure now, but I think when we made them two years ago we added powdered sugar but not cinnamon—it was a great touch adding the cinnamon this year as well.

  8. January 2, 2014 10:37 am

    Congrats on all the wonderful things you’ve got going on! Happy New Year! Sweet tamales, wow! What a delicious flavor combo. Very creative.

    • January 9, 2014 9:59 am

      Thanks, Amanda! My mind was kind of blown when Paula first told me about sweet tamales, although we’ve still never tried the traditional pineapple/raisin kind—I like these better. :) Oh and Happy New Year to you, too!

  9. January 2, 2014 10:38 am

    アリソンさん, 明けましておめでとうございます, 今年もよろしくお願いします.
    How clever, I did not know tamales came in sweets too. Thanks for the excellent tutorial.

    • January 9, 2014 10:00 am

      フェーさんにも、明けましておめでとうございます! 今年もよろしくお願いします。

      Tamales are definitely a recipe where a step-by-step photo tutorial really comes in handy! :)

  10. afracooking permalink
    January 2, 2014 11:22 am

    I am glad that I have started the year with a positive outlook because otherwise I would be screaming: IT IS UNFAIR – WHY CAN I NOT GET HUSKS HERE??? But instead I am just sitting here drooling over your recipe and whispering it :-) Happy New Year & best wishes!!

    • January 9, 2014 10:01 am

      Haha, yes, good thing you have a positive outlook this year. Are you *sure* you can’t get husks where you live? There are no Mexican food markets nearby, however tiny? (I wonder if you can order them online…)

      Anyway, Happy New Year and best wishes to you, too!

      • afracooking permalink
        January 13, 2014 1:11 pm

        I will certainly have a look on line, but mexican food (other than your standard tortilla or taco) is not well know in europe.

  11. January 2, 2014 12:12 pm

    Congratulations Allison and Paula. My brother and brother-in-law got married in Maryland last August. They are over the hill in love.

    Now I have a new tamale recipe to try as soon as my shoulder works again. I so much miss cooking and can;t wait to get back into the kitchen.

  12. January 2, 2014 3:32 pm

    Looks amazing! I’m not really a fan of cooked apples, but I LOVE making home made tamales, and my little sister loves apple pie, so I may have to try this some time! Thanks for sharing. :)

    • January 9, 2014 10:04 am

      Thanks! These should be super easy for you to put together since it sounds like you’re already an experienced homemade tamale-maker… I hope you and your sister both enjoy these if you give them a try! :) If you really dislike cooked apples, you could try substituting some other fruit with our same sweet masa recipe instead—like strawberries (just don’t let them cook down too much first or get liquidy) or pineapple.

  13. January 2, 2014 3:34 pm

    Those look fantastic! And I’m so jealous – I’ve never seen tamale husks here. I love making chunky apple sauce too. Definitely the best, and it makes great fillings.

    • January 9, 2014 10:06 am

      Thanks, Trish! Chunky homemade applesauce is indeed the best. :) As for the tamale husks… maybe you just need to know where to look—if you live in a big enough city, then it’s possible there’s at least one Mexican or Latin American food store/market. Even a very small store like that might stock tamale husks. Hope you can find some!

  14. January 3, 2014 2:15 am

    What a creative idea (as always) (-: You are amazing

    • January 10, 2014 10:24 am

      Thanks! I don’t even remember being the one to have come up with it two years ago—Paula and I must have come up with it together. :)

  15. January 3, 2014 8:47 am


  16. January 3, 2014 12:25 pm

    It is intresting and it looks beatiful , thanks for sharing .

  17. January 4, 2014 12:18 pm

    Um, 2014 is gunna be epic in your neck of the woods! I’m so excited to follow your adventures in the months to come. Weddings! PhDs! FOODS!!

    • January 10, 2014 10:26 am

      Yes! Well the highlight of almost every year I can think of has been FOODS!! but this year there will be some other exciting highlights too, for sure. :)

      Also I can’t wait to be done with this PhD because I’m pretty sure that just about EVERYTHING is going to taste EVEN BETTER once I’m not in grad school anymore.

  18. January 6, 2014 12:55 pm

    What a deliciously sweet take on a tamale! Got to try this. :-)

  19. January 7, 2014 4:08 pm

    Love this idea! I had strawberry tamales once, they were interesting.

    Also yay for getting married! (I’m completely obsesswed with weddings) and Yay for PhDs!

    • January 10, 2014 10:28 am

      Thanks, Karla! I know, I need to figure out a good strawberry tamale recipe for next Christmas, since when we made them two years ago, I cooked the strawberries down too much and they were too liquidy…

      Thanks for your encouragement, both wedding-wise and PhD-wise! :)

  20. January 11, 2014 2:08 pm

    Very innovative, and beautifully shot. Living in Scotland we don’t see much tamale action, but we do have a fab Mexican deli that has a super selection of suitable bits and bobs to make most Mexican dishes. Bookmarking this for a future adventure.

    • January 11, 2014 2:24 pm

      Thanks, Kellie! I don’t think I realized that you lived in Scotland! I assume there aren’t too many Mexican restaurants/food stores in that part of the world (I know what it’s like to live without Mexican food from my years in Japan…), so you must be lucky to have that Mexican deli—even if you can’t get tamales around there, I hope you’re able to make your own at some point! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  21. January 15, 2014 6:44 pm

    Wow! I took a tamale cooking class recently and the instructor talked about sweet/dessert tamales, but I still have yet to make (or even try) them. These sound really tasty!

    • February 5, 2014 10:04 am

      Oh man, a tamale cooking class sounds like so much fun! Did you make any crazy interesting savory tamales, other than kind of standard either pork or chicken or chili/cheese ones?

      I really enjoy dessert tamales—especially these, but even the falling apart, liquidy strawberry ones we made last time; I’d like to perfect those next December!

  22. January 29, 2014 4:26 pm

    You have literally blown my mind with this. I already love tamales to no end (as the Mexican place near my house knows) and now this? I can’t. Where to get tamale husks now?!

    • February 5, 2014 10:10 am

      Ha, I really enjoyed your comment. I love tamales too (of course), and these dessert tamales are just as awesome as savory tamales but in a different, cinnamony-sweet way. You should be able to get tamale husks at any Mexican food store. They come in plastic packages of maybe 40-60 of them, and they’re pretty inexpensive.

  23. June 30, 2014 12:37 pm

    Looks delicious!! And beautiful photos! This will be bookmarked for October when my apple tree begins to burst with fruit. Thank you!

  24. Chelsey permalink
    July 25, 2018 5:47 pm

    Congratulations on your phd! What an accomplishment indeed! I was looking for a sweet tamale recipe and found this! Definitely going to try it and upload pics to Pinterest!! Thank you!!

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