Cinnamon Apple Tamales
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!
This all obviously calls for many celebrations and pre-celebrations.
Good thing we still have a freezer full of tamales.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…).
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).
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.
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).
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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Related recipe posts:
|Crepes with Homemade Applesauce||Adobo Chicken Tamales||French Apple Tart||Skillet Cranberry Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free)|