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Sweet Canary Yellow Tamales (Tamales Canarios)

Although cookbook author Marilyn Tausend knows that these pale yellow tamales made with rice flour and egg yolks are found in other parts of central Mexico, she has eaten them only in the state of Puebla. On one of her first stays in Cholula, a small city in the shadow of the snow-covered peaks of the volcanoes Popocatépetl (Smoking Mountain) and Iztaccíhuatl (Sleeping Woman), a friend took her for a morning snack at a small fonda near the market. The specialty was little sweet tamales that they enjoyed with hot chocolate, but the cook would not share the recipe with them. Later, Tausend was given a recipe by Ana María Gutiérrez López from Puebla, who not only had been making tamales for festive occasions all of her adult life, but also remembered them from her childhood.

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups rice flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 Tbs. brandy

For the filling:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbs. cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  •  
  • 50 corn husks
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

To make the dough, in a bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the rice flour and stir in the milk and brandy. The batter should be very creamy.

To make the filling, in a saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cinnamon. Slowly stir half of the milk into the yolk mixture, then pour into the saucepan. Simmer, stirring gently, until lightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, rinse the corn husks and soak in very hot water until pliable, about 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Put 4 or 5 torn husks in the bottom of a steamer basket or rack.

Lay out 40 of the best corn husks and brush a thin layer of melted butter over the surface of each one. Thickly spread 1 rounded Tbs. of the dough down the center of the husk. Put 1 tsp. of the filling in the middle and press in a few raisins and some chopped nuts. Fold the sides of the husks over the filling and turn up the pointed end. If desired, tie the tamales with narrow strips of soaked husks. Arrange the tamales horizontally in the lined steamer basket. When all of the tamales are in the basket, fill the bottom of a large pot with water to a depth of at least 2 inches and bring to a low boil. Put the steamer basket over the water, cover the tamales with more husks and a kitchen towel, and then cover the pot with a tight lid.

Steam, without uncovering, for 40 minutes. Carefully remove a tamale from the pot and unwrap it to see if the dough pulls away from the corn husk. If it does, the tamale is done. Serve the tamales hot, letting diners unwrap their own tamales. Makes 40 small tamales.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Mexico, by Marilyn Tausend (Time-Life Books, 2000).