Have I got a treat for you – something totally out of the ordinary, creative and incredibly delicious. It may sound a little strange, but trust me, they are amazing! Yesterday was such a fun day and I am so happy to share it with all of you! Chef Shannon Kinsella (@chefsrk) of Gourmet Garden was visiting from her home city of Chicago for the CIAs Worlds of Flavor conference and kindly agreed to teach a cooking class for me. It was Tamale Day in Marin County!
Shannon and I met in Austin at BlogHer Food. One evening I had missed my assigned dinner group and I sat down in the lobby next to Shannon. We started chatting as I was trying to figure out where I would go. She mentioned that she and a friend were going to El Naranjo and I just about fell out of my chair. This is my favorite restaurant in Austin and I begged her to let me come along. With her wonderful exuberant laugh, she invited me along.
Shannon and I connected immediately and I adore her. An extremely talented chef, she worked with Rick Bayless on all of his television shows. She was in the second kitchen preparing all of the ingredients and final dishes and then sending them up to the main kitchen to be used during the taping. Now every time I watch one of his shows I think of Shannon’s work and how beautiful everything is.
I organize events for the San Francisco Food Society, a wide variety of activities all over the Bay Area where people can get together in a relaxed environment, make new friend and see old acquaintances. For non-members, it gives you chance to meet some of the members, try it out to see if you want to join us, and have a great time meeting awesome people in the food and hospitality industries.
We held the class at the beautiful and extremely well appointed Jackie Slade Food Loft. Jackie is a very talented in-demand food stylist. If you are ever thinking of doing any video work, need a location for a photo shoot, or are looking for a food stylist, give Jackie a call.
When Shannon and I were talking about the class, she mentioned that she had recently taught a tamale-making class and I immediately knew it would be a ton of fun and everyone would really enjoy themselves. Plus having the opportunity to learn techniques from a pro really helps when you are alone in your kitchen trying to recreate a recipe.
I contacted my friend Sabrina Model, author of The Tomato Tart (@thetomatotart) to help us prep (she had offered when we were all in Austin) and we had too much fun getting ready for the class! One gal told us that she really enjoyed listening to us laugh and chat as we cooked together and thought we had worked together for years. In truth, this was the first time we had been in the kitchen together and we had a ball!
We made three types of masa: traditional, pumpkin and chocolate. We made an assortment of fillings for people to choose from. We had roasted poblano peppers skinned and cut into thin strips (Rajas), chicken in mole sauce, pulled pork with chiles and cilantro, crumbled and sauteed chorizo, shredded cheese, Queso Fresco (Mexican fresh cheese) and jicama. And to make it even more fun, we made a freshly roasted tomato, onion, and pepper salsa and chocolate ganache.
After a presentation and demonstration of techniques by Shannon, everyone got to work rolling their own tamales. Each was as unique as the person who made them, with a wide variety of filling combinations. While the tamales were cooking, everyone had a chance to chat, meet new people, and share fun stories. There was no shortage of conversation in that room!
It was so gratifying to see the happy smiles on everyone’s faces and know they really enjoyed themselves. If you want a really unusual dessert that is gluten-free, consider making these tamales. You can make all the components a couple of days ahead, assemble them a day ahead, steam them in the morning and reheat to serve them that night.
One of the holiday traditions of Mexican families is to have the entire family make tamales together, sitting around a large table exchanging stories and laughter, while filling and rolling the tamales. The old adage still holds trues … many hands make light work … and bring families closer together.
I hope you make these with your own family or family of friends soon. They are a wonderful way to spend a few hours together and come away with the best tamales you’ve ever eaten!!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
There are two different kinds of masa available on American grocery shelves from Maseca. Both list tamales as something you can make, but one is perfect and the other will make tamales you won’t be happy with. Look for the kind that says Tamal across the front and has a photo of tamales underneath. The package is a light pink with red emblazoning across the front. This is the difference between success and frustration! If you can’t find it in your store, you can order it online.
Make sure the masa is labeled gluten-free and that your mole base is also gluten free.
- 8 oz package dried corn husks
- 3-1/2 cups dried masa harina (look for the package with tamales on the front)
- 2-1/4 cups hot water
- 9 oz (3 tablets) Mexican chocolate
- 10 oz unsalted butter, slightly softened
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp chocolate extract
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
- 3/4 cup milk, or as needed
- 2/3 cup chopped milk, dark, or white chocolate (or chips)
- Soak the corn husks submerged in hot water for 2 to 3 hours, until they are pliable. Set a vegetable steamer in the bottom of a saucepan and add enough water to come just below the level of the steamer basket. Line the pan (on top of the steamer basket) with some of the softened corn husks. This protects the tamales from the steam, helping to keep them tender.
- Prepare the Chocolate Masa: In a bowl, combine the masa harina with the 2-1/4 cups hot water. Set aside to cool.
- Roughly chop the Mexican chocolate and then pulverize in a food processor to make about 1-1/2 cups. In an electric mixer, beat the butter, Mexican chocolate, sugar, salt, and baking powder until light, about 3 minutes. Continue beating, adding the masa in three additions.
- Reduce the speed to medium low, and then add the chocolate extract, vanilla bean paste, and milk. Continue beating for one minute. Add a little extra milk if necessary to give the mixture a consistence of soft (not runny) cake batter. It should hold its shape in a spoon. For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then reheat.
- Forming the Tamales: Tear several husks into 24 thin strips for tying the tamales or use kitchen string. Form tamales one at a time. Lay out your corn husk with the tapered end facing you. Spread about 1/4 cup of the batter into a 4-inch square, leaving a 1-1/2 inch border at the bottom (the end towards you) and 1/4-inch border along the sides.
- Sprinkle some of the chopped chocolate down the center. Pick up the two long sides and bring them together, folding the masa onto itself. Loosely wrap the husk around the masa, adding another husk if yours doesn’t quite cover all of the filling. Fold the bottom closed, and holding the point against the tamale, wrap a strip around the tamale and tie it, securing the folded end and leaving the top open. Make sure not to wrap or tie them too tightly because they will expand while steaming. Stand tamales on their folded bottoms in the steamer. If you are working with a shallower pan, you can trim the top with a pair of scissors so them will fit under the lid of the pan.
- Steaming and Serving the Tamales: When the tamales are formed and placed in the steamer, cover them with a layer of corn husks. If your tamales don’t take up all the space in the steamer, fill in the open spaces with loosely wadded aluminum foil. Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 hour. For the best-textured tamales, let them cool completely and then re-steam them for about 15 minutes to heat through.
- Chef’s Trick: Place a few coins in the bottom of each pan you are steaming tamales in, under the steamer basket. While the water is boiling they will rattle, but if the water gets too low the coins will lay flat on the bottom of the pan and be quiet. If your pans get quiet, add more water!
- Advance Preparation: Both the filling and batter can be made ahead, as can the finished tamales. Refrigerate in an airtight container. Re-steam or microwave tamales before serving.
- Alternate Fillings: You can use a blending of all three chocolates as your filling or you may prefer a smear of raspberry jam, some macerated dried cherries or cranberries (soaked in hot liquid until moist and tender), or chopped nuts.
Create a New Tradition Today!
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