Tamales Dulces (Sweet Tamales) Recipe

A Dessert Tamale Recipe With Hibiscus Jam Filling

Sweet Tamales

The Spruce Eats / Maricela Vega

Prep: 50 mins
Cook: 90 mins
Total: 2 hrs 20 mins
Servings: 20 servings
Yield: 20 tamales
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
224 Calories
12g Fat
30g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 20
Amount per serving
Calories 224
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 12g 15%
Saturated Fat 9g 46%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 72mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 30g 11%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 18g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 45mg 3%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 47mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Sweet tamales can end the perfect meal or get your day off to a lovely start. Regardless of the course, tamales dulces, as they are called in Spanish, are often served around celebrations with atole, a little cup of coffee, or hot punch.

These steamy, sweetened dumplings of love are a bright and comforting ride of flavor. Recipes vary, depending on what ingredients are available in a given region. They can include raisins and cinnamon, pineapple and coconut, sweet corn and cajeta, chocolate, and so forth.

The sweet tamales in this recipe were inspired by a hibiscus roselle (also known as flor de jamaíca). Additional ingredients include masa harina, rice milk and oil, and a few spices you probably already have in your pantry.

As it goes with making tamales, they are a labor of love because they take multiple steps. If you have a spare set of hands to help out, recruit your friends, neighbors, and family members. Once you get going, making tamales can become a fairly easy and meditative process.

This recipe uses a sweetened masa dough. It's best made the same day you assemble and steam the tamales. You can make the hibiscus jam filling up to three days in advance, and in fact, its flavors will enhance with time. Or, skip the hibiscus jam and use dulce de leche, cajeta, stone fruit preserves, or pineapple preserves. See the recipe variations below for more substitutions.

"The freshly steamed, warm tamales were delicious and not too sweet. The masa dough cooked into a tender, coarse-textured sponge and the jam thickened and melded with the dough. I could imagine eating them for dessert with some lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream or for breakfast with a dollop of Greek yogurt." —Young Sun Huh

Tamales Dulces Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Hibiscus Jam Filling

  • 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers

  • 2 whole cardamom pods, lightly cracked open

  • 2 whole cloves

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 cups water

For the Masa Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups (240 grams) masa harina

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 cup coconut oil

  • 1 vanilla bean pod, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 cup rice milk, or other plant-based milk

  • 25 to 30 corn husks

Steps to Make It

Make the Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a medium saucepan, combine dried hibiscus petals, 2 cardamom pods, 2 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 teaspoon each of ginger and nutmeg, and 1 cup of sugar. Pour in water and bring to a boil over medium heat.

  3. Lower to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the liquid reduces by a little more than half into a light syrup, about 35 minutes.

  4. Remove from heat. Allow to cool, about 15 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods.

  5. Add the syrup and hibiscus petals to a blender and blend into a smooth, thick consistency. Scrape into a smaller bowl and set aside.

Make the Dough

  1. Gather masa dough ingredients.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together masa harina, sugar, baking powder, salt, ground cardamom, ground cinnamon, and ground cloves.

  3. In another large bowl, whip the coconut oil with an electric hand mixer or in a stand mixer until smooth, about 3 minutes.

  4. Fold the masa and spices mixture into the coconut oil. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the mixture (or add vanilla extract).

  5. Gradually pour in the rice milk while whipping with the mixer until the dough is airy and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Assemble and Cook the Tamales

  1. Submerge corn husks in a deep bowl of hot water. Soak until soft and pliable, about 5 minutes.

  2. Working with 2 to 4 husks at a time, or 1 at a time, if you are a beginner, shake off excess water before laying the husk out onto a clean work surface area. If your husks are very narrow, use two overlapping husks.

  3. Take 2 or 3 of the husks, and tear them lengthwise, following the grain, into quarter-inch-thick strips. Set aside on a small plate.

  4. Set out your ingredients in an assembly line: your corn husks, your masa, and your filling.

  5. Spoon 1/4 cup of dough closer to the wider end of each husk and spread out into a 3 x 3 square. Top with 1 tablespoon of the hibiscus jam in the center of the dough.

  6. Now you are ready to fold the tamales. Carefully bring the sides together to meet at the center, enclosing the filling.

  7. Then fold the bottom tip of the husk over the filled section. If your jam is a little loose, some of it might leak out of the top or bottom, but that's ok, as long as it's held inside the corn husk.

  8. Take one of the husk strips and use it to tie the tamale together, crosswise. Set aside.

  9. Set a steamer basket inside a large pot and pour water just until it reaches the basket. Bring the water to a simmer. Begin layering in the tamales, folded-end down. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat. Steam for 50 minutes, checking water occasionally to replace if it evaporates.

  10. Once tamales are cooked, remove from the pot and cool until they can be handled. Best when eaten immediately.

Warnings

After steaming the tamales, open the lid slowly and carefully. The steam released can be hot enough to burn skin.

Tips

  • Take time to invest in high-quality ingredients for the best-tasting and most nutrient-rich results.
  • We recommend Bob’s Red Mill masa harina, available at most grocery stores, or Masienda masa harina, available online.
  • Masa harina, and corn husks may be found in the International section of your grocery store, or at a Latin American market.
  • We recommend buying spices from Diaspora Co. for the freshest flavors.

Variations

  • It's traditional, especially in central Mexico, to tint sweet tamales pink using food coloring or other natural food coloring. This is especially helpful if your household is making different kinds of tamales on the same day. Add a few drops of coloring to the masa after you've achieved the consistency you want. Whip just long enough to evenly distribute the coloring.
  • Hibiscus flowers are sold in most Latin American markets (as flor de jamaica) and in many tea shops. You can also find them online. If you have trouble finding dried hibiscus petals, you can substitute with fresh or frozen cherries, cranberries, and even chopped roasted beets. 
  • Experiment with other fillings, such as pineapple preserves and raisins, strawberry jam and cream cheese, shredded coconut, and dulce de leche or cajeta with pecans and cream cheese.
  • If you have access to fresh masa, use the same measurements of masa dough ingredients, except for the rice milk. You will most likely need less liquid, so be careful to add it gradually.
  • Serve tamales drizzled with caramel sauce.
  • Make the tamales with banana leaves instead of corn husks. Trim the leaves to 8-inch squares. Use the same method to fold and then tie shut with kitchen string.

How to Store and Freeze

  • Store cooked and cooled tamales in an airtight container, a zip lock or vacuum-sealed bag, in the refrigerator.
  • Keep tamales in the refrigerator for up to one week.
  • To reheat refrigerated tamales, steam in husks for 5 to 8 minutes, or reheat in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • To freeze tamales, wrap individually in foil, then place in a freezer-safe bag.
  • Thaw frozen tamales overnight in the refrigerator and re-steam for 5 to 8 minutes. Or, skip thawing in the fridge and re-steam for 15 minutes.

Make Ahead

You can make the hibiscus jam one to three days in advance. The masa dough is best made right before making the tamales.

What are sweet tamales made of?

Sweet tamales come in a variety of flavors and colors. They are made of sweetened masa corn dough and filled with any variety of fruit, nuts, preserves, sweet spreads, and even rice pudding. Sometimes these ingredients, such as dried fruit and nuts, are mixed into the dough.