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BAKED GOODS

Chef Ana Castro’s
Sweet Tamales

Explore the rich tapestry of traditional Mexican desserts with this delightful twist on a classic: Sweet Tamales with Prunes & Pecans. This recipe is by Chef Ana Castro, who’s based in New Orleans and will open her new restaurant, Acamaya, in Spring 2024.

These tamales marry the sweetness of prunes and the earthy crunch of pecans. Plus, there’s an unexpected addition of miso, which enhances all of the flavors. This recipe beautifully blends tradition and innovation.

If you love this recipe, you should also try Chef Ana’s Pork Chops with Mole Sauce! And, since New Orleans is a foodie hotspot, you should also check out fellow NOLA-resident Bronwen Wyatt of Bayou Saint Cake and her recipe for Almond Cake with Prune-Raspberry Butter.

Photo courtesy of California Prunes

With a soft, velvety crumb and shaggy coconut icing, this is on the lighter side of the chocolate cake spectrum, more airy than dense. The glaze, which is poured onto the cake while it’s still warm, soaks into the crumb, making it very moist. You can use either sweetened or unsweetened coconut for the glaze. The sweetened kind gives you a candy-like topping that’s a little like the filling of a Mounds bar; unsweetened flakes take the sugar quotient down a notch. In either case, it’s a pretty, festive cake that comes together in a flash.

In partnership with California Prunes

INGREDIENTS

Yield: 24 tamales

FOR THE TAMALES
1 cup butter, at room temperature
½ cup cane syrup or honey
1 teaspoon white miso
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups Masienda brand masa harina
8 ounce-package corn husks
2 cups diced prunes
1 cup chopped pecans
2 to 3 cups water

FOR THE PRUNE SAUCE
1 cup prunes, pitted
1 cup hot water (or more for blending, if needed, to reach desired consistency)
1 cup cane syrup or honey
1 teaspoon white miso
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup pecans

METHOD

The night before: Leave a pound of butter out of the fridge to come to room temperature nice and slowly.

FOR THE PRUNE SAUCE
Soak a cup of pitted prunes in 1 cup of hot water. Let it sit for about 30 minutes, so prunes can soften. Puree the soaked prunes and water with the cane syrup (or honey), miso, and vanilla extract in a blender. Blend until smooth. If it’s too thick, you can add a bit more water. Transfer contents of the blender into a bowl and using a spatula mix in ½ cup of chopped and toasted pecans. If you’d like, you can add a bit of bourbon or dark rum.

FOR THE TAMALES
In a standing mixer, with the help of the whisk attachment, whip your butter on high for about 2 minutes, until a bit of air is incorporated, and the butter has increased its volume and become a pale almost white. Next, scrape all the butter off the whisk into the mixing bowl. Then, switch to a paddle attachment and add the miso, cane syrup, salt, and baking powder. Mix for about 30 seconds at low speed. Scrape the bowl and sides down again and then incorporate the masa harina in about 3 increments. Start trickling in water. Mix on the paddle attachment at medium speed until the batter looks homogenized. (It should resemble a very light cookie dough.)

TO ASSEMBLE
Soak the corn husks in hot water for 30 minutes, changing the water out every 10 minutes.

On a flat, clean table, lay out the husks (start with 20). You want to pick the nicest of the husks, look for no holes or tears, nice and pliable pieces. The husk resembles a triangular shape. Place them with the base of the “triangle” facing you and the tip facing away from you.

There are a lot of ways of building tamales, some people like to do a thin spread of batter and then filling, but since today’s tamales are more of a dessert, we are going to scoop the batter as if they were cookies. The amount of masa should resemble a golf ball. Place the ball/scoop in the center of the husk. And push in a couple pieces of cut prunes and a pinch of pecans.

Use the husk to encase the ball of batter in a rolling motion, the batter is supposed to flatten and take on a more rectangular shape.

Make strips of husk and use them to tie a double knot on the bottom of each tamale and fold the tip to tuck the tamale in.

For cooking, you’ll need a steamer, fill the bottom of your pot with water ¾ of the way up. Let it come to a boil, once it boils throw in a penny for good luck (and it’s my grandma’s way of knowing if the water gets too low because the penny will start tapping).

While the water comes up, arrange the tamales, knot facing up, in a concentric circle on the steamer pot.

Once the water is on a boil, reduce it to a simmer and place the steamer basket with the tamales on, place a lid and set a timer for 45 minutes. When your timer goes off, turn of the burner, carefully open the pot away from you, there will lots of steam. Using thongs take a tamal out of the pot and place the lid back on. To check the tamale open it very carefully. You are looking for a tamale that its hot and steamy, so it will be little soft, but it needs to set. If you’re not sure, take a little taste with the tip of a spoon, you’ll be able to tell if the masa is underdone. If it is, place the tamal back in and steam for another 15 to 30 minutes. Repeat this process to make sure they are cooked all the way. Once they are cooked, turn the pot off and let the tamales sit for 15 minutes before serving.

For serving, open your tamal, peel back the layers of the husk to expose the tamale itself, and add a big spoonful of your prune sauce. Enjoy! I like presenting them in the husk because they look so gorgeous. You can eat them like that or if you’re feeling extra, make it a la mode with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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