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Poppy Seed and Lemon Tamales


Makes approx. 12 tam

Cooks In

Over 60 minutes

Steamed corn dumplings with poppy seeds and lemon zest, served with a lemon syrup.


Soak the corn husks:

Separate the corn husks in a container and cover completely with hot water. The corn husks will float, so to keep them submerged, place a plate or another suitable object to weigh them down. Soak the husks until pliable, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Mix the dry ingredients:

Combine in a bowl the masa harina, salt, baking powder and poppy seeds. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, add the water. Stir with spoon until everything is mixed together. Set to one side.

Cream the fat and the sugar with the lemon zest:

In a large bowl place the fat, sugar and lemon zest (not the reserved zest) and beat with an electric beater until fluffy, a good 3-5 minutes.

Mixing the masa with the fat:

After beating the fat, add the masa dough to the fat in three lots, beating with the egg beater all the time, to incorporate thoroughly.

Do the float test:

If you want to check that your tamales will be light and fluffy, do the float test. Get a glass of ice cold water and place a piece of the dough on the surface, if it floats, hurrah! Your tamales will be light, if it sinks, place the bowl of masa dough in the fridge for an hour and re-beat.

Set up your steamer:

If using a folding steamer, place in the bottom of the pan, add water to just below the steamer, if it is above, you will get soggy bottom tamales. Next, line the steamer with baking paper, this will take two or three long pieces, you want all the ends to drape over the sides so they can be folded over the top of the tamales, preventing condensation from the steamer getting inside your tamles. The idea is to enclose them completely.

Prepare your tamales:

The corn husk should now be pliable, drain and squeeze out any excess water. Set up an area where you have lots of room to apply the dough to the corn husk, fill, wrap and then place in the steamer.

Taking one husk, feel both sides, one side is shinier and smoother than the other, this is the side you want to apply the dough. Place the husk on the work bench in front of you with the point facing towards you. With a spatula, fill the 1/3 cup measure with dough, level off flat and then scoop out on to the husk in the upper portion (this is approx 70g worth). You want at least a 1cm edge at the top, this allows for the tamal to rise.

Filling & folding your tamales: 

To steam:

Fold the baking paper over the tamales, cover with a tea towel and then the lid, bring to the boil and then turn down to a low simmer. Steam for 75 minutes. You will probably need to top up the water at least once, about half way through, add boiling hot water from a kettle until just under the steamer, then continue steaming. Do not let the steamer boil dry or you will have inedible smoked tamales.

Mean while make the syrup:

In a small saucepan, put the lemon juice of both lemons, the remaining zest and 60g of sugar. Bring slowly to a simmer to dissolve the sugar and then continue to cook for a few minutes until the syrup has thickened slightly. It should be thick enough just to cling to the tamal.

To serve:

When the tamales are done you will be able to peel the wrapper away cleanly and it will be springy to the touch. To serve, place a wrapped tamal on a plate and the warm syrup in a bowl, let your guest unwrap their parcel and drizzle a little syrup on top, enjoy with tea or coffe with perhaps an aged tequila on the side.

Note: You can eat straight away but they can be even better the next day. To reheat simply re steam until hot throughout. They also freeze very well.