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Sweet Corn Tamales | Tamale de Elote | Pamonha - snack of the Americas

Posted on March 04 2015

Sweet Tamales are a seasonal and magical type of tamale that is made with fresh corn. In Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia they are called humitas, stuffed with cheese and can be considered a meal.  In Brazil they are called pamonhas, sold in shops or by street vendors and sometimes mixed with coconut. In Mexico they are referred to as Tamal de Elote, not stuffed but are normally topped with sour cream and tomatillo salsa. Unlike Ecuador, Mexico does not normally sell these in restaurants as part of the meal, rather they are considered a street food or snack.  In Guatemala I have tasted an atole (corn thickened drink) that had the exact taste of this sweet tamale. 

Any puree of corn cooked in a corn husk is called a tamal - sweet or savory, steamed or baked, cooked in an underground pit or pot. It can also be wrapped in banana leaf.  All of these have their origin in MesoAmerica, primarly with the Aztecs. And it is meant as a celebratory food; Christmas is the biggest tamale making and tamale consuming holiday. 

These are made with fresh corn kernels as opposed  tamales that are made with corn masa which is made with dried corn that has been made into a dough. Although masa is mostly used to make savory tamales, you can find sweet versions called, “Tamal de fresa, piña, con nuez”, etc.  
This recipe is also the same recipe I use for making Tamale Pancakes aka arepas. 
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
Note the color of the corn, this is a white sweet corn. Not as sweet as the American yellow sweet corn. My parents call this Mexican corn and buy it directly from the Mexican that grows it in Central California. This type of corn doesn't exist in the grocery stores. It has to be freshly cut in order to have all the natural "milk" in it. 

sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
My parents have been shucking and removing kernels from corn husk for 50 years; this is the easiest way to do it but you have to be very careful. You need a heavy sharp knife to  cut and score at the same time; deep enough to get through the first layers of husks but not so deep that you cut the actual cob. The first few husks are compost, the following 4-6 work as tamale wrapping and the ones you still see attached below will also be compost. Removing the kernels works best if you use a great big container because kernels will fly everywhere. Watch your fingers.

sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
We have a molino  which we purchased in downtown Los Angeles; the first versions we had were manual meaning we had to stand there and crank the handle in order for it to grind but we have upgraded  to a molino that is attached to a small motor. This makes things a lot easier. If you don’t have a molino you can also use a food processor; make sure you don’t over puree.  

sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
The tightness of the two metal wheels will determine the coarseness of your dough. If you feel it is too whole, you might see some whole corn kernels in it, tighten the wheels and pass it once more. Even if it is coarse, you can make good tamales. This only affects texture, not taste. Once all of the corn is ground we add the sugar, baking powder, melted butter (or lard) and salt. 
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
At this point if your mix looks too dry you can always add a little milk.
Once you have selected your biggest husks you can begin to pour the mixture. If your husk is big, use only one husk. You can also use two husks at once. 
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
The tamales will be cooked in a steamer. As you are building them put them in the pot. The pot should have the steamer at the bottom and the water but it should not be turned on. 
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonhasweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
As they steam the leaves will lose their green color. This is also a good way to know if they are being cooked and when they are done. This is a tamale that has been cooked and one that hasn’t. 
sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha
Sour cream is the best topping for these but you can enjoy these as is. You can make these with canned or frozen corn but the flavor will not be the same. Fresh corn is always best. And guess what? You can use this exact dough to make cupcakes, instead of putting them in the husks, put them in cupcake liners. 

sweet corn tamales de elote pamonha

And that is the story of my California sweet tamale. I am not sure how old this recipe is; Mexico did not have sugar or dairy until the 1500's which means this exact recipe cannot be older than 500 years. But they did have honey, sweet fruits and savory tamales- I am sure some version of sweet tamales existed thousands of years ago but I have yet to find a recipe. Let me know if you find one. 

Sweet Corn Tamales recipe 

  • 12 corn cobbs
  • 8oz of butter (2 sticks) (you can replace part of this with lard)
  • 1 cup of sugar (you can reduce or increase this)
  • 2 Tblsp of baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp of salt
  1. Slice the bottom of the corn cob to remove the leaves. Throw away the first 2-4 leaves; they will be too hard to use. Save the next 3-5 leaves for wrapping. You will have 2-3 leaves left on the corn that are too thin to use.
  2. Remove all corn hair.
  3. Shuck corn and remove kernels.
  4. Puree corn in molino or food processor.
  5. Place pureed corn in a large bowl and add sugar, baking powder, salt, and melted butter.
  6. Mix with spoon until it’s all incorporated. If the corn is dry you can add up to 1/2 cup of whole milk.
  7. Place a large spoonful of corn batter on the corn husk and fold.
  8. Place all your tamales in a large pot that has been lined with a steamer and water.
  9. Cover the top with corn husks and pot lid.
  10. Allow to steam for 40 minutes to 1 hour. You can check them from time to time; the husk should not be green and the tamale will be firm to the touch. 

Eating them right away is the best. But they will stay good for 2-3 days refrigerated. You can also freeze them and steam them a little bit before you consume them. 

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