Twelfth Day of Christmas Tamales

I celebrated Epiphany; January 6th, the day when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus; at the home of my son’s Mexican Godparents. In Mexico it is commemorated by eating Rosca de Reyes and searching for the hidden muñecitos (little baby Jesus dolls) within the cake. According to tradition, anyone who finds the tiny dolls hidden in their cake slice must make a Tamale dinner on February 2nd. In a slight variation of the Mexican tradition, this was my third year making and delivering Christmas tamales on the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

The finished tamales were best yet

The finished tamales were best yet

With the basic technique solved in my two prior tamale-making attempts (see here and here), this year I concentrated on improving my lackluster dough.  To boost the corn flavor, I took a hint from Chris Kimball and added: (1) one pound of frozen corn, (2) 1-1/2 cups of quick grits (not instant grits) that were softened in 2 cups of chicken broth. I also added some raisins and a little bit of baking powder. To the shredded pork, I added a little shredded Monterrey jack cheese. Any to top of my dinner, I made some homemade tomatillo sauce.  The results were great; 4-1/2 stars. The dough had much better corn flavor, and the extra liquid I added to the dough (a total of 9 cups of broth) kept the finished tamales moist (prior years were too dry).


  1. Pork tamales take at least 6 hours to make, but can be started the day before if you need time to make them after work.
  2. Because I don’t have a steamer basket, I made my own out of coke cans cut to half-height and a flattened disposable aluminum pan with steam holes poked all over. I used bamboo skewers to support the flattened disposable pan so that it wouldn’t collapse under the weight of the tamales.
  3. The spices for the filling are based upon a 4-lb boneless or 6-lb bone-in pork roast. Adjust the seasoning based upon your roast size.
  4. This year I used more meat in each tamale, so didn’t have any leftovers to make tostadas. Next year I will try to use a bigger roast, and adjust the paste recipe so as not to dilute the great flavor of the pork.
  5. The best way to re-heat tamales in the microwave is to wrap them in a damp paper towel before microwaving for about 1-1/2 minutes per tamale.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $17 for 3 dozen.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 12:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Tamales Filling:
4-lb boneless pork shoulder
2 onion, quartered
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon salt
6 springs of thyme
Dried corn husks (3 to 4 ounces; about 40 husks)
8 ounces of shredded Monterrey jack cheese

Filling Paste:
1/2 cup corn oil
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper.

Tamales Dough (Masa):
2 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 cups quick grits (not instant)
10 ounces frozen corn, thawed
7 cups masa harina (1-lb 15-ounces)
3 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons garlic powder
1-1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon baking powder
2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening)
7 cups quarts of the pork broth (from filling recipe)
5 ounces raisins

  1. Six hours before dinner, take your dried corn husks out of the package and put them in a large Pyrex casserole dish filled with hot tap water. This will soften them so they are pliable enough to be easily folded. Put dinner plates of top to submerge the husks and soak for 3 hours. Remove corn from freezer and allow to thaw.
  2. Meanwhile, cut pork roast into large fist-sized chunks (along the lines of fat, where possible). Fill a large pot with 9 cups of water, adding the other ingredients listed under the Tamale Filling. Boil for 2 to 2-1/2 hours until meat is tender. Remove the pork and allow to cool in medium/large mixing bowl for 10 minutes, straining and reserving the pork broth for later in Step 6. Use two forks to shred the pork, after about 10 more minutes the pork will become cool enough to finish shredding with your fingers. Discard any excess fat or unappetizing bits. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to prevent the meat from drying out.
  3. While pork cooks, mix the paste ingredients together in a small bowl, and add to the shredded pork. Add 8 ounces of shredded Monterrey jack cheese. Mix until incorporated, and allow to marinade until ready to assemble the tamales.
  4. Bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil, remove from heat and add grits. Allow to soften for 10 minutes. Empty softened grits and corn into food processor and pulse until smooth.
  5. In a separate large bowl, add grits, 7 cups masa flour and all spices and raisins. Use a wooden spoon to mix.
  6. Add 2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening) to masa and 7 cups pork broth (1 cup at a time), mixing well after every cup.  It should be the consistency of peanut butter.
  7. Shake the excess water off the corn husks. Separate and place them on a wire rack to allow them to slightly dry.
  8. Lay the husk flat and spread about 3-1/4 oz masa in a rectangle in the center of the husk to about 1/4″ thickness. Put as much shredded pork in the middle of the masa will fit; for better flavor. Push filling flat and work dough into a cylindrical shape, with the dough on the outside and the filling is on the inside. Fold and roll your tamale, and place in steamer basket so that gravity will hold the seam closed. See some helpful hints on rolling below.
  9. Fill the pot with water; being careful that the water level is below the bottom of steamer basket. I used a colander fitted inside my Dutch oven, and also use crumbled foil as “feet” to elevate your collapsible steamer.
  10. Cover your steamer and bring the water up to a boil. Then turn down the heat down (but maintaining a boil) and steam for about 2 hours. Check the water level and add approximately 1 cups water every 30 minutes, so that the pot doesn’t boil dry. The tamales will be done when the masa is firm and easily pulls away from the husks, also try tasting a bit of the masa.
  11. Preparation time is 6 hours. Makes 36 tamales, and use the remaining filling to make tostadas.

Lesson in Tamales Rolling:

2 Responses to Twelfth Day of Christmas Tamales

  1. JEC says:

    You can steam them in a pressure cooker, as well, and they’re done in about 10 minutes.

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