Sweet Raisin Tamales (Tamales Dulces)

My grandma was always wearing an apron and in the kitchen cooking and dancing (when she thought no one was looking). She had an old transistor radio on top of her refrigerator and I used to love watching her turn up the volume when one of her favorite songs would play. She would sing and dance in her kitchen and I would pretend I wasn’t watching, but I was. It makes me smile now just picturing those sweet memories.

I always looked forward to Christmas and tamales – and I still do. It doesn’t feel like Christmas if the smell of tamales steaming is not lingering in the air.

My grandma not only made her legendary tamales filled with shredded pork simmered in a spicy red chile sauce but she also made tamales dulces (sweet tamales) filled with plump raisins and syrup made from piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar) and canela (cinnamon). She wrapped these tamales uniquely to differentiate the two varieties – the spicy tamales were traditionally wrapped and the sweet tamales looked like miniature candies. All the adults enjoyed the spicy tamales while the grandchildren loved her sweet tamales. A tamal, swaddled in a corn husk, is the heart of all things Mexican. Opening one is like opening an intimate secret, a gift.

Sweet Raisin Tamales (Tamales Dulces)

These sweet raisin and piloncillo filled tamales are perfect as a sweet holiday treat! A tamal, swaddled in a corn husk, is the heart of all things Mexican. Opening one is like opening an intimate secret, a gift.
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Tamal Dough for Sweet Tamales 

  • 1/2 pound lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound fresh ground masa, unprepared for tamales
  • 1/2 cup syrup
  • 3/4 cup raisins, soaked in water for 30 minutes, and drained.


  • Bring water with cinnamon stick, and cloves to a boil; remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 1/2 hour. Add piloncillo, on low heat, let the piloncillo melt. Remove from the heat, cover, and let cool.

Make masa:

  • Place lard in a large stand mixer and mix until fluffy, scraping sides so the lard stays in the center of the mixing bowl. (The flat beater is the ideal accessory for mixing.) Add the baking powder and the salt to the lard and mix together.
  • Add the masa and mix together. Slowly add the cooled syrup and raisins and fold into the masa and mix until combined.

Steam Tamales:

  • Use a deep pot or tamal steamer to steam tamales. If using a tamal steamer fill with water up to the fill line. Set the tamal rack over the water. Place tamales upright, with fold against the sides of the other tamales to keep them from unfolding. Cover pot with a tightly fitting lid. Set heat on high and bring to a boil, about 15 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 1 to 1½ hours. Keep lid on tightly. To test if done, put one tamal on a plate and take off the corn husk. If it comes off without sticking to the tamal they are done.


You can use cranberries instead of raisins if you prefer. 


Calories: 280kcal, Carbohydrates: 64g, Protein: 4g, Fat: 2g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 114mg, Potassium: 231mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 27g, Vitamin A: 1029IU, Vitamin C: 7mg, Calcium: 115mg, Iron: 3mg

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Be sure to check out the published Muy Bueno cookbook for more tamal recipes.