Tagged gastronomia mexicana

Tamales, Tamales, Tamales


If I were to tell you making tamales is easy, I would only be telling you a half truth. Tamales are not easy. Tamales are not difficult. Tamales are something you are either devoted to, or have no interest in ever making. There is no in between. You do not meet the non-comital tamal maker often. You meet the tamalera willing to churn out hundreds of these little warm bundles, because if she doesn’t do it, then who will?

Do everyone a favor, be a tamalera.

This size batch of tamal masa will yield approximately two dozen tamales of a healthy size, or bien dados. If working with a standard home size stand mixer, the recipe for the masa can be doubled and still fit in a 5 quart bowl. If more masa is needed, mix in batches.


Beef or Pork for Tamales

  • 2 pounds beef or pork shoulder, cut into large chunks
  • 1 white onion, cut in quarters
  • ½ head garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
  • 4 bay leaf

Place all ingredients in a deep pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the beef is pork tender, skimming any scum with may come up.

Allow the beef to cool in the broth. Once cool enough to handle, remove from broth and shred into large chunks. Strain the broth and set aside.

Chile Colorado for Tamales

  • 4 ounces dried anaheim (California) chiles
  • 1 white onion, cut in quarters
  • ½ head garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
  • Salt to taste

Clean the chiles by removing stems, seeds and any large veins. Wash the chiles well in cold water. Place in a small pot along with the onion and garlic and a good sized pinch of salt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Cook at a simmer until the chiles are softened, approximately 15 minutes.

It is helpful to place a small dish or strainer over the chiles while cooking to keep them submerged.

Puree the chiles, onion and garlic with just enough of the cooking liquid to keep blender blades moving. Add more liquid to adjust to desired sauce thickness. Strain if desired. Taste for seasoning, being aware the sauce at this point will have a slightly metallic taste.

Any unused chile colorado can be frozen in an airtight container.

Mixing the Filling

In a pot large enough to hold the shredded meat, heat a small amount of broth, and whisk in approximately a cup of chile colorado sauce. Simmer lightly. Add the shredded beef or pork and mix well. Add more chile colorado and broth as necessary to desired consistency, tasting and seasoning with salt as necessary.

Tamal Masa

  • 2 pounds unprepared masa
  • 6 ounces lard, room temperature
  • 1 cup warm stock or broth
  • ½ tsp salt, plus more to taste

Beat the lard until very fluffy, as if creaming for frosting. Add salt and combine with lard. Slowly add chunks of the masa, and while mixing drizzle in the warm stock. Not all of the liquid may be necessary, add just enough to produce a dough that is spreadable and just slightly sticky. Continue mixing until well blended.

To check the flavor, fry a small amount of the masa over medium heat, adjusting for seasoning as necessary. If refrigerating the masa before making the tamales, allow it to come to room temperature before working with it, as cold masa is not as easily spreadable.       

To Form Tamales

Clean 8 ounces of dried corn husks by rinsing well under running water, removing any dried corn silk still attached. Place in a lidded pot and cover with warm water, weighing down with a heat safe plate or other heavy object. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to soak in hot water until soft, approximately half an hour.

Remove the husks from soaking water and strain. Holding a husk on the non-dominant hand, pointed end towards the body, spread a large dollop of masa on the top half of the husk. Place filling within the masa, and fold the husk horizontally, completely surrounding the filling. Fold bottom half of corn husk up over the vertical seam. Place aside, maintaining the tamal vertical. Repeat until masa is gone.

Depending on the size of the corn husk, more or less may be necessary.

To cook tamales, cook in a large pot, placing in a steaming basket, which allows for 2 inches of water at the bottom of the pot. Arrange tamales standing vertically, and cover tops with corn husks.

Cover the pot and bring water to a boil. Once a good amount of steam is detected, lower heat to low medium. Cook for approximately 45 minutes. Tamales will still be soft to the touch, and with a slight tackiness. Remove cover, and allow to cool in the pot for approximately 10 minutes.

Pan de Dulce: Conchas

After living in upstate New York for almost two years, I have begun to see the Phoenix area as the Mexican food outside of Mexico promised land. I could find almost any ingredient or dish easily, most within just miles of where I lived.

Sure, I had to go clear across town if I wanted to eat crickets (frankly I only did this once as I’m far too lazy to drive 45 minutes for something that tastes like spicy potato chips). All the other basics of Mexican cuisine were right within reach. A dozen kinds of dry chiles, flaky rolls of cinnamon, pillow sized bags of jamaica, oregano, bolillos, stacks of tortillas both corn and flour still warm…

As much as I missed them all, I didn’t miss them as much as I did conchas, a rather simple sweet brioche bun with a streusel topping called costra, or crust. Never mind the word costra can also refer to a scab, that is far less appetizing. I could find a perfect sugar topped concha in almost any neighborhood in Phoenix. I can’t find one here within a 2 hour drive.

The Concha


Conchans resting before baking.


The concha is a French brioche bun, with egg, butter and milk. Many of the baked goods and desserts of Mexico have a greater degree of French than Spanish influence, a shift which began in the 1820’s after the overthrow of Spanish rule in Mexico, when a new Mexican identity began to develop.

Part of this identity is owed to the influx of European immigrants during this time. It didn’t hurt to cement French influence in Mexican food to have had a French appointed Emperor to the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867. Drink a German Mexican beer and listen to a Polish Mexican polka while you think about this crash course in Mexican history. I could go on, but the recipe itself is long enough reading.

Head to Eater to read more on the topic of the concha.

Advice for the recipe: 

Being a sweet dough, the rise on this particular dough will be slow and should not be forced to do otherwise. It is the slow rise which will produce a tight and bouncy crumb in the bun.

If you are unsure of your yeast, bloom before mixing at both the starter and dough steps. Otherwise, mix as indicated following a straight dough mixing method, and using liquids slightly warmer than body temperature.

Any rising times indicated on this recipe, or for any other, should be completely disregarded if they do not match where the dough needs to be. Temperature of the ingredients, of the room, humidity, and elevation all will have an affect on how quickly dough rises. Ignore the clock and look instead at how far along the dough is.

Like any other brioche dough, the concha dough will have some stick to it when first mixed.

To make things easier, prepare the starter in the same bowl the rest of the dough will be mixed in.

The costra, or streusel if you will, should be fairly dry and crumbly, to prevent it melting off during the baking process. It should only have enough moisture to hold it together when clumped.

If using a stamp to score the costra, do so against a flat surface before placing on the bun, and avoid scoring more than halfway to avoid breaking. It is preferable to score too deeply, rather than not deeply enough, as then it will not separate when baking.

Unfortunately conchas do not keep well for long. Bakeries producing them bake them throughout the day, as they do harden quickly. Keeping them in a paper bag, or wrapped in parchment or wax paper will help slightly. Warming them gently in a microwave or oven also helps, as well as a nice dunk in coffee or hot chocolate. Cómo se dice, sopeadito. 


Tight crumb inside the bun and a costra not properly scored.



  • Servings: 14
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print


  • 115 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 g sugar
  • 2 g yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 fl. oz. water, 100-110ºF


  • 385 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 125 g granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 fl oz milk, 100-110ºF
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 120 g unsalted butter, diced, room temperature


  • 120 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 115 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 115 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Using a paddle attachment, mix the ingredients for the starter until a smooth thick dough forms. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, approximately 2 hours.

Once the starter is ready, add flour, yeast and sugar to the bowl. Using a dough hook, mix at slow speed while incorporating the eggs and milk into the dough. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Add salt, and continue to mix at medium speed, while incorporating butter pieces into the dough. Mix until the dough is smooth and soft but still has some stick to it.

Turn out the dough and form into a smooth ball. Oil the bowl, coat the dough ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise for approximately 4 hours in a warm place, or until the dough has risen to slightly more than double its bulk.

While the dough is rising, mix together the costra with a paddle attachment until it can be clumped together.

When the dough is ready, divide into 14 even pieces of approx. 71 grams each. Working on a lightly floured surface, shape each portion smooth. Place on parchment or silicone mat lined baking trays, allowing as much space as possible between each portion. Flatten the portions to prevent the conchas from becoming too round while rising and baking. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place while shaping the costras.

Divide the topping into 14 even pieces of approximately 25 grams each. Cut a quart sized plastic bag open. Place a portion inside the cut open bag, and using a tortilla press, the undersize of a sauté pan, or hands, press each disk evenly to slightly thinner than 1/8″. Score with a concha stamp, or with the tip of a sharp paring knife into desired pattern.

Place a costra over each bun, pressing carefully to shape them.

Allow the conchas to rise until doubled, appriximately 1 1/2 hours.

Bake at 350ºF for approximately 18 minutes, or until the bun sounds hollow when tapped a the bottom.

Tortillas de Manteca

There was a time in Mexico’s northern states when the use of rendered lamb and beef fat to make flour tortillas was as common as the use of pork lard. The fat of one animal is just as good as another, even if the taste may be slightly different.

Tortillas made with tallow, manteca de res or sebo in Spanish, are indistinguishable from those made with lard, until they are tasted. Tallow gives them a richer and somehow warmer flavor than lard.

As the flavor is unique, the type of tortilla is produces should be as well. Tortillas de manteca, also referred to as gorditas de harina, are a smaller and thicker tortilla with a higher ratio of fat to flour, as the name implies. The result is a flaky, richly flavored and golden tortilla easily eaten on its own.

Due to their thickness, these tortillas are cooked at a lower heat than their thinner counterparts, to make sure they are cooked completely through. If that sign of the perfectly made tortilla does not appear, those pillowy air pockets separating one face from another, do not worry. This recipe produces them in much smaller quantities.

If a less flaky tortilla is desired, add more water to the dough, approximately one or two tablespoons, or enough to make the dough just barely stick to a clean finger. The remainder of the recipe would be worked the same.

For a primer on flour tortilla making, visit an earlier post: The Tortilla Ratio.

Tortillas de Manteca

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 125 g (2/3 c) tallow, room temperature
  • 240 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Scant 1/3 c water, warm

Working with a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the tallow until very creamy. Switch to a dough hook. Add dry ingredients and mix at low speed until the dough takes on a sandy appearance. Slowly add the warm water with the mixer running, and continue to mix until the dough comes together into a smooth ball.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic, and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat a heavy cast iron or non-stick skillet over low heat. Divide the dough into 10 portions, rolling each into a smooth ball. Working on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, press each portion to an approximately 4″ circle. Cook on each side for approximately 4 to 5 minutes, or until toasted to a medium golden tone.

Keep wrapped in a clean kitchen towel to maintain warm.

If a less flaky tortilla is desired, add more water to the dough, approximately one or two tablespoons, or enough to make the dough just barely stick to a clean finger. The remainder of the recipe would be worked the same.

Sebo y Manteca de Res – Suet and Tallow

While lard has enjoyed a revival in the last few years in this country (Praise the Lard t-shirt, anyone?), rendered beef fat, or tallow, remains mostly in obscurity. Unless you’re really into grass fed lip and body balms.

I blame poor marketing.

Suet, or sebo in Spanish, the large fat deposits near the kidneys, is no harder to find than leaf lard, and the process of rendering is the same. The one place where tallow may not stack up agains lard is in versatility. It can be decidedly beefy in taste and smell and not always as appropriate for pastry applications. Unless of course, you are very talented and turn it into cheesecake.


If you’ve rendered leaf lard, then the process for turning suet into tallow will be very familiar. My main warning remains:

Do not for any reason think it is a good idea to cut the suet using a food processor, unless you want to end up with an off-putting pink sludge. I have seen this. It is not pleasant.

Tallow can be referred to as sebo in Spanish, or simply manteca de res.

Manteca de Res - Tallow

  • 5 pounds suet
  • Cold water, as needed

Be sure to remove any blood and blood vessels before cutting and rendering. It is unlikely any large pieces of meat will be attached to the fat, as a good butcher would remove these. Any small pieces remaining can be cooked into cracklins at the end of the rendering process.

Working with a very sharp knife, cut the suet into 1/2″ cubes. It will cut more easily if slightly frozen, preventing the fat from becoming too soft.

Place the cut suet in a large thick-bottom pot large enough to accommodate everything in a not too deep of a layer. Add enough cold water to the pot to cover 1″ of the fat.

Cook over low-medium heat. Skim off any impurities. Filter the rendered tallow through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Five pounds of suet should result in approximately half a gallon of tallow.

When the last bit of fat has been rendered, return any bits of fat and cook meat that remain to the pot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crunchy.

Lenten Recipes: Capirotada

To say there is a definitive version of the dish capirotada would be to blatantly lie. There are as many variations of this lenten sweet bread pudding as there are ingredients in it. Ingredients such as buttered toasted bread, brown sugar syrup, dried fruits, garlic, onions, cilantro and tomato…. Wait, what? Yes, and all topped with grated salty cheese.

These recipes, combining savory and sweet ingredients in a bread pudding go back to very early versions of the dish, 4th century or so, where day old bread was softened with stock, honey combined with meats and baked. In Mexico, the native tomato was added, as well as day old corn tortillas.

Early in the 20th century, the dish took on a sweeter characteristic, yet it seems as if some regions of Mexico forgot to remove some of the more savory ingredients. I recommend you do, unless you really like your desserts to end with the delightful taste of white onions.





Capirotada is consumed on Fridays during Lent, the toasted sweet bread a consolation price for missing out on beef for the day. There is however, no reason to leave this dessert for just those Lenten Fridays. This particular recipe gets rid of the typical layered look of the dish for a more jumbled tossed together appearance. There is nothing more disappointing than scooping out a hefty portion of capirotada and finding a large gap in the middle,  created by the curved shape of the bread slices. The ingredients are tossed in the syrup, rather than drizzled on top while layering, so the syrup is more evenly soaked in, rather than accumulating at the bottom.


  • Difficulty: Medium
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  • 500 g (2 1/2 cup packed) brown sugar, or 3 piloncillo cones
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 stick Mexican cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 or 2 cloves
  • 5 ot 6 bolillos, or 1 baguette, day old
  • 1 ripe plantain
  • Approx. 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 each: raisins, golden raisins, diced prunes, diced dry figs, chopped roasted almonds
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • Parchment paper, as needed

Place the brown sugar, spices and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook at a strong simmer until a light syrup consistency is achieved. Test swiping a clean finger across the back of a spoon dipped into the syrup; there should be no drip across this line.

Cut the bread into 1/2″ slices. Place on parchment paper lined or nonstick baking sheets and brush with softened butter. Bake at 400ºF until golden. When cool enough to handle, brush the underside with more butter.

Cut the ends of the plantain and score the skin lengthwise to aid in peeling. Cut into thick rounds, then cut into half rounds. Heat the canola oil with a large dollop of butter until foaming. Cook the plantains for a minute or two on each side, or until they are lightly golden. Remove from the heat.

Tear the bread into large chunks and place in a large bowl along with the dried fruits and nuts. Toss together to combine. When the syrup is ready, strain 2/3 of the syrup over the bread mixture. Mix well, adding syrup if it appears too dry. Mix very well. Reserve any remaining syrup for garnishing.

Lightly oil the bottom of a large baking dish and line with parchment paper. Butter the paper and all sides well. Pour the bread mixture into the dish, pressing down slightly if needed. Top with the fried plantains. Bake at 400ºF for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bread begins to crisp again.

Serve warm with a drizzle of the brown sugar syrup and sweetened condensed milk, if desired.

Sick Day Food: Atole de Pinole

Being at home sick means freedom from two things. The wearing of real clothes, and the chewing of food. I simply cannot chew food with a head full of sickness. So I turn to atole de pinole.

Pinole consists of lightly toasted dry corn kernels, and ground to a fine powder. Most of the time, this flour will be lightly sweetened with piloncillo, raw brown sugar, and spiced with cinnamon. In some cases vanilla and other seeds and spices are added. It is one of the foods that blends the ancient pre-Columbian culinary traditions with post-Columbian ingredients.

Cooked into milk, it becomes a silky and filling atole without so much of the overpowering corn flavor present in atoles made with nixtamalized corn. My favorite is the Pinole Azul from Rancho Gordo, though the Pima corn pinole from Ramona Farms is a close second.


Atole de pinole. Toasted blue corn atole. 


Atole de Pinole

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup blue corn pinole
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • Small piece Mexican cinnamon
  • Pinch kosher salt

Whisk the pinole into 1/2 cup of milk until completely dissolved. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes. Place the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the pinole and milk mixture. Continue to simmer until the beverage has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Check for sweetness and adjust as needed. Serve hot, cinnamon stick and all.


Empanadas de Cerveza – Beer Dough Empanadas

Grabbing a round aluminum tray, a pair of tongs and carefully selecting from the sugar topped, soft and flaky pastries on display is one of the great joys of visiting a Mexican pastry shop. Picking an empanada, thinking it is filled with pineapple, only to later realize it is pumpkin or apple, is one of the great disappointments of visiting said Mexican pastry shop.

If there is one blessing in living in upstate New York, it is that I am spared such a horror. There are no Mexican bakeries.

Though called empanada de cerveza, only a small amount of beer is needed for the dough. Scaling the recipe up, in order to use a full 12 ounce can of beer, results in enough empanadas for everyone you know. Best to keep it small. This recipe utilizes a full batch of mermelada de piña (pineapple marmalade).

Use a lager style beer, as the carbonation is part of the leavening for the pastry. Tecate is my beer of choice for this, but any lager will do.

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • For the dough:
  • 250 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 25 g (2 tbsp) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 125 g (2/3 c) lard, cubed and chilled
  • 3 fl oz lager style beer
  • For the egg wash:
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp milk

Mix the dry ingredients together. Add the lard, cutting into the dry mixture until a dry and crumbly mixture is achieved. Make a small well in the center, and add the beer. Mix until just combined, and the dough holds together when squeezed. Wrap well in plastic, and allow to rest, refrigerated, for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 even portions. Roll each portion into a smooth ball, and working with a rolling pin, on a lightly floured surface, roll into approximately a 5″ circle.

Stuff with a thick, fairly dry and cool marmalade, such as pineapple, fold and seal. Get fancy with a rope edge if you  must. Whisk together the egg yolk and milk. Brush all exposed edges of the empanadas well with the egg wash.

Bake at 350ºF on a parchment paper lined tray for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.