Dessert Tex-Mex

Chocolate tamales with pecans

Chocolate tamales with pecans DSC5224

I received an invitation to a tamalada (a tamale-making party) recently. The party was in Seattle, which might seem like a long way to travel in order to cook with friends, but you don’t know just how much I love tamales. Unfortunately, however, the trip couldn’t happen due to conflicts with both work and my bank account. But this didn’t stop me from making my own tamales here in New York City. And while I usually make savory tamales, this time I decided to make chocolate tamales instead.

I used to tell people that instead of a silver spoon, I was born with a tamale in my mouth. As often as I can, you’ll find me eating a tamale, either unadorned or smothered in chili gravy. I’ve always been partial to shredded beef tamales, but I won’t say no to pork, chicken, turkey, cheese, or bean as I’m an equal-opportunity tamale eater. And there is really never a bad time to eat tamales, morning or night, spring or fall. But the best time to eat tamales is at Christmas.

In Texas and Mexico, it’s a long-standing tradition for people to come together this time of year and spend all day making stacks of tamales, to be eaten during Christmas and shared with friends and family. I suspect one reason for this is because making them takes a lot of work—not hard work, mind you, but it’s certainly time consuming. And since it’s not an everyday activity, the more hands you have on hand the faster the tamale making goes. You have a house full of family? Put them to work!

Chocolate tamales with pecans  | Homesick Texan

I will admit that I did not start making my own until later in life—my family missed out on all the fun by buying their Christmas tamales. But from the first time I attended a tamalada, I was convinced that there is probably no better way to gather with friends—it’s the ultimate dinner party.

Now, as much as I love to make tamales, my friends and I only get around to it once a year. But this doesn’t stop me from eating tamales as often as I can and fortunately there are people who sell them near my apartment on Sundays.

Last week there was a new vendor hawking their sweet tamales. I’d never had a sweet tamale before, so curious how it would taste I ordered one. As the seller pulled the tamale from the steamer, I was alarmed at the color, which was a bright pink that I suspected had not been achieved naturally. (Though you can dye the masa and husks with hibiscus leaves.) And if that wasn’t bad enough, the stuffing was candied pineapple and some chewy sweet green thing I couldn’t identify. The tamale may have looked festive but it tasted terrible. It was the leaden fruitcake of tamales and like the fate of that much-maligned Christmas pastry, this dessert also ended up in the garbage bin.

But not all fruitcakes are inedible and I knew that a sweet tamale could be good as well. So I decided to make my own.

When I made the masa, I threw in sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla to make it sweet and chucked in some chopped pecans and dried cherries as well. For the filling, I simply placed chocolate chips in the center of my masa before rolling my tamales.

Chocolate tamales with pecans  | Homesick Texan

The hardest part about making tamales is the wait—after all that stuffing and rolling, you still have to steam them for two very long hours in which your house will become fragrant with chocolate, cherries, and pecans. It takes a lot of restraint to not whip off the lid of your steamer and grab a tamale. But please, control yourself. And yes, when they’re ready, your patience will pay off when you peel off the corn husk and take a soft, chocolate-rich bite.

Chocolate tamales with pecans DSC5224
5 from 1 vote

Chocolate tamales with pecans and dried cherries

Servings 32 tamales
Author Lisa Fain


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 4 cups masa harina
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup roasted and chopped pecans,
  • 1 cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Place the corn husks in a pan of water and submerge until completely covered. Let soak for 20 minutes or until soft and pliable.

  2. Cream together the butter and the brown sugar.

  3. Mix together the masa harina, cinnamon, vanilla, ground cloves and salt. Stir in the water and milk and combine until the masa harina is a moist paste.

  4. Add the masa harina to the creamed butter and sugar and whip until fluffy. Stir in the pecans and dried cherries.

  5. To form the tamales, take a corn husk, which you’ll notice has four sides and is in sort of a cone shape. Place the corn husk in front of you, with the pointed end at your right. In the center of the husk, spoon out 1/4 cup of the masa and spread it leaving a clean border around the masa. Place one tablespoon of chocolate chips in the center of the masa.

  6. Now, join together the two long sides (NOT the pointed side and the wide side) and then roll the husk until it’s about the width of a cigar. Take the narrower, pointed end and fold it up about 1/4 way of the tamale. Alternatively, you can rip strips from a corn husk and after rolling tie up each end like it’s a package.

  7. In a large pot, place a steamer basket or a colander. Add water to the pot just to the base of the basket (don’t let the water get into it). Place the tamales in the basket seam side down, bring the water to a boil and then cover the pot and turn the heat down to low.

  8. Check the water level occasionally to make sure there’s enough in the pot, and steam tamales for two hours. You’ll know they’re done when the masa pulls cleanly away from the husk.

  9. Let them rest for a few minutes and then serve warm. I like to eat them as they are, but they’re also good with a dollop of sour cream mixed with cinnamon, a bit of sugar and vanilla. Powdered sugar sprinkled on top of them is a treat as well.

  1. Kelly @ EvilShenanigans

    Never had chocolate tamales, but they sound lovely! The pink one you bought … not so much! BTW, I agree about edible Fruit Cake … I posted one just a few days ago that was really nice! Anyway, I always buy my tamales at the holidays because I have so much other food to make, but one day I am going to make my own. It may not be at Christmas, but I will make some, darn it! 🙂

  2. bluejeangourmet

    oooh, I've never had a sweet tamale before, but I love all of these flavors in a cookie, so why not a tamale?

    we were invited to a tamalada here in Houston on Friday night but already had a Hanukkah party on the books, so I think I shall have to make my own as you did!

  3. Elise @ The Foodie Forkful

    What a cool idea! I'm planning to make Cuban tamales this week (one of my favorite foods since I was a kid) but I've never considered a sweet tamale.

  4. VeggieGirl

    Fun party and delicious treat! 🙂

  5. Nicole Lang

    These look so wonderful Lisa! So perfect for traditional Christmas tamales, but with a delicious desserty twist!

  6. Whitney

    We used to make tamales every year around Christmas and give a dozen or so too all the neighbors. Oh man were they good.

    The flavors in the sweet tamale sound AMAZING. Wow.

  7. Would love to know your recommendations for best tamales in New York (for those of us who are lazy…) Love the idea of a sweet tamale….

  8. I have the best memories of making tamales with my grandma and aunts back in Texas when I was so much younger! My grandma would make sweet tamales with cinnamon sugar and raisins. Oh so yummy! Thanks for posting chocolate tamales. I will have to try these. A total labor of love!

  9. One of the few Christmas Days I wasn't in Kentucky, I'd just moved to LA. The neighbors kept us up much of the night before with an argument that (we later learned) was the result of drinking an entire bottle of tequila. They brought us turkey tamales the next day as an apology – which were amazing, and a great twist on the holiday. These look even better!

  10. Gabriela

    I'm sorry you had a bad experience with sweet pineapple tamales. I remember having scrumptious tamales de piña y tamales de fresa back when I lived in Los Angeles.

    These chocolate tamles look great! Maybe I'll make a few this weekend to share with friends.

  11. Not a huge chocolate fan (I know!) but the cinnamon-y masa reminds me of some sweet tamales I had once in a restaurant in San Angelo. They had raisins, pecans, coconut and other yummy stuff in the masa, so they weren't "filled". More like a little masa cake that had been steamed. They were delicious with a cup of coffee!

  12. ~Molly~

    Sweet mother of God!!! I must find some friends willing to help out with this. Or maybe I'll make the children do it!LOL


  13. Lisa Fain

    Kelly–I loved your fruit cake recipe! And definitely gather some friends and family and have a tamalada–it's a total blast!

    Blue Jean Gourmet–Yes, have your own! But if you can make it to both parties, I recommend it.

    Elise–I don't think I've ever had Cuban tamales. Are they wrapped in banana leaves?


    Nicole–Thank you! And yep, they're wonderful at the end of a meal, though I've been known to make a breakfast out of them as well.

    Whitney–Giving tamales to your neighbor sounds like the best gift!

    Maggie–I like the street vendors on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. There's also a woman who goes to Union Square Greenmarket real early on Saturdays who has delicious tamales. Momofuku Noodle Bar is now selling them late night. I haven't tried them but David Chang makes consistently good food.

    Donna–I bet the raisins would be great in these as well!

    Emily–Now that's odd, tequila usually makes people happy. But hey, I'd listen to people rant and rave all night for a batch of turkey tamales!

    Gabriela–Perhaps I just need to try them again, made with more care.

    Esmer–Coconut! I'll have to add that to my next batch.

  14. squirrelbread

    You are my hero! My boyfriend and I moved to TX earlier this year, falling immediately in love with the tamale shop around the corner. I bought some corn husks and masa the other day — hopefully I can put those to use soon!



  15. suzinoz

    Wow. Thanks for the memories! We've spent many a Christmas making tamales as a family. It's such a fun tradition and the results…well, delicious! I really miss tamales. Mexican or Tex Mex is very hard to come by here in Australia, and when you do find some, it's usually of the taco, fajita, burrito type. No tamales! =( I might just have to start making my own. We'll see if I can find the ingredients!!

  16. Texasann

    Ooohhhh, that sounds like an unbeatable combination. The young daughter of my Christmas tamale connection makes a queso fresco, jalapeno, tomato tamale that is my new favorite. Like you, I eat them any time of day.

    I just printed your aunt's praline recipe. I have several bags of nuts in my freezer. Think I'll try walnut pralines and almond! maybe a 3 nut version. You always peak my cooking soul to be adventurous! Thank you, Lisa, and happy holidays!


  17. deebswriting

    I also am pretty picky when it comes to sweet tamale fillings – cinnamon and raisins = yes, bright pink fake-strawberry flavor = no, thank you. But the best US/Mexico melting pot example, and my favorite sweet tamales by far, are filled with pumpkin. You can get them in Tucson and the filling seems to be something like pumpkin pie filling, but obviously not as runny. My friends in Guadalajara think this is the strangest thing ever, but I love them.

  18. Marissa

    I am too far away to go to my family's tamalada but I just got an e-mail full of photos from it on Saturday. I miss living close to them!

  19. Marjorie

    I love tamales, made them at a cooking class once and decided I prefer to buy them. Lazy I guess!

    I made fruit cakes today and I really hate fruit cakes but Martha stewart made them last week and she made them sound, and look so delicious. I spent quite a lot of money making her recipe, guess what? I still hate fruitcake.

  20. Memória

    I've never heard of a chocolate tamal (the singular form of "tamales" is actually "tamal" :D)! Wow. Very interesting. Your tamal looks delicious. I have been planning on making savory tamales for Christmas this year, but I'm lacking a tamal steamer pot.

  21. apronless

    I thought I didn't like tamales until this month. That's when I had a good tamal.

    Inspired by that experience and now this drool-inducing post, I may just have to have a tamale party with savory and sweet types this month!

  22. being the daughter of an texas oilman who moved around the world, we began a tradition early in my life that for christmas dinner we would eat mexican food. it manifested itself in different ways in different countries, but no matter where we were- homemade tamales were an order of business in december. My parent would stow away masa and husks in our summer visit home luggage and save them untill december. I have memories making flour tortillas in northern scotland, and my parents tamaladas in jakarta. Mexican food is Christmas food, and now I am dying to try these sweet tamales!

  23. Farmer Jen

    Never had sweet tamales before, but I will try these. They sound good!

  24. again, thank you for another mouth watering recipe! i live in new mexico, and it is also a tradition to make tamales for the holiday season. having lived in new york too, i'd never heard of fresh masa until i moved here, and i now use that to make my tamales!

    can't wait to make them! thank you again for making my mouth water! 🙂 kim

  25. Tasty Eats At Home

    Oh man, these sound amazing! I've never had a sweet tamale, but it's not hard for me to imagine – I've used masa in other sweet baked goods. Wondering if I can fit these in to my holiday sweet treats schedule!

  26. Alejandro

    I love reading your recipes and always look forward to receiving your newsletter. I read this recipe and wondered how different they were made compared to the ones we make. We make the masa as usual (prepared masa, shortening, and hot water), but we add dried pineapples, raisins, and coconut. I know we'll be trying these out this season! Thank you!

  27. What a fun idea Lisa. I have had good tamales from Mexicans who have moved up to Washington State for orchard work. I have had bad tamales from restaurants in Washington State (until I stopped ordering them). I have never had a sweet tamale though. Sounds delicious. Do you think it would be as good with shortening instead of butter and coconut milk instead of milk? I have a dairy allergy, and would love to try making these.

    Also, I love the idea of a tamalada. It would be great fun to have a party making both savory and sweet tamales! Food parties are so much fun!

    Thanks for the idea.

  28. Lisa Fain

    Molly–Put the children to work!

    Squirrelbread–I hope you can, too–making tamales is such fun!

    Suzinoz–I think you definitely need to start making your own and show those Ozzies how it's done!

    Texann–I don't think I've ever had tomatoes in a tamale, I'll have to try that! And enjoy the pralines–they're delicious!

    Deebswriting–Pumpkin sounds like it would be a fantastic filling.

    Marissa–You need to have on in Seattle!

    Marjorie–Good to know that even Martha's fruitcake is not very good!

    Memória-Oh, I know–I'm just speaking Texan and not Spanish! And while the pot helps I do mine in a tall soup pot with a steamer basket.

    Apronless–You definitely need to have the tamalada. And if it's in two weeks I just may crash it!

    Susan–What a wonderful tradition! I can't think of a better way to feel close to home when you're far flung.

    Farmer Jen–If you like chocolate and nuts you should like these.

    Kim–Fresh masa is difficult to find in NYC–I think there's only one place that makes it. But it's so superior to the masa harina–the tamales are fluffier and richer.

    Tasty Eats At Home–If you don't have time for them in your schedule, they'll certainly taste good any other time of year as well.

    Alejandro–I definitely need to add coconut next time!

    Claire–I think they would be fantastic with shortening and coconut milk!

  29. I love your recipes! The chewy green thing in the pink sweet tamale may have been candied cactus (called acitron or biznaga). Cheers!

  30. I grew up in El Paso so like you I might as well have been born with a tamale in my mouth (or maybe a gordita – it's a toss-up). I've made chocolate and cherry tamales where the chocolate is mixed into the masa, but I really love the idea of a more traditional masa with chocolate as part of the filling. We always have Mexican food for Christmas Eve and I think I'll add your tamales to our dessert menu. Thanks for sharing.

  31. "Guppy" Honaker

    I LOVE tamales. Pecans and chocolate – you are a person after my own heart!

    Aloe Vera 101

  32. My Mom can wip up some tamales in no time. When i was pregnant with my first daugther, I asked her to make me some chicken tamales before I had that baby. She started at 10:00 p.m boiling the chicken and preparing the masa. by 11:00 p.m, I was eating about 10 tamales, she makes the best. At 12:00, I had my first labor pain.

    By the way, unless you are steaming a huge pot, I do not think you need to wait for 2 hours. Try to get the water boiling before you add it to the pot. Tamales will be very soft at the beginning (I love them like that) but will harden when cooler. An hour aprox. will be enough for 32 tamales, maybe less. I have steamed a couple dozens in 20 to 30 min. You may gently undo a tamal and check for uncooked masa). And may wrap it again. You will not mess it up after an hour.

  33. I want to come over for a tamalada! I just stumbled across your blog as I was looking for a mint chocolate cookie recipe and then got sidetracked…
    I was raised in Texas and now live in PA. I miss Mexican food, so your blog totally appealed to me! My (step)dad just made tamales last weekend (I have yet to learn how to make them) and I ate some last night. The weird thing is I juts had a conversation with him about learning to make them and how they are a long process etc etc…then I find this blog post the same day!

    Ok rambling….anyway what a novel idea to make sweet tamales. Sounds delish…but I need to learn to make the regular ones first I think haha

  34. thecosmiccowgirl

    lisa, these look wonderful. i made some of alice tapp's chocolate tamales last year. i pushed them on everyone i could find. i thought they were lovely. i agree they would make a great breakfast, almost reminded me of a chocolate croissant. i love the addition of nuts and fruit, too!

  35. Thanks for letting me know that sweet tamales exist.

    Now that I have found a Mexican grocery store here in Toronto that carries many of the ingredients you use in your recipes, it is going to make things so much easier.
    Who would have thought that corn husks and real Mexican dried chiles would get me so excited ?

  36. Laine Moore

    Just wanted to say Thank You for giving me all those restaurant recommendations for San Antonio 🙂

    Those look delish!!

  37. I really like the sound of sweet tamales!

  38. These sound amazing, and now I'm thinking that coconut suggestion was brilliance but might need a smear of dulce de leche…

  39. I love (LOVE) tamales. I've never made a sweet one and intended to make a few with chocolate when I made red chili pork tamales today. Sadly, I forgot to get the chocolate, but it's on my list for next time. Thanks for this post!

  40. Sadly, though raised by a Houstonian who was raised by San Angelo farm stock, I never tasted a tamal before college, when my boss basically force-fed me one. Mom's a picky eater. I LOVE them though!

  41. lizmarsden

    Hi Lisa,

    that sounds delicious, if I ever visit America I'll have to try these! Is there a substitute for cornhusks (perhaps baking paper?) as we don't have them in dried form in the UK – I'd have to buy 32 corn on the cob!



  42. Christine Medifast

    I've never actually had tamales before, but think it is nearing that time that I do. This recipe sounds delicious for a first tamale attempt!

    Wish me luck,


  43. You had me with the title. How nice would one of those be with a glass of red wine? That's how I want to for a long day of work.

  44. Lisa Fain

    Natanya–I think your chocolate tamales sound pretty dandy as well!

    Troy–Ah! When you call it candied cactus it sounds quite delicious!

    David–Pecans and chocolate are indeed an excellent combination. Thank you!

    Beatriz–What a great story! Thanks for the tip. Next time I make them I'll check them after half an hour and see if they're ready.

    Teri–Welcome! It's great to meet you! And I don't think it matters if you start with sweet or savory–making tamales isn't hard at all!

    TheCosmicCowgirl–I think I prefer them for breakfast–they go so well with a cup of coffee.

    Tommy–Now that y'all have a Mexican grocery store in Toronto, surely the taco trucks can't be far behind!

    Laine–You're very welcome. It' a good eating town.

    Kevin–They do sound good, don't they!

    Melissa–Oh, yes!

    Andrea–You're welcome. And those red pork chili tamales sound pretty amazing as well.

    Skatej–I'm sorry you had to wait so long, but it sounds like it was worth the wait.

    LizMarsden–You can use parchment paper in place of the husks or you can order corn husks from

    Christine–Good luck! I know you'll do very well.

    Devon–Never thought of that but I bet they would pair well with a glass of red wine. Great idea!

  45. I recently made my own Hanukkah tamales — beef tzimmes tamales.
    It was my first time making tamales but not my last. Thanks for the inspiration. I look forward to trying your sweet version.

  46. Anonymous

    Masa Harina to make tamales? Like to use regular masa from the tortilla factory.

    Never had a good experience eating sweet tamales. But this receipe sound great! I am going to have to make them during our regular/yearly (12/24) tamale making.

    I love tamales. Thanks for the recipe!

  47. the fashionable traveler

    Talk about a homesick Texan. For me tamales and christmas go hand in hand. I was sad to miss my cousin's tamalada last week. Can't wait to try the chocolate tamales.


  48. heathereater

    I think I am in LOVE! All of your recipes are just too tempting to ignore… For this specific recipes is it ok to stack the tamales to cook them or do I make seperate batches every 2 hours…?

  49. So you wouldn't reccomend using premade pink or yellow masa bought from the store?

  50. Lisa Fain

    Roxc–You could use it if you prefer.

  51. A quicker way to steam your tamales is to cook them in a pressure cooker. use a steamer basket on the bottom with just enough water not to touch the basket, then fill your tamales in and cook on high till the pressure top is dancing then reduce heat and cook on about medium for about 20 min, they turn off the heat and cool till you can open the cooker, then pull out and let them cool, they will be firm. I make dozens of tamales all by myself all in a days time.

  52. We made these today! My husband says they're an abomination, but a tasty one. Fabuloso!

  53. Anonymous

    Replace the pecans with raisins, and you have yourself a little taste of heaven.

    -Nathan Kelly

  54. Meg Saunders

    My sister and I made tamales for the first time in our life this past weekend. We decided to mix-it up a bit and used "creative" recipes for our batches of tamales: chicken pot pie tamales and the Homesick Texan's chocolate tamale recipe. OMG. I'm very glad we found the HST's tamales recipe.The reviews for the chocolate tamales are off-the-charts positive. I've been snacking on warm choco. tamales at work and, as I slowly bring out the dish from the microwave, I receive so many compliments about the aroma. I feel bad that I'm hording and not sharing the delicious dessert with others, but I justify this by saying this is a test batch: I am conducting a "taste test" to see how well the tamales hold up in the microwave. I must report that the choco tamales are holding up very well so far. We'll definitely be making the HST's recipe again. Thank you so much for sharing this decadent recipe, Ms. Homesick Texan.

  55. Ann Harste

    A Mercado in St. Paul makes a sweet sweetcorn tamale that is one of my favorites. I serve them untraditionally with breakfast sausage and syrup or powdered sugar.

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