Tamales De Cambray: An Easy Recipe for Guatemalan Sweet Tamales

An easy recipe for Tamales de Cambray, this traditional Guatemalan dish is one of my favorite Guatemalan sweet tamales! A meatless variation of the classic tamales wrapped in tusa or corn husks, this delicious Guatemalan tamal is unique in taste and shape. Tamalitos de Cambray is a traditional Guatemalan dessert usually prepared for special occasions. Raisins and almonds highlight their rich flavor. With this easy recipe, you can make Cambrayitos any time of the year!

guatemalan tamal de cambray

Tamalitos de Cambray:  A deliciously Simple Guatemalan Dessert

Tamales are one of my all-time favorite Guatemalan foods. I love them all, from the savory tamales colorados and paches to sweet tamales de Cambray and tamales negros. When I think about tamales, my mind fills with images of my grandmother cooking at home. I remember how she taught us to prepare many Guatemalan dishes that brought us together as a family.

Since I’ve moved to the US, I have been looking and tweaking easy-to-follow tamal recipes. So, I am sharing an easy recipe for tamales de Cambray. I love that you can make this tamal in under 2 hours. This delicious Guatemalan sweet tamale is one you will want to make again and again! 

what is a tamalito de cambray

What is a Guatemalan Tamalito de Cambray?

This sweet tamal is a traditional Guatemalan dessert native to the department of Guatemala. It differs from others by its sweetness and red coloring, with a very distinctive taste. It has more in common with the chuchitos tamales, a traditional Guatemalan dish, as they are made of masa (corn flour) and wrapped in dried corn husks or tusa.

Guatemalan sweet tamales

But tamales de Cambray differ from the others since they have a very particular sweet taste. You usually stuff them with raisins, almonds, or prunes. Then, depending on people’s preferences, the dough has either cinnamon or anise water.

ingredients for tamales de cambray from Guatemala

The red color comes mostly from using pink sugar, which is regular sugar dyed a light red. Some Guatemalans use food coloring instead of pink sugar. Still, the end result is the same: to give the tamal a unique pinkish complexion. 

What are the ingredients in a Tamal de Cambray?

The main ingredient in most tamales is the masa (dough) made from corn flour and lard, and this sweet tamal is no different. But what sets it apart is the sweet taste that comes from the cinnamon and sugar. Plus, the raisins and almonds bring a unique touch to this particular Guatemalan dish. 

Tamalitos de Cambray are also unique in that they are usually shaped into two separate masa balls by tieing the corn husk not only on each side but also in the middle of the tamal. It gives them their distinctive beaded look. 

Tamales are a massive part of our Guatemalan culinary traditions, especially during Christmas and Lent. Every household has a different take on the same dish. In this post, you will find an easy recipe for Cambrayitos (as we call them at home), a delicious Guatemalan dessert you can now make on any day!

tamal de cambray Guatemala

Easy Recipe for Guatemalan Tamales de Cambray:

Ingredients

  • 1 package corn flour, 2 lb. (Maseca)
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1-2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of white sugar (regular)
  • 4 oz of pink sugar
  • 1 lb. of lard, room temperature (you can replace it with margarine)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 4 oz of raisins
  • 6 oz of almonds, toasted and peeled (optional)
  • 2 bunches of tusa (dried corn husks)

How to Make Tamales de Cambray

  1. Soak the tusa (dried corn husks) in hot water for about half an hour. Check that the husks are completely submerged, so they become flexible and easy to fold. Drain them and cut them into large strips. Set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, pour the milk with the cinnamon stick and bring it to a boil. Remove from heat and take out the cinnamon. Let it cool off.
  3. In a large bowl, pour about 2 cups of corn flour and about 1 cup of water and start mixing using your hands. 
  4. Mix in the white sugar, pink sugar, lard, milk, and salt, and blend well. Add the rest of the flour, one cup at a time, combining it with water to form a smooth dough (masa). 
  5. Add water as needed until the dough has reached the desired consistency, moist and manageable but not wet. Set aside.

Assembling The Tamal

  1. Take one of the husks, cut it into strips along the grain, and use them to tie the tamalitos.
  2. Open one tusa or corn husk so that it lies flat on your kitchen counter. Then, using a spoon, spread two small balls of dough next to each other.
  3. Place one raisin inside one ball and almond on the other one. You can change the almond for another raisin or a prune if you want.
  4. Fold over the husk edges in, then fold the bottom up. Tie it tightly with a strip of corn husk, one in the middle, one at the top, and one on the bottom. The tamale will come out with a round shape around the raisin and the other with the almond.

recipe for tamalitos de cambray

  1. Repeat until you have gone through all your dough.

Cooking Time

  1. In a tamal steamer or large pot, place four tusa (husks) leaves at the bottom and place the tamals tied side up around the sides, leaving a hole in the center.
  2. Fill the pot with enough water to cover them, about 2 cups of water. Cover with a lid and set over medium heat. Steam the tamales for about half an hour, adding water if needed.
  3. Drain the water and serve warm

Tips For Making the Best Tamales de Cambray:

  • Butter up! You can easily change the lard for the dough for unsalted butter that will bring that creamy flavor. Just remember to leave it at room temperature, so it mixes well with the corn flour and avoids a lumpy dough.
  • Use what you got at home: Maybe your kids don’t like almonds, or you have prunes instead of raisins. It’s ok! Use what you like best or what you have available in your pantry.
  • Wrapping Substitutes: If you can’t find dried corn husks, you can use aluminum foil for wrapping. You may not get the smokey flavor from the leaves, but it will work in a pinch. 

Guatemalan tamales de cambray recipe

Make Ahead of Time

With this easy recipe, you can do everything on the same day! Just be mindful that wrapping the tamales might be time-consuming, so plan at least two hours for cooking. Having said that, I don’t recommend making the dough in advance, as it tends to dry out and becomes hard to handle. 

I like to cook the entire recipe either the same day or a couple of days in advance. Then, keep the tamales chilled in the refrigerator over a week or up to six months in the freezer. Read on to learn how to freeze and reheat tamales in the sections below.

How Do I Freeze Tamales?

Usually, when I cook tamales, I make a double batch or have leftovers. Frozen tamales hold up fine for up to 6 months in the freezer. The thing I love about freezing cooked tamales is that I can have a delicious Guatemalan meal at any time!

So, to freeze them, I let the tamales cool down, put them inside a freezer-friendly bag, and label them so I don’t forget how long they’ve been sitting in my freezer. I prefer to freeze cooked tamales over uncooked, and here’s why: Once you freeze raw corn dough, it tends to fall apart when you defrost it. It can become a mess during boiling, not holding its shape and losing its flavors.

How to Reheat Tamales

The best part about frozen tamales is that I can steam them in the pot without thawing them first. So just throw them in a pot, add about 2 inches of water and reheat them over medium for 15 to 20 minutes. But if you want, there are other alternative options on how best to reheat tamales.

how to freeze and reheat tamales

What To Serve with Guatemalan Tamalitos de Cambray?

Surprise your family and friends with delicious Guatemalan dessert tamales. Tamalitos de Cambray differ from the traditional savory tamales by having no meat and a delicious sweet taste. And since they have a subtle cinnamon taste, they are perfect as a standalone dessert or a snack accompanied by a steaming cup of Guatemalan coffee!

Other Traditional Guatemalan Desserts

Rellenitos de platano recipe
Guatemalan rellenitos de platano.
  • Jocotes en Miel: A traditional Guatemalan food commonly served around the day of the Dead celebrations. These juicy jocotes (hog plums) are cooked in a bubbling sweet syrup and heavenly spices.
  • Champurradas: A super easy recipe that will surely be a total success with everyone in the family! A scrumptious giant cookie with the perfect level of crunch to dunk in your morning coffee!
  • Canillitas de Leche: Try a quick and easy recipe for canillitas, a delicious 10-minute dessert that uses only three ingredients you already have in your pantry.
  • Guatemalan Buñuelos: A fried wheat-based dough balls, crisp on the outside and soft inside, covered in white sugar. Serve this delicious Guatemalan dessert in a light syrup your kids will love! 
buñuelos recipe from Guatemala
buñuelos recipe from Guatemala

There is no better way to combine my love for Guatemalan tamales with my fondness for sweets like this easy Guatemalan dessert. Tamales de Cambray stand out with their distinctive sweet cinnamon or anise flavor. This sweet tamalito will surely be a hit with adults and kids alike. And when you try its deliciousness, you will cook it for family gatherings, as delicious snacks, or for no reason at all!

ingredients for tamales de cambray from Guatemala

Tamales de Cambray

Yield: 20 tamales
Prep Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours

A delicious Guatemalan sweet tamal filled with raisins and almonds

Ingredients

  • 1 package corn flour, 2 lb. (Maseca)
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1-2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of white sugar (regular)
  • 4 oz of pink sugar
  • 1 lb. of lard, room temperature (you can replace it with margarine)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 4 oz of raisins
  • 6 oz of almonds, toasted and peeled (optional)
  • 2 bunches of tusa (dried corn husks)

Instructions

How to Make Tamales de Cambray

  1. Soak the tusa (dried corn husks) in hot water for about half an hour. Check that the husks are completely submerged, so they become flexible and easy to fold. Drain them and cut them into large strips. Set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, pour the milk with the cinnamon stick and bring it to a boil. Remove from heat and take out the cinnamon. Let it cool off.
  3. In a large bowl, pour about 2 cups of corn flour and about 1 cup of water and start mixing using your hands.
  4. Mix in the white sugar, pink sugar, lard, milk, and salt, and blend well. Add the rest of the flour, one cup at a time, combining it with water to form a smooth dough (masa).
  5. Add water as needed until the dough has reached the desired consistency, moist and manageable but not wet. Set aside.

Assembling The Tamal

  1. Take one of the husks, cut it into strips along the grain, and use them to tie the tamalitos.
  2. Open one tusa or corn husk so that it lies flat on your kitchen counter. Then, using a spoon, spread two small balls of dough next to each other.
  3. Place one raisin inside one ball and almond on the other one. You can change the almond for another raisin or a prune if you want.
  4. Fold over the husk edges in, then fold the bottom up. Tie it tightly with a double strip of corn husk, one in the middle and one at the top. The tamale will come out with a round shape around the raisin and the other with the almond.
  5. Repeat until you have gone through all your dough.

Cooking Time

  1. In a steam basket or large pot, place four tusa (husks) leaves at the bottom and place the tamals tied side up around the sides, leaving a hole in the center.
  2. Fill the pot with enough water to cover them, about 2 cups of water. Cover with a lid and set over medium heat. Steam the tamales for about half an hour, adding water if needed.
  3. Drain the water and serve warm.

Notes

If you can’t find dried corn husks, you can use aluminum foil for wrapping. You may not get the smokey flavor from the leaves, but they will work just fine.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 20 Tamales Serving Size: 1 tamal
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 519

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