I have tried these sweet tamales a couple of times, once with shortening as a fat but I have also made them also using butter. The recipe below (apart from the vanilla) is from Fanny Gerson's book but there is a similar recipe in Rick Bayliss which has raisins but does not include the pecans.. These are a nice treat, they make a excellent breakfast and, as they freeze well, they are convenient.
I have been trying, without success, to find some logic in the ratios of masa to fat that people use, and to whether or not baking powder is used. Generally the ratio of masa to fat, whether butter, shortening or lard, is about 4:1 but some recipes have more fat than this and some have less but as a general rule of thumb a ratio of 4:1 works well, whether for sweet or savoury tamales. The recipe below has baking powder included, One would imagine that baking powder is used mostly in sweet tamlaes and that savoury tamales contain no baking powder. That doesn't seem to be the case. There are many recipes for savoury tamales that contain baking powder and I have made sweet lime zest tamales, again from Fanny Gerson's book, which contain no baking powder.
There is a small amount of organisation involved in tamale making, perhaps less for sweet tamales that for savoury filled ones, as there is no salsa and meat to be prepared beforehand. For sweet tamales all that is really required is enough time to soften the corn husks and to ensure that the fat is at room temperature and workable.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time going through the mechanics of things. You are going to make a dough, get it into a corn husk and steam it for an hour to a hour and a half. Many of the descriptions of the process seem determined to make it more mysterious than this and somehow dependant on lots of arcane knowledge. In truth, it isn't difficult and it's a hard thing to fuck up too badly.
Making the Dough
I don't have a stand mixer, so I use a hand mixer to mix the batter, before that I mixed everything by hand without any problem, aside from some cramp and a denser batter.
Firstly the fat is beaten to lighten it, after that the sugar is creamed with the fat for about half a minute. When the fat and sugar have been creamed together the masa harina and liquid are beaten in alternately. Gerson's procedure is different - the water is first boiled and the masa harina is beaten into the boiling water and then the masa is gradually beaten into the creamed sugar and fat, alternating with some milk to keep the mixture pliable. She, in fact, describes the dough as "pourable". This is not a method I have seen elsewhere and I have gone with the more common method of gradually incorporating the masa harina and the liquid into the creamed fat and sugar.
The batter should be light. The classic test is to see whether some of the dough will float in water.
When the batter is light enough add the salt, vanilla and the baking powder, mix briefly to incorporate and then stir in the raisins and the pecans.
Filling the Cornhusks
A quick soak of 30 minutes or so in very hot water is plenty to make the cornhusks pliable. There are two sides to the cornhusk, there is a smoother and a more textured side. I have seen both sides recommended as the correct side of the cornhusk to fill. It seems easier to me to think in terms of the concave and convex side of the cornhusk and it seems stupid to try and fight nature and fill the cornhusk on the convex side.
For these sweet tamales you are looking for about a quarter cup of dough in each cornhusk. Put an oblong of the dough on the mid line of the cornhusk close to the top of the cornhusk. The dough will expand as it is steamed so be careful not to fill to the very top, leave a little room for expansion.
Roll the cornhusk and fold the bottom of the cornhusk up toward the middle. There is no need to tie the tamale, as you are preparing them keep them folded side down so they won't unwrap. Once the tamales are all standing together in the steamer they can't come undone.
If you have a tall pot that is best. I don't, and just use the biggest I have with a steamer basket in the bottom. Mine isn't tall enough for the tamales to be kept completely vertical, but once they are stacked carefully and are not resting in the water there won't be any trouble.
They need to be steamed for an hour or more. The test for doneness is that the tamale should come away from the cornhusk easily.
These keep well in the freezer, kept in the cornhusks in a freezer bag and can be reheated in the microwave again still in the cornhusk.
Sweet Tamales With Rasins and Pecans
1 to 1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 cup Massa Harina
1/2 cup butter
1 Cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup raisins