Vegetarian Cherry Chocolate Holiday Tamales

Where I live in Texas, Tamales are a Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday staple. These make a great contribution to a friendsgiving feast! Not only are they clearly a holiday dish, but they’re also stealthily gluten-free, making them a welcome addition alongside the pies and cakes that celiacs can’t eat.

If you’ve never tried dessert tamales before you’re in for a treat! The final texture is a lot like a gluten-free brownie stuffed with delicious cherries.

While you can absolutely use either regular maraschino cherries or frozen cherries in this recipe, I really like the flavor of Trader Joe’s Morello Cherries in syrup.

Dessert Tamales Are Delicious!


  • 20-24 corn husks
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground chile ancho powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup + 3 tbsp warm whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¾ cup liquid from canned Morello or Maraschino cherries
  • ½ cup unsalted butter softened
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 20 oz Morello or Maraschino cherries


  • Put your corn husks in a large stockpot. Pour just enough boiling water over them to cover. Put a lid on the stockpot and let them soak for at least 1 hour.
  • While the husks soak, make your masa filling.
  • Grab a large mixing bowl and mix the masa harina, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, chili powder, and salt.
  • In a large mixing bowl stir together masa harina, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, chile powder, and salt. Slowly add 1 tsp vanilla and 1 cup warm milk and beat until all the liquid is absorbed and semi-firm dough forms.
  • Set the dough in another bowl for now. Add the butter and brown sugar to the same bowl you mixed the dough in and cream them together until light and fluffy.
  • Break the chocolate dough into chunks and add it back to the mixing bowl full of creamed sugar. Keep beating it at a medium speed until the sugar and dough are mixed. Add the remaining warm milk 1 tbsp at a time, adding just enough to make the dough nice and creamy. If it ends up too wet you can beat in 1 tbsp of masa harina. You don’t want this to be too crumbly. Ideally it should end up the same texture as brownie batter.
  • Once your corn husks have soaked for at least an hour you can start filling them!
  • Spread a couple tablespoons of dough onto a corn husk. You want it to be about ½ inch thick, with at least a 1 inch border along the sides and a 2 inch border on the top and bottom of the husk.
  • Sprinkle 1 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips onto the middle of the dough and top that with a line of drained cherries.
  • Fold the sides until they overlap, and use the back of your thumb or a spoon to press the masa closed. Now fold the sides of the corn husk over until they overlap. Fold the narrow end under the dough. If you want, you can use a scrap of corn husk to tie the tamale closed. Put the tamale folded side down into a pot and repeat until you’re out of massa.
  • Place all your tamales upright in a steamer. Fill the bottom of the steamer with just enough water to almost touch the grate. Don’t overfill! If the water touches the tamales they’ll end up soggy and gross.
  • Fold a damp cotton kitchen towel over the top of the tamales and put the lid on the steamer.
  • Keep the water at a low boil and steam the tamales for 45-55 minutes. Check the pot every 15-20 min to make sure the water hasn’t all boiled away. Add more water as needed.
  • You’ll know the tamales are done when the filling pulls away from the husk. The fully steamed tamales should be soft and firm, not mushy.

    NOTE: If you decide to use a 16 oz bag of frozen cherries instead of the canned ones, put the bag in a bowl and let the cherries thaw in the fridge overnight. When you open the bag, take care to save all the juices that collected as the cherries thawed. The volume won’t equal ¾ cup, so supplement the rest with more milk.