Sweet tamales were traditionally eaten in Mexico to celebrate Three Kings Day. These days, variations on this delicious treat can be found in across Latin America and the Caribbean. They may take a little... time, but are well worth the effort. To speed things up, try getting the family to have some fun by helping you to put them together as well as eating them! Enjoy!
Cover the husks with very hot water, weight with a plate to keep them submerged, and let stand for 30 minutes until they are pliable. Drain them and separate out 24 of the largest and most pliable husks. Pat the chosen husks dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
Meanwhile with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter with the sugar, salt and the baking powder until light and fluffy in texture, about 3 minutes. Continue beating as you add the masa in three additions. Add the coconut milk, vanilla bean seeds, unsweetened shredded coconut and beat for a minute or so, until a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water. Stir in dried pineapple or raisins.
Set a collapsible vegetable steamer into a large, deep saucepan. Line the rack of the steamer with leftover cornhusks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam.
To make the tamales: Cut twenty-four 8 or 10-inch pieces of string or thin strips of cornhusk. Set aside. Lay out one of your chosen cornhusks with the tapered end toward you. Spread about ¼ to 1/3 cup of the batter, leaving empty at least a 1 1/2-inch on the side nearest you empty and a 3/4-inch border along the other sides.
Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusk and bring them together. Fold up the empty 1 1/2-inch section of the husk to form a tightly closed "bottom," leaving the top open. Secure it in place by loosely tying one of the strings or strips of husk around the tamal. As they’re made, stand the tamales on their folded bottoms in the prepared steamer. Don’t tie the tamales too tightly or pack them too closely in the steamer.
Once all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of leftover cornhusks and fill in the open spaces with loosely wadded aluminum foil to keep the tamales from falling down. Cover and cook for about 1 1/4 hours. Watch carefully that the water doesn’t boil away. To keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up.
If you don’t have a vanilla bean, use 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. If you do use the bean, the reserved vanilla pod can be covered in sugar in an airtight container and left to sit for 24-36 hours. It will create vanilla sugar.