Making tamales correctly is a rather time consuming effort and there are not many short cuts. After the third or fourth attempt you should have figured out which spices you and your family like best in the meat broth and the meat sauce. Tamales are a Christmas tradition in many Mexican family's. To me they are good any time of the year and if done correctly you will receive many smiles from around the table.
Place corn husks in a large container and cover with very warm water. Allow to soak for at least 3 hours, until soft and pliable. You will need to weight them down with an inverted plate and a heavy can so they are completely covered with water.
Place beef, garlic, and chili peppers (cut into quarter) in a large pot (See NOTE 1). Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as water boils, reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Let simmer (add water if necessary to keep meat completely covered the entire cooking time) for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, until beef is tender and shreds easily When beef is done, remove from pot, allow meat to cool slightly, and shred with forks.
Continue to simmer the roast water with the garlic and peppers until you have cooked down to about 2 or 3 cups of cooking liquid. Remove from heat and strain the broth. Reserve broth to mix with the shredded meat and the masa dough in steps 5 and 6.
Toast chilies in a cast iron skillet, making sure not to burn them. Allow to cool and then remove stems and seeds. Crumble and grind in a clean coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet. Mix in flour and allow to brown slightly. Pour in 1 cup meat broth and stir until smooth. Mix in minced garlic, ground toasted chilies, cumin seeds, ground cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Let mixture simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it thickens slightly. Add shredded beef into skillet, stir well to cover all the meat and cover. Let simmer 45 minutes. Add more beef broth as necessary to keep mixture from drying out.
(See TIP 2) Place lard (NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE LARD) and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whip with an electric mixer on high speed until fluffy. Add masa and beat at low speed until well mixed. (If the reserved cooking liquid is extremely spicy I would cut it with water to keep from adding too much flavor to the masa dough). Add in reserved cooking liquid a little (one or two tablespoons full) at a time, while continuing to beat at low speed, until mixture is the consistency of soft cookie dough.
Drain water from corn husks. One at a time, wring out most of the water and flatten out each husk, with the narrow end facing you, and spread approximately 1/4 cup of masa dough mixture onto about a four inch square. Spread 1 or 2 tablespoons of meat mixture down the middle of the masa dough. (You can add some chopped fresh peppers of your choice if you want your tamales spicier) Gently lift up both long ends of the husk (the dough should meet at the top) and fold about 1/4 inch of the corn husk down onto itself. Continue to fold 1/4 inch of the husk down until there is no more to fold. Then roll up the husks on one ends and fold the end of the husk onto the seam and tie with a piece of butchers' twine if necessary to keep it folded. Leave the large end open, and stand the tamales in the steamer with the large end up (See Tip 3).
Place tamales in a steamer basket, seam side down. Steam over boiling water for approximately one hour, until masa is firm and holds its shape. Make sure steamer does not run out of water (Add boiling water if needed). Serve immediately, allowing each person to unwrap their own tamales. Allow any leftovers (still in wrapper) to cool, then store in the refrigerator.
NOTE 1. The meat may be any good boneless cut of lean beef and may be cooked in a crock pot if you have one. Just be sure you have two or three cups of liquid left to use in making the meat sauce and masa dough.
NOTE 2.(Wikipedia:Start) Masa is Spanish for dough. In the Americas, it is often short for masa de maíz, a maize (corn) dough made from freshly prepared hominy. It is used for making corn tortillas, tamales, pupusas, arepas and many other Latin American dishes. The dried powdered form is called masa harina, masa de harina, and sometimes maseca, the name of a leading commercial brand. It is reconstituted with water before use. (Wikipedia:End)
The dry powdered form of masa can usually be found in the "Mexican" section of most large grocery stores or in any small Mexican owned family store. If you have a Mexican owned family store where you live there is also a good chance of buying the masa dough already made up and ready to use, however it will probably have been made with water instead of beef broth so it will not have that extra flavor. I would rather mix my own so the meat broth will flavor the masa dough. A Mexican owned family store is probably your best bet for buying corn husk also.
NOTE 3. Corn husk may be hard to find. If you can't find any you can substitute cloth wrappers. Cut six inch by six inch squares out of white cotton sheets or table cloths. Be sure they are cotton and have been washed and rinsed and are clean. I usually buy new ones, wash them, and then cut them into squares. Use them in this recipe just as if they were corn husk. After using I wash mine twice, discard any discolored ones, and save the rest for the next time I want to make tamales and can't find any corn husk. I learned this trick from my momma years ago.
TIP 1. If you have never attempted tamales, here are some important tips: boil garlic and dried or fresh peppers (your favorite kind of pepper) in water for 30-ish minutes then put the meat in that broth (leave peppers/garlic etc. in the water) and add lots of other spices. This broth flavors the meat very well. I like spicy so I use tons of peppers. The meat should be cooked long enough that it practically crumbles to the touch, this makes it easier and faster to shred by hand. I usually cook mine 4 hours to overnight depending on the cut of meat. Two important things to remember: masa is very bland and there is no substitute for lard in the "masa dough". Always keep the strained meat broth for use in flavoring the masa dough. You may still add other flavoring agents to the meat sauce, El Pato (Mexican style tomato sauce) if you can find it is spectacular. When making the tamales, the corn husks should only be about five or six inches across, any larger need to be sized. If I plan on freezing the tamales I close both ends of the tamale and steam cook them only half the time. Also don't load to many in the steamer or they won't cook evenly. When you place them in the steamer they need to be laying with the seam down and never immersed in water. The water level should always be below the tamales.
TIP 2. A little advice about mixing masa: add the lard to your dry ingredients and mix well by hand. Begin adding your meat broth a little at a time (one or two tablespoons full) until you get a peanut butter consistence. To be really sure your masa dough is ready, drop a bit into a glass of water. If it floats to the top, it's ready.
TIP 3. Instead of steaming the tamales by laying them down in a basket, try inverting a bowl in a large pot and standing the tamales on end around the bowl to create a funnel effect. It's faster and easier! I use a small bundt cake pan for my bowl. If I have to add water to the steamer I just pour it down the opening in the center of the bundt pan.