For our senior editor, Christmas wasn't Christmas without the taste of these masa comforts.

I grew up in Texas, where tamales are as much a part of Christmas as wreaths and trees, a result of the state's proximity to Mexico. I remember always having tamales around the holidays, a gift bestowed on my family by our friend Eva, who was from Mexico.

It was years before I grew to appreciate these pillowy packages for more than their outstanding flavor. And it wasn't until I learned to make them myself that I recognized the real gift Eva had given us years ago. Not only had she bestowed upon us her time and this delicious sustenance, but she also passed along her cultural tradition.

For thousands of years, tamales have been prepared in roughly the same way. They're time-consuming, but also well worth the effort. It's a labor of love that's all the better if you have helping hands involved.

This year, try giving tamales as gifts. The job of making them is as rewarding as the gift itself. Gather a group of friends or loved ones (there are even jobs kids can tackle), roll up your sleeves, and dive in. I'll guide you through the process, step by step.Chipotle Pork Tamales with Clantro-Lime CremaHands-on time: 60 min. Total time: 4 hr. 15 min.

For gift-giving, assemble and steam tamales. Cool and freeze, wrapped in husks, in an airtight container. Give frozen to loved ones with a note about reheating. No need to thaw: Steam briefly, just until heated, or wrap in a damp cloth and microwave.Crema:3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro2 tablespoons no-salt-added chicken stock1 tablespoon lime juice¼ teaspoon salt1 (8-ounce) container light sour cream1 large garlic clove, minced

Filling:1 tablespoon olive oil1 (3-pound) Boston butt (pork shoulder roast), trimmed½ teaspoon kosher salt1 cup chopped onion9 crushed garlic cloves1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted6 chipotles chiles, canned in adobo sauce, chopped1 cup no-salt-added chicken stock1 teaspoon grated orange rind1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder¼ teaspoon ground coffee

Masa:2½ cups no-salt-added chicken stock2 ancho chiles1 cup corn kernels4 cups instant masa harina1¼ teaspoons salt1½ teaspoons baking powder½ cup chilled lard

Remaining ingredient:Dried corn husks

1. To prepare crema, combine the first 6 ingredients; chill.

2. Preheat oven to 300°.

3. To prepare filling, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil, and swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork evenly with ½ teaspoon salt. Add pork to pan; sauté 10 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove pork from pan. Add onion and garlic to pan, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin and chipotle chiles; sauté for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup stock and the next 3 ingredients (through coffee); bring to a boil. Return pork to pan; cover. Bake at 300° for 3 hours or until pork is fork-tender. Remove pork from pan, and let stand 10 minutes. Shred pork. Return pork to sauce.4. Increase the oven temperature to 450°.

5. To prepare masa, combine 2½ cups stock and ancho chiles in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 2 minutes or until chiles are tender; cool slightly. Remove stems from chiles. Combine hot stock, chiles, and corn in a blender; process until smooth. Combine masa harina, 1¼ teaspoons salt, and baking powder, stirring well with a whisk. Cut in lard with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ancho mixture to masa mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead dough until smooth and pliable (A). (If dough is crumbly, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until moist.)

6. To prepare tamales, immerse corn husks in water; weight with a plate. Soak 30 minutes; drain.

7. Working with one husk at a time (or overlap 2 small husks), place about 3 tablespoons masa mixture in the center of husk, about 1 inch from top of husk; press dough into a 4-inch-long by 3-inch-wide rectangle (B). Spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon pork mixture down one side of dough. Using the corn husk as your guide, fold husk over tamale, being sure to cover filling with dough (C). Use husk to seal masa around filling. Tear 3 or 4 corn husks lengthwise into strips; tie ends of tamale with strips. Place tamale, seam side down, on the rack of a broiler pan lined with a damp towel. Repeat procedure with remaining husks, masa mixture, and pork mixture. Cover tamales with a damp towel. Pour 2 cups hot water in the bottom of a broiler pan; top with rack (D).

8. Steam tamales at 450° for 25 minutes. Remove and rewet top towel, and add 1 cup water to pan. Turn tamales over; top with cloth. Bake for 20 minutes or until set. Let tamales stand 10 minutes. Serve tamales with crema.

SERVES 14 (serving size: 2 tamales and about 2½ teaspoons crema)

CALORIES 374; FAT 17.3g (sat 6g, mono 6.9g, poly 1.8g); PROTEIN 23.6g; CARB 32.5g; FIBER 4g; CHOL 72mg; IRON 3.8mg; SODIUM 516mg; CALC 120mg