Monday, November 7, 2016

Benne Wafer, Anyone?

Slaves introduced new foods to the American colonies when they arrived from Africa that were to become staples of the Southern cuisine. Okra, collard greens, peanuts, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, and sesame seeds arrived on the slave ships in the 17th and 18th century and were first grown here in the slaves' gardens.

Four hundred years later they are still popular foods in the South especially and everyone has their favorite recipes.

I think the very best way to eat sesame seeds are in cookies called benne (" Benny") wafers. You can buy your benne wafers in shops around Charleston for Christmas giving but the best benne wafers are homemade. A few simple ingredients and a quick stir add up to cookies that you can't believe.

Benne is the Bantu word for sesame seeds, grown here in the Lowcountry from the 17th to 20th century.


It is an annual plant that grows to 4-6 feet tall and produces white flowers that become seeds rich in calcium, vitamins B and E, iron, zinc, and protein.

The seeds provided much needed nutrients for the hard working slaves.

To make the cookies, raw seeds are first toasted to a golden brown.


Benne Wafer

Yield: 2-4 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp. butter, softened (if you use unsalted butter, add 1/2 tsp salt)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Toast the seeds in a frying pan on the stove or cookie sheet in the oven. Stir and cook until golden brown.

Beat brown sugar and butter until fluffy. Add egg, flour, baking powder (and salt if needed) and beat. Stir in lemon juice and vanilla.

Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper and drop small balls of dough. Cookies spread a lot so leave plenty of room between.

Bake 15 minutes at 325 degrees. Cookies are done when edges just begin to brown.

Allow to cool for a minute or so on the parchment, then remove to racks.

(Basic recipe is adapted from

If you are thinking ahead to Christmas, benne wafers make nice gifts and an unusual addition to Christmas cookie plates.
One Charleston shop calls them "History You Can Taste".

Bet you can't eat just one!



  1. yummy recipe.. I'll do it.. thanks for sharing the recipe...

  2. Never heard of them but would love to have a taste of those freshly baked ones.

  3. I was practically raised on the first five foods you mentioned, but have never heard of Benne wafers. I do know what sesame seeds are. You have made me want to try the cookies.

  4. We enjoyed the ones you sent us! It is an interesting cookie with history:)

  5. They look delicious.
    Interesting how certain foods remain - potatoes here.

  6. Oh, fun! I just stocked up on sesame seeds, too! I was going to use them for tahini for hummus, but I think I may have to practice these cookies instead. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  7. I love sesame seeds. I'll have to see if somebody in the house would make them!

  8. I will be giving them a try, not something I have had before.

  9. Saved to my Pinterest page for later. Looking forward to trying these.