I buy and bring home a container of benne wafers every time I go back to the South. These simple butter cookies are crispy, delicate and not overly sweet.
You never find benne wafers anywhere else, and I am not sure why. They get their origin from African slaves who originally brought over and introduced sesame (or benne in Bantu) seeds. Sesame, along with other African transplants like collard greens, sweet potato and black-eyed peas, was planted all over the South and is used in many Southern and African dishes today.
My favorite use of the sesame is in these cookies. To make them you first must toast the seeds to develop a richer, nuttier flavor. You can toast them on a baking sheet in the oven for a few minutes at about 275 F, but I like to do them in a skillet over medium-low heat so I can stir them and watch them carefully. They are so small that they can easily burn. I have had to throw away plenty of burned batches in the past so be careful here!
Unlike most cookies, you actually want these cookies to spread out when they bake. I hate it when my chocolate chip cookies turn into a flat, crispy cookie, but that is exactly what these cookies should do, so embrace it.
I encourage anyone who has never tasted a benne cookie to make these. They are surprisingly easy to make and the main thing you have to watch out for is not to over or under cook them. They can be a little delicate and crumble so follow the cooking instructions well.
I think benne wafers make a nice hostess gift. They are also great to have around for breakfast with coffee or tea and an afternoon snack. If you want them to be a full dessert, serve them with a pint of ice cream (anything vanilla based or cinnamon would work but even chocolate would be great too).
I can’t believe that I have never made these cookies until now. No reason to fly home just to pick up cookies! I am planning to have benne wafers around more often now, especially since my husband ate the whole box I recently brought home!