Have you ever heard of benne seeds? It turns out that they’re sesame seeds, so this recipe could also be said to make Sesame Seed Wafers. Now what, exactly, are Sesame Seed Wafers, you ask? Right there, that tells us that you probably aren’t from South Carolina, where these little wafers are apparently quite popular. And with good reason, as you’ll see when you mix up a batch.
We first saw recipes for Benne Wafers in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, and, then in the tome, also by Matt and Ted Lee, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen. They were slightly different recipes, and the Lee Bros. pointed out that the one in the Charleston Kitchen had a few tweaks applied. Both recipes sounded like something we just had to try. Imagine, small, thin, slightly sweet, a bit chewy, just a touch of salt, and the toasty goodness of sesame seeds. Or, perhaps we should say, benne seeds. Let’s scratch these puppies up!
We will point out that we inadvertently changed the recipe, but for the better. It’s now even a bit easier to make!
Makes at least 120 quarter sized cookies.
Use real vanilla extract. There are subtleties in the real extract that are missing from imitation. For the sesame seeds, it’s difficult to find large amounts at grocery stores for reasonable prices. We’ve found that ethnic markets will often have good prices and seeds in bulk. Also, Penzey’s Spices have good prices and large quantities. Finally, we list some of the ingredients by weight; since getting a kitchen scale, we almost always weigh out brown sugar. It’s easier than packing it into a measuring cup.
Procedure in detail:
Toast seeds. These little cookies bake for such a short amount of time there is no way that they’ll get toasted in the oven. You need to do it before hand. So, break out a small skillet — cast-iron is perfect — add the seeds, and toast over medium heat. Stir constantly so the seeds don’t burn. In a few minutes, they take on a nice golden brown color from the toasting. Remove from heat, and the pan, if necessary, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Sift dry ingredients. Measure and sift the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Then sift again. And again. Yes, we know it’s a little troublesome to sift brown sugar, but it does help break up those lumps. So we did it.
Whip egg white. In your super-clean mixing bowl on a stand mixer, whip the egg white on medium-high until it holds medium firm peaks. It might take a while since there is so little egg white in the bowl, but it will whip up. Find another use for the yolk: we made fried rice for dinner with it.
Add dry ingredients. Here’s where we differ from the Lee Bros. They suggest rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients. We forgot, but our cookies turned out perfectly without that additional trouble, so we’re sticking with it. Anyway, add the dry ingredients to the egg white in four separate additions, mixing on medium until the ingredients are thoroughly combined between additions. Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Add butter. Now, drop the pieces of cold butter into the mix and beat them in. It may take a few minutes with the mixer on medium, and you may need to scrape the batter down a few more times, but the butter will beat right in, and the batter will take on a glossy sheen.
Add seeds and vanilla. Add the seeds and vanilla extract and either mix in with a rubber spatula, or mix in with the mixer on low.
Transfer to a piping bag. We said it, too — a piping bag? Is this worth it? That’s because we haven’t used a piping bag all that much. Besides, we don’t own a piping bag. It turns out that it is worth it. Just scrape the batter into a Zip-Loc style bag, seal, and cut off about 1/4-inch from a corner. Voila! A piping bag!
Pipe cookies. Pipe 1/4 teaspoon dollops onto a baking sheet about an inch-and-a-half apart. A quarter-teaspoon is a small amount, very small, but you don’t want much or your cookies will get too big. A quarter-teaspoon results in a cookie the size of a quarter. Really. Look at the pictures.
Bake. Slide the sheet into the oven for 5 to 6 minutes. We found 6 minutes to be perfect, but watch your cookies the first time. They will spread to the size of a quarter, puff up to about 1/8 of an inch thick, then collapse. About 30 seconds after they collapse they are done.
Cool. Let the cookies cool and crisp up on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then remove to waxed paper on the counter, or a tin for storage.
These little cookies are great! The cookie part is thinner than a sesame seed, they are a bit chewy, a bit nutty, and have just the right amount of saltiness. And the size! You can eat these by the dozen! Good thing a batch makes so many! Once again, we’ve found that the Lee Bros. provided us with a really tasty recipe that deserves to be better known and made in far more locations than just South Carolina. Provided, of course, that we all remember that they do taste best in their home state, especially if baked up by a South Carolinian. We can hardly wait to visit and get some on their home turf. Five stars!