Savory Benne Wafers

Savory Benne Wafers
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savory benne wafers
These could be good!

We wanted a nice savory cracker for the coffee/social hour at church this past Sunday. One of us remembered seeing a recipe for Savory Benne (sesame seeds) Wafers in one of Matt Lee’s and Ted Lee’s cookbooks. We weren’t sure which one, and, since we’d only checked them out of the library, we had no way of finding the recipe from the direct source.

As historians know, there’s nothing more important than finding the first source for information, because later versions may be modified and mangled. Sometimes beyond value. For those who are big into spotting foreshadowing, you’ve just seen it. Naturally, we turned to the Internet, and it turns out that you can find a recipe that purports to be one from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, so we went at it like the good scratchers we are.

That said, we believe that this is the correct recipe, so DO NOT use the other recipe you can find on the Internet, as it will result in pie crust, and not crackers.

Savory Benne Wafers

Savory Benne Wafers


  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tsp sesame seeds (benne)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground red pepper
  • 6 Tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 Tbs ice water

Abbreviated Instructions

Place sesame seeds in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Toast, stirring constantly, 5 to 8 minutes, until the seeds are brown. Transfer to a plate or small bowl to cool completely (20 minutes).

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheets with parchment.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds, salt, and red pepper. Run processor for 20 to 30 seconds, or until seeds are ground.

Place butter on top, and pulse 5 to 6 times to cut in. The resulting mixture will look like coarse corn meal.

Add 2 tablespoons ice water and pulse several times to combine.

Add 1 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, pulse to combine.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons ice water and run processor until a dough forms and rides on the blade.

Place dough on a lightly-floured surface and shape into a disk 4 inches in diameter. Divide into 4 pieces. Roll each piece of dough to a thickness of 1/16-inch. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds, and lightly roll in. Cut into 1-inch squares and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake 23 to 25 minutes or light golden brown. Let cool completely on the baking sheets before packing into airtight tins.

Ingredient discussion:

First off, if you looked at the other recipe, you’ll see that we cut waaay back on the butter. We think that was a typo, but not so much of a typo that led us to fix it before making these crackers. We’ll stick with our recipe until we hear directly from either Ted Lee or Matt Lee. Regardless of the amount of butter, unsalted is the way to go. Unfortunately for us, we used the original amount of butter, but we’re going ahead and publishing, anyway. For sesame seeds, you’ll go broke trying to buy enough in the little bottles they sell at the grocery, so buy in bulk. Check your local ethnic grocers, or you can check Penzey’s Spices. That’s where we buy, and it has nothing to do with the fact that we do not receive anything for this endorsement.

Procedure in detail:

toasting seeds
We use a small cast-iron skillet for toasting seeds. It’s quick and more efficient that turning on the oven.

Toast benne. Place the sesame seeds in a heavy- bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Stirring continuously, toast the seeds until they turn a golden brown. We think the Lee Bros. said the color of pecans, which is a good mark to shoot for. Once toasted, remove to a plate or bowl (to stop the toasting), and let cool completely, about 20 minutes.

toasted seeds
Sesame seeds smell really good while toasting, making it well worth the effort.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

benne wafer ingredients
Combine the dry ingredients in the food processor with some of the seeds, and whirr.

Combine dries. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds, salt, and red pepper. We used chipotle powder, which we thought would impart a slight smoky flavor, but the original recipe just calls for red pepper. You have our permission to adjust the amount of pepper to your taste.

dry ingredients
After 30 seconds, the toasted sesame seeds will be ground into the flour. You might not see them, but you’ll smell them.

Grind. Turn the processor on and let it run for 20 to 30 seconds to grind the seeds into the flour. It shouldn’t take much more time than this, but, if the seeds don’t seem to be grinding, accept it, and move on.

adding butter
You won’t be using anywhere near this much butter; read the intro if you don’t know why.

Add butter. Drop the chunks of butter over the surface, and give the processor 5 to 6 good pulses to cut it in. Once the butter is cut in, the mixture will resemble a coarsely-ground meal.

benne wafer crumbs
Once the butter is cut in, the mixture is dry and crumbly.

Add water. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water, and give the processor a couple of pulses.

Add seeds. Add another tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds, and give it a couple of pulses. Now we’ll have a variety of levels of coarseness to the sesame seeds in our dough.

benne wafer dough
The dough will come together in a few seconds.

Add water. Add another 2 tablespoons of ice water, and, this time, run the processor until a dough forms and rides up on the blade, 15 to 20 seconds.

Divide. The amount of dough is too much to roll out in one whack, so place the dough on a lightly- floured work surface, press it into a thick disk about 4 inches in diameter, then cut it into four wedges.

Roll. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface until it’s about 1/16-inch thick.

rolling dough
Roll out the dough very thinly, aiming for 1/16th of an inch.

Sprinkle. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sesame seed over the rolled-out dough, then lightly roll over the seeds to press them into place.

cutting crackers
We use a little fluted cutter to make nice ruffled edges on our crackers.

Cut and transfer. You can use a cookie cutter to cut out the crackers, or a sharp knife to cut them into squares, or, as we did, use a fluted wheel to make fancy edges. Whatever method you use, cut them about 1-2 inches in size, and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheets, placing them about 1/2 inch apart.

Bake. Slide into the oven and bake crackers 23 to 25 minutes, rotating front to back halfway through, or until they’re beginning to brown.

savory benne wafers
These could be good! We just don’t know!

Cool. Remove the sheets to a rack and let the crackers cool completely on the sheets before transferring to airtight container.

Well, we won’t be rating these; it just wouldn’t be fair. After all, we made the crackers using a broken recipe, so ours turned out like a savory pie crust. Very crumbly, and not at all like a cracker. While they tasted good, they were so unlike a cracker that we stopped halfway through baking the crackers. Don’t worry, though; the dough was saved to make a savory tart crust at a later date. Since we liked the flavor, we’ll be making these again, and will update this post at that point. Until then, unknown stars.

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