Benne Wafers

Traditional South Carolina benne wafers, thin, crispy, toasted sesame seed cookies.

  • Yield: Makes 2-4 dozen, depending on the size of your spoonfuls.

Ingredients

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

Method

1 Preheat oven to 325 F. Cover cookie sheets in parchment paper, silpat sheets, or lightly oil them. Toast the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown.

2 Beat the brown sugar and butter together in a medium-sized bowl for several minutes until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add these dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture, mix well. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

(Optional): Chill the dough for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This makes it easier to drop the cookies on the sheets.

3 Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving space for the cookies to spread. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheets, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

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Comments

  1. Fran P

    It’s great to see a recipe for benne wafers. I love these! We stayed at a lovely B & B in Charleston and these were always available in the dining area. I ate many more than was polite!

  2. Debi (Table Talk)

    My parents live in Pawleys Island, SC (a little north of Charleston).
    These Benne Wafer Cookies are as traditional as low country rice and stone ground grits.
    Now I’m dreaming of the beach…

  3. Abby

    Two of my college roommates moved to Charleston after graduation, which gave me the opportunity to fall in love with Chucktown – and its treats like these. They’ve since moved on so I’m excited to have a recipe for these lovely cookies at my fingertips!

  4. Carrie

    Oooh, I just read this article:

    http://www.oxfordamerican.org/articles/2010/mar/09/tiny-heirlooms/

    and now I’m wondering how much better these yummy little treats would be made with the original ingredient.

    Thanks for the recipe – authentic benne or not they look very tasty!

    Carrie – thank you for sharing the article, fascinating! Can’t wait to get my hands on these resurrected benne seeds. Maybe more original benne recipes are in our future? ~Steve-Anna

  5. jonathan

    Wow. Brings me back to the summers of my youth…strolling the battery at Charleston… shipped there to live with my father when my mother needed a break.

    Man, those Charleston summers were insufferable, even on the water.

    And now I don’t have to buy benne wafers.

    Thanks, Steve-Anna.

  6. Bronwyn

    Yum! Just wondering though… Unsalted butter is stupidly more expensive here. Using standard salted butter & leaving out the 1/4 teaspoon of salt seems the obvious answer. Or would that not quite work taste wise?
    Thanks heaps

    Hi Bronwyn, using salted butter and omitting the salt sounds perfectly fine. Please check back in and let us know how it works out! ~Steve-Anna

  7. Sasa

    Sesame seeds are a favourite of mine, sweet or savoury (lots of them in Japanese cooking where I’m from) and they’re super healthy too – maybe you were doing yourself a favour sneaking all those wafers as a kid ;P

  8. Russ

    They look very similiar to Chinese sesame seed cookies. Any idea how they differ?

    Hi Russ, I have no idea. If you find out, please share the difference with us, too. ~Steve-Anna

  9. Barbara Ruby

    How do you pronounce “benne” & where do you get enough sesame seed for these cookies? I’ve only seen spice size jars at my grocery.

    Hi Barbara, it’s pronounced “benny” – rhymes with “penny”. If you look for a bulk spice area in the store instead of checking the spice rack you’ll be more likely to find a larger size. Ralph’s grocery here in Southern CA carries a 9 oz. jar by a brand called “It’s Delish”. If anyone else has a suggestion, please let us know! ~Steve-Anna

  10. Lisa

    Welcome, Steve-Anna! I’m a big fan of benne wafers. And while I love eating them as cookies, I also find that when crumbled they make an excellent coating for fish and shrimp. Thanks for the recipe–I’ve always bought mine and didn’t realize how simple they were to make at home.

    Hi Lisa! Thanks for the warm welcome ; ) Thanks for the reminder to use them to coat fish and shrimp. I’m not a big ice cream eater, but I imagine these would be yummy crumbled on top of butter pecan ice cream, too. ~Steve-Anna

  11. glutenfreeforgood

    These look delicious and with such a small amount of flour, will be easy to convert to gluten-free. I love it! Hmmm? Maybe teff or amaranth flour?

    Thanks!
    Melissa

  12. Mandy

    Most of the things I miss about living in South Carolina have to do with either food or Charleston, and usually both. And now I’m dying for a benne wafer! I first had them at the Carolina Cider Company while driving from Charleston to Savannah and I was obsessed with them for a while. They really are a perfect, crispy mix of sweet and salty.

    Never would have thought to make them myself, so thank you!!!

  13. Bronwyn

    Thanks. Worked just fine with salted butter & no added salt. It probably doesn’t have quite the salty tang you refer to but they will be more friendly to high blood pressure this way and are absolutely scrumptious. Mental note: must make double or triple batch next time!

  14. Aleel

    These are delicious, I cannot stop eating them! Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  15. Micron the Cat

    @ Barbara Ruby – You can get mass quantities of sesame seeds at any Asian market. They’re WAY less expensive than in the spice section at the grocery store, too. :)

    @Steve-Anna – I just made this recipe this morning, and the flavor is TDF. I have a question tho – the recipe as written is NOT a dough – it’s VERY liquidy. I added more flour to make it more dough-like, but then the cookies didn’t flatten out as much as those in the pictures here. Is the liquidy-ness (new word, LOL) normal, and if so, how far apart do you space the cookies? I’m using Sil-Pat sheets.

    @Bronwyn,

    I used salted butter and omitted the salt in this recipe, and it worked
    out fine. :)

    Thanks!

    You’re right, the recipe is not “dough like”. The way I’ve dealt with the “liquid-yness” is to chill the batter before dropping the spoonfuls of batter on the silpat sheets or parchment paper. Use only a true teaspoon size of batter, and yes, do leave a few inches between each for them to spread. I usually get a dozen on one cookie sheet. They come out lookling more like a flat cracker than a plump cookie.

    Glad you like the flavor, and thanks for the tip to buy the seeds at an Asian market – great suggestion! ~Steve-Anna

  16. April MOB

    My daughter is getting married in a few weeks on Folly Beach (Charleston). We are giving away boxed benne wafers for favors. I had never heard of them until I did some research on Charleston traditional foods. I had ordered one bag to taste them, and I too, could not stop eating them. I think the wedding guests will enjoy them. Thanks for the article about them (and how to make them).

  17. Sarah

    I just made these today, and I was SO pleased!! They reminded me of the “sesame snap” wafers you can buy. Delicious to a fault (is it really a fault?). Thanks!

  18. Uma

    This reminds me of an Indian recipe for a sesame and molasses snack made as flat squares called chikki or made into little balls called ladoos. I was very amused to only find sesame in the spice aisle in US supermarkets. In India it’s bought in much larger quantities so found around the lentils and grains. Indian stores in the US probably stock it in bulk too.

  19. Jeanne

    I made these today for our book club meeting tomorrow. We read the book South of Broad and these cookies were mentioned in the book. Being from the north originally I had never heard of Benne Wafers. I thought they might be fun to have at the book club. I did find that 15 min is way too long to cook these. Ten min is more realistic in my oven. Unfortunately I burned the first two batches but this recipe makes a ton of cookies since you only use tsp size portions. Decided I am really not a fan of these. I couldn’t find the sesame seeds except in the spice isle of the grocery store so these are a bit pricey to make!

  20. DJ

    I made the wafers today and was quite surprised how unique tasting these were and almost addicting. It has to be the well toasted sesame seeds which give a very distinct flavor and the touch of fresh lemon juice. Thank you.

  21. BJHolmes

    I just baked these this morning. I made the batter last night and baked one pan, finding the cookies a bit chewy and way too big. I let the batter refrigerate over night and tried again this morning with perfect results!! Thanks to the stiffness of the chilled dough, I was able to roll the dough into tiny little balls, resulting in cookies about the size of a quarter after baked. They are so cute, and perfectly bite-sized. Thank you so much for the recipe!!

  22. Zo

    These were so tasty, except they stuck to the baking tray terribly even though I oiled them, and also even when I used chilled batter, and also even when I used two different kinds of trays. Do I need to use butter to grease the trays, not oil? I’ve never had this problem before with any other cookie dough. The crumbs were super tasty though, and still totally good sprinkled over ice cream or breakfast porridge!

    Hi Zo, the best solution is to use parchment paper or silpat sheets. Parchment paper works beautifully, and you can reuse the sheets several times. I’m glad you found a way to enjoy the broken bits! ~Steve-Anna

  23. Mimi

    May I thank and curse you at the same time? I’m going to have to run 5 extra miles tomorrow…please step away from the cookies…ok, so how do you get the cookies off of the sheet? I also had a devil of a time setting the cookies free, I used an oiled cookie sheet, and I had to chisel those poor cookies off! Do you oil the parchment?

    I can only imagine how difficult it would be to pry the cookies off of an oiled cookie sheet! You definitely want to use parchment paper (do not oil it) or silpat sheets. On the good side, maybe you burned a few calories? ~Steve-Anna

  24. Linda

    I too am addicted to these cookies.I have found that if I let them “rest” for 5 minutes or so before trying to get them off the baking sheet it works much better.

  25. Raymond Cox, Orlando

    As a “displaced” Charlestonian I try and bring the flavor of the city where ever I live. Benne wafers are the most popular request, even over she crab soup! Though the beauty of the benne wafer is its simplicity I have in the past tried half-dipping them with milk, dark and white chocolate; they were just okay. Not one to mess with tradition, I did anyway. This season I got a little crazy and added a nice rich cocoa powder. Whooo! That did it. The toasted seed along with the brown sugar engages the chocolate to create a full flavor that begs to be paired with a nice heavy red wine! Start easy and increase if you are not sure how “chocolaty” you want, but the darker the better in my opinion.

  26. Penny Wolf

    I made these cookies with half of the sugar being palm sugar with wonderful results!I can’t tell you how glad I am to have found your site.
    Every recipe I have tried is a winner.

  27. hippie4ever

    Sounds yummy. For those not near Asian or Indian grocery stores, you can purchase sesame seeds bulk from Nuts.com: Organic 3.49 a lb, non-organic 2.79 a lb. Unhulled available too.

  28. M.C.

    Made these for school bake sale and everyone loved them.

  29. Lynna

    Here where I live in Mexico City, amaranth is readily available and is practically a staple ingredient of traditional snacks and baked goods. It’s got a subtle nutty flavor and tons of fiber and protein. Substituting half of the benne seeds for puffed amaranth in this recipe worked great, yielding a somewhat lighter cookie than the original (both in flavor and texture). I’ve also substituted the wheat flour for amaranth with good results. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful recipe!

    • Steve-Anna Stephens

      Great suggestion, Lynna – thank you. I just made these yesterday, too! Can’t wait to try them using amaranth.

      • Lynna

        just a tip, if using amaranth-the amaranth toasts (and burns!) much more quickly than the sesame seeds, so I add it when the sesame seeds are about half done toasting.