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What are Benne Wafers?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Benne wafers are toasted sesame seed cookies. The cookies get their name from the Bantu word for sesame, benne. A favorite of the Charleston, South Carolina area, benne seed wafers are a thin confection made of butter, sugar, powdered sugar, and lots of sesame seeds. The seeds provide the sweet cookies with a nutty, buttery flavor. The Bantu people who originally made them believed these cookies brought good luck upon ingestion.

The benne wafter is one of many varieties of snapping-crisp cookies. The delicate brown cookies have a thin, crisp texture, and, if properly cooked, they will be solid and crispy on the bottom while lighter on top. Rich and flavorful, benne wafers are known for their nutty, caramel taste. These types of cookies may be served in limitless ways. One popular serving suggestion is with buttermilk ice cream, or with a simple glass of milk.

To prepare benne wafers, sesame seeds are first toasted on a baking sheet for ten minutes until lightly browned. They may also be toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat; if cooked this way, the seeds need to be moved constantly to prevent burning. The seeds are then added to a combination of butter, egg, brown sugar, flour, vanilla extract, salt, and baking powder. Small scoops of the batter are then baked on a lightly greased baking sheet. After the cookies are removed from the oven, they should be allowed to cool.

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Benne wafers should always be stored in an airtight container where they should stay good for up to a week. The cookies can also be frozen for longer storage. All types of seeds can turn rancid if not properly stored.

Originally from East Africa, sesame was brought to America during the 17th and 18 century during the slave trade. Sesame seeds are good sources of iron, calcium, zinc, protein, and vitamins E and B. They are also cholesterol-free. Benne wafers can still be purchased in many sweet shops located in the southern states of America. Due to their history, benne wafers are often used as holiday cookies during Kwanzaa.

Sesame seeds are popular in many other areas as well. They are also known as benne in the Middle East, where they are frequently used in cooking. In addition to breads and cookies, sesame seeds may be used in salads, crackers, cakes, soups, tahini paste, candy, and many other dishes.

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serenesurface
Post 3

We have a vintage benne wafers cookie tin at our house. It's quite cool, it has blue borders and an African American woman on the front with a basket of seeds in her hand. It also says "benne... the seeds of good luck."

I don't know where this concept of good luck comes from. I've heard that black cumin seeds (kalonji) can protect from evil and has healing properties. But I've not really heard that about sesame seeds, well, except from this vintage wafer tin that is.

I do know that sesame seeds are extremely beneficial though. They have so many nutrients, vitamins, minerals and amino acids in them. It's good for cholesterol, can help fight depression and keeps memory sharp too. So maybe that's what they mean by "good luck."

turquoise
Post 2

@discographer-- They do sound delicious. I've never had benne wafers but I'm a fan of sesame seeds. And I actually grew up on sesame candies. My family is Middle Eastern and sesame candies are quite popular. My father used to buy them regularly for us. They are basically just sesame filled sugar blocks. They are hard and crispy but oh so delicious. Since I love those, I think I would love benne wafers too. I bet they would be a great mid-afternoon or late afternoon snack with tea or coffee.

discographer
Post 1

Benne wafers are delicious. My grandmother makes these whenever I go to visit her. They look very simple but it's actually a challenge to get them just right. I still haven't perfected mine but I'm learning!

I have wonderful memories from my childhood when we used to spend summers with grandma. We would rush to the house because we could smell these cookies baking from far away. The nutty scent of toasted sesame and butter are hard to miss. I'm lucky that I still experience the same happiness when I visit my grandmother.

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