This Northern cook is obsessed with Southern food. Fried green tomatoes, grits, pimento cheese, vinegar pie, buttermilk biscuits and hummingbird cake, I like it all. Southern food, like all traditional foodways, is inherently seasonal and local—the result of home cooks working with what was available to them, with a real connection to the land. The cuisine also benefits from a myriad of cultural influences all intersecting in the kitchens of the South.
Benne seeds (sesame seeds to the rest of us) were introduced to North America sometime in the 17th or 18th century. The seeds made the voyage across the Atlantic with slaves coming from Africa and the annual plants easily adapted to the sweltry Southern climate. Benne seeds were quickly incorporated in the cuisine of the South and nowhere are they more delicious than in the traditional benne wafer.
Benne wafers are a classic cookie with origins in the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry. These delicate little disks are subtly sweet with rich flavors of caramel and toasted nuts. Perfect any time of day, I love them with a dish of buttermilk ice cream or a glass of cold milk.
This recipe for benne wafers is my favorite and couldn't be simpler. Be careful when toasting sesame seeds as they can quickly burn. I prefer to toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Keep them moving constantly and watch for them to turn a light golden brown––they'll also release some of their oil and smell wonderful. Like all nuts and seeds, sesame seeds can go rancid quickly so keep yours in the fridge and taste them before using to make sure they're still good.
Be warned: these cookies are addictive. They won't be around for long. Share them with friends and enjoy a little piece of Lowcountry history.
(adapted from a recipe by Jean Anderson)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light, about 2 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add the egg and beat until just incorporated. Add the flour and salt, mixing to combine. Fold in the sesame seeds.
Drop the dough from rounded 1/2 teaspoons onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. The cookies will spread when baking.
Bake on the middle oven shelf for 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
Let the cookies sit on the baking sheets for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 7 dozen cookies.
Thank you for sharing, Tim! Visit Tim's blog, Lottie + Doof for more really good cooking and fabulous photography.
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(Images: Tim Mazurek of Lottie + Doof)