Full of toasty sesame flavor, Benne Wafers are a crunchy, chewy treat. These sesame seed cookies are both delicious and good luck!
Why you’ll love this recipe
Benne (rhymes with penny) is the Bantu word for sesame. When West Africans were brought to the Americas as slaves in the 17th century, they brought sesame (benne) seeds with them. Benne seeds are said to bring good luck to those who eat them.
Today, traditional benne wafers, made from centuries old recipes, can be found in bakeries in the South Carolina Lowcountry around Charleston. Made bite sized, the tiny sesame seed cookies are often given as gifts to wedding guests.
Equal amounts of flour, brown sugar, and toasted sesame seeds, produces a sweet, crisp cookie with lots of toasty flavor.
This benne wafers recipe calls for 1 cup of sesame seeds, which is a lot of seeds if you are using the expensive, little jars found in the spice aisle of the supermarket.
A much more economical source is the bulk food area of a health food store (like Whole Foods where I bought mine for $3-4 a pound).
Another good source is an Asian grocery, where sesame seeds are sold in larger containers.
This is an overview of the instructions. The full instructions are in the recipe card below.
- In a baking pan, toast the sesame seeds at 370° F for about 5 minutes, until golden. Gently shake the pan every minute to prevent burning.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Then mix in the remaining ingredients.
- Place 1 tablespoon sized balls of dough 2-3″ apart on lined baking sheet. The balls spread into flat discs, so leave room.
- Bake 8-10 minutes until the benne biscuits are golden and crisp.
- It’s quick and easy to toast sesame seeds in either the oven (my recommended method for evenly golden seeds with less chance of burning) or in a frying pan on the stove.
- For oven toasting, spread the seeds on a baking pan, and place in a 370° F oven for about 5 minutes, gently shaking the pan each minute, until the seeds begin to look golden.
- When stovetop toasting, spread the seeds in a frying pan and heat on medium for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until golden.
- To make tiny, bite sized sesame cookies, use ½ – 1 teaspoon of dough per cookie. Baking time will be less.
- If your wafers aren’t crunchy, you can return them to the oven for an additional few minutes to crisp.
- When exposed to humidity and over time, the cookies will loose their crispness, but will still be delicious.
As soon as the benne biscuits have cooled completely, store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Exposure to humidity will cause the cookies to be chewy rather than crisp.
Frequently asked questions
These thin sesame cookies have been popular in the Lowcountry of South Carolina around Charleston, for centuries.
Benne seeds are the ancestors of sesame seeds. Over time sesame has been changed to create seeds that produce more oil and have milder flavor.
Though sesame seeds are edible raw, toasting intensifies the nutty flavor and crunch.
More toasted sesame seed recipes
Honey Sesame Brittle is a toasty flavored candy that is easy to make. The shiny candy can be made in molds or in a pan and make beautiful gifts.
The combination of a soft, honey sweetened dough and crunchy sesame make Honey Sesame Cookies irresistible.
Italian Sesame Cookies are lightly sweet and buttery cookies coated with sesame seeds.
My experience with this recipe
When packing a care package for midterm exam week (or any stressful time in someone’s life), I like to think in terms of food “benefits”. I send almonds for brain power, dark chocolate (bars or in brownie form) for antioxidant heart health, and sesame seeds in these good luck cookies.
Everybody can use a little extra luck.
Sesame Benne Wafers
Toasting sesame seeds
- Spread the sesame seeds on an ungreased baking sheet, and place in a 370° F oven for about 5 minutes, gently shaking the pan each minute, until the seeds begin to look golden.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar.
- Add the egg and vanilla. Mix until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).
- Mix in the salt, baking soda, and flour until the dry ingredients are incorporated and the dough is smooth.
- Stir in sesame seeds.
- Using a tablespoon scoop, place balls of cookie dough 2-3″ apart on the prepared baking sheets. (9-12 per sheet. The balls spread into flat discs, so leave room).
- Bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown.
- Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
- Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up 2 weeks. Over time and with exposure to humidity, the cookies will get less crisp.
- Sesame seeds can be toasted in the oven or on the stovetop. I recommend using the oven for more even toasting and less chance of burning.
- For tiny, bite sized cookies, use ½ – 1 teaspoon of dough per cookie. Baking time will be less.
- If your Benne Wafer cookies aren’t crunchy, you can return them to the oven for an additional few minutes to crisp.
- Double wrap cookies in plastic wrap in pairs with bottoms together. Place wrapped bundles in an airtight ziplock bag or container for storage.
- Store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
First Published: October 23, 2012. Last Updated: July 24, 2021. Updated for additional information, improved photographs, and better user experience.