Benne wafers are thin, crisp cookies popular in the southern United States, where they have been made since at least the 1700s.
Their featured ingredient is sesame seeds.
To make the cookies, you toast the sesame seeds first to develop their flavour, them mix them with melted butter, sugar, an egg, vanilla flavouring, flour, baking powder and salt. Some people mix the brown sugar with maple sugar; some include pecans in the recipe. You then put half-teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheets, and bake them. They melt and spread out as they cook, which takes around 5 minutes.
Some versions are sweeter than others. More savoury ones are good with savoury dishes such as soups and salads.
Benny Cakes made in the Barbados are toasted sesame seeds and peanuts mixed in carmalized sugar and formed into mounds to set.
Literature & Lore
“Never a moment when a visitor to Charleston hasn’t a benne seed stuck fast in a back tooth. Every Charleston kitchen makes the benne seed biscuit, the benne wafers to serve with the cocktails, to pass at teatime. Fragrant, nutty-sweet little trifles, whose secret is in the toasting of the seed before it’s added to the batter.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. July 1951.
“Benne” is the word used by the Wolof people of Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania for “sesame seeds”. It was brought over by people captured as slaves.