How to Make Benne Seed Wafers—the Cookie Your Holidays Are Missing

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Never heard of benne seed wafers? Well, you'll want to give these nutty and chocolaty treats a try this holiday season.

Looking to add a few new bakes to your holiday cookie tray? We know you are! This year, in addition to classics like rugelach, spritz and thumbprint cookies, include benne seed wafers in your cookie spread. Benne seed cookies are a traditional Kwanzaa cookie made with sesame seeds.

But what are benne wafers? Well, let’s first explain what benne is. Benne is the Bantu word for sesame, so these wafers are essentially sesame-based cookies. These wafers come to us from the Gullah people of South Carolina’s Low Country. You’ll find that Gullah cuisine inspires a lot of Kwanzaa food traditions.

Now, while sesame isn’t a common ingredient in cookies, you’ll find that the nutty flavor of these seeds works really well in cookies. If you enjoy walnuts, pecans or almonds in your baking, you’ll enjoy sesame seeds too—especially when you add in a little chocolate!

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How to Make Benne Seed Wafers from Scratch

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This recipe comes to us from April Wright of Whisk It Real Gud who says they are a must for any holiday cookie tray (we agree!). They’re a bit different than the bakes you typically see around the holidays, but you’ll find that the flavor profile is similar to other favorite holiday bakes (meaning they are delicious).

Here’s what you need to make April’s sesame-filled cookies:

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1-1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 cups 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips
  • 2 teaspoons shortening or coconut oil

Get Recipe

Test Kitchen-Recommended Tools

  • Cookie sheets: Be sure your kitchen is stocked with basics like a few spare cookie sheets. This recipe makes eight dozen cookies, so having enough pans is important.
  • Sesame seeds: You need a good amount of sesame seeds for this recipe, so make sure you have plenty on hand. White sesame seeds are what our Test Kitchen used, but April says that you can include a blend of white and black sesame seeds, too, to give the cookies a contrasting appearance.
  • Wire cooling racks: During the baking season, you can never have enough wire racks to cool your goodies.

Directions

Step 1: Toast the sesame seeds

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When you bake with nuts, it’s always wise to toast them first so you get the maximum amount of flavor. Same goes for sesame seeds in this benne seed wafer cookie recipe.

Toast the sesame seeds by spreading them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350ºF for 10 to 15 minutes—until the seeds start to brown and are fragrant. Let cool.

Step 2: Make the wafer dough

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Next, beat together the brown sugar and butter until crumbly. Then add in the egg and vanilla extract (these are the vanilla brands our Test Kitchen prefers) and beat until combined.

In another dish, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, salt and baking powder. Gradually beat into the butter, sugar and egg mixture. Finally, stir in the cooled sesame seeds.

Step 3: Portion out the dough and bake

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Roll a teaspoon of dough into balls. Place the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Be sure to leave at least two inches between each cookie, because they will spread.

Bake at 275ºF for 18 to 20 minutes. April recommends keeping an eye on the cookies because they can go from perfectly baked to burnt before you know it. You can tell that the cookies are done “when the edges are set and they’re a golden color but still soft,” April says.

Once baked, let the cookies cool on the pan for about five minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Step 4: Add chocolate

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Now, chocolate isn’t strictly traditional when it comes to benne seed wafers, but who doesn’t love a little extra chocolate around the holidays? Besides, sesame seeds have a very nutty quality, so the chocolate-sesame pairing is natural.

To make the chocolate drizzle for these cookies, melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl uncovered at 50% power until melted. Stop and stir every 30 seconds. In total, this shouldn’t take more than 90 seconds. Then stir in the shortening (coconut oil works, too) and stir until combined.

Drizzle the chocolate over the wafers, making sure the cookies are totally cool first. You can also dip the wafers. Let the chocolate stand until set before storing.

Serving Your Cookies

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These benne seed wafers are chewy with crisp edges, plus they have that chocolate and nut combo that so many of us love. These cookies are definitely a great addition to any holiday treat spread or cookie tin.

April recommends storing them in an airtight container for up to four days. If you want to keep them longer, just check out our guide to freezing holiday cookies so they stay fresh.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.
April Wright
I enjoy developing southern, American comfort and ethnic recipes. I've been featured in Walmart,Pioneer Woman, HuffPost, Parade and Essence to name a few. I love food photography and adore learning everything there is to know about food.