Snacks & Treats
Benne Wafers: Holiday Cookies for Kwanzaa
By Arlee Greenwood, Small Potatoes
Dec 24, 2014
During this holiday season, we bake and we bake and we bake some more. We fill the cookie tins with all kinds of delicious things, from my Gramma's caramels, to my Auntie's gingersnaps, to my sister's shortbreads. All of these recipes are a treasured and time-honored tradition. The children help me bake as they listen to me go on and on about how I used to have these exact treats during the holidays when I was growing up. This year, we learned a new recipe. One that has been a tradition for many years in other families' homes. They were so yummy, we decided to add them to our holiday baking every year from now on. They are called benne wafers. Benne is the Bantu word for sesame. Sesame was brought through from East Africa, through West Africa and over to the southern United States by African slaves. Sesame was then planted extensively throughout the Southern States. The benne wafer is a thin cookie made with toasted sesame seeds and the recipe dates back well over 100 years. They are often eaten as a favourite treat during the Kwanzaa ("first fruit" in Swahili) celebration, the African-American family festival that lasts from December 26 through January 1. The Bantu believe eating these sesame cookies bring good luck. And let me tell you something else...the benne wafer is delicious. The recipe is very simple, which makes it perfect for little children in the kitchen.
- 1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 4 Tbsp soften unsalted butter
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
This recipe has very little about it that a child cannot do on her own, but here are the first few steps that should be done by an adult:
Preheat your oven to 325ºF.
Cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Toast your sesame seeds in a skillet on medium heat until they are golden brown.
Now for the kid's portion! Have the child beat the brown sugar and butter in a bowl until fluffy. If you have more than one child, they can take turns.
Now crack the egg and beat it in with the sugar and butter.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder, then add these dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, and egg and mix well. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds and vanilla extract. Squeeze the lemon juice and add it to the mix.
You can chill the dough for 30 minutes, but this step is optional. We did not chill our dough. The dough is very wet though, so if you have really small children helping, it may help the dough to be more manageable if you chill it for at least 10 minutes. Spoon the dough by the teaspoonful onto your cookie sheets.
We kept the dough dollops about 3 inches apart because they really spread out in the baking process. Bake the cookies until golden brown on the edges. The recipe said 15 minutes, but we found that 12 minutes was just right. Let them cool and you'll have some lovely, caramel-y, crispy, buttery wafers to enjoy over the holiday season. Enjoy!