Benne wafers in a tin

Snacks & Treats

Benne Wafers: Holiday Cookies for Kwanzaa

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.

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 enslaved people from Africa. 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 Kwanzaa. 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.

What You'll Need

(sourced from

  • 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

How It's Made

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!

Article Author Arlee Greenwood
Arlee Greenwood

Read more from Arlee here.

Arlee is an Early Childhood Educator, earning her degree at BYU Idaho. She runs a government accredited care center in her home in Red Deer, AB. She studied with the New York Institute of Photography and she owns her own photography studio. Arlee is a mother of 6, an aspiring yogi, a lover of books, bento box lunches, travel, good food and wine. She’s a blogger in her “spare time” and she will never say no to chocolate. Find her at Small Potatoes, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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