Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Benne Wafers

First, I must congratulate my Gamecocks on making a run at a third CWS title in 3 years. That's pretty freakin' cool! Second, I must congratulate Arizona on their exceptional ball-playing in this CWS. Even though I wanted to hate Robert Refsnyder, I couldn't because he seemed like a really nice person. So yeah. And even though we didn't win, Michael Roth and Evan Marzilli (and Matt Price and Christian Walker, etc.) have my heart. This probably makes zero sense if you don't follow college baseball.

So let's talk cookies. These are quintessential Lowcountry cookies. Benne wafers. Benne is the Bantu word for sesame seed. See, we owe a great deal of our cuisine (among other things) to the slaves brought over from Africa. Olde Colony Bakery claims to have the oldest recipe for these sweet and slightly savory cookies. My recipe comes from Discover South Carolina, which may be OCB's recipe because it sure looks a lot like their cookies. Either way, these are crispy little wafers that are hard to stop nibbling on once you get started.

Easy stuff: Vanilla extract, flour, brown sugar, an egg, butter, sesame seeds, baking powder, and salt. Salt isn't in this picture because I totally forgot to add it until I'd baked the first 9 cookies. Whomp whomp. You can use either light or dark brown sugar. These aren't terribly fussy cookies. In fact, I think it's a cookie's duty to be unfussy. Cakes can be fussy. Cookies should be easy on your heart.

As with most cookies, it starts with butter and (brown) sugar.

Cream them together until fluffy. This is totally a hand mixer kind of cookie. The dough is never thick enough to make you want a stand mixer.

Add your egg to loosen it up a bit.

Add the flour in a couple of additions, mostly just to prevent you from wearing it. Unless you're into that sort of thing. What? You totally could be. We all have secrets. Baking powder and salt are also thrown in here.

Ahh, toasted sesame seeds. Toasting brings out the oils that make seeds and nuts so lovely. 10 minutes over medium-ish heat will do it. As long as they don't burn you'll be fine.

Stir in the cooled benne seeds. We don't need the mixer anymore because we want to treat these to a little gentle rubber spatula action. That...sounds kind of inappropriate. Just stir.

Last in is vanilla extract, which gets stirred in gently.

It's a pretty loose cookie dough studded with sesame seeds and full of brown sugary goodness.

This little teaspoon will spread into a pretty cookie. Parchment paper is so necessary for these cookies. They like to stick to even greased baking sheets sometimes, but parchment paper does the trick. I spooned 9 cookies to a cookie sheet, just to be sure they had room to spread without sticking to each other.

Seven to ten minutes in the oven and you've got a wafer with crisp edges and a still slightly pliable middle.

It really takes no time at all to cool on a wire rack, which is good because this makes almost 4 dozen cookies.

 Pretty cookie stacks. If ever you wanted to give someone a housewarming gift they'll remember, this is the cookie. Everyone should have a little Lowcountry in his or her life.

Lookie at what I made! Sometimes I'm really good at following directions. Psst, it totally doesn't take that many bites to finish this cookie. And I ate the crumbs I made.

Benne Wafers (makes 3-4 dozen)
Adapted from Discover South Carolina

6 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c packed brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 c all-purpose flour
Wee pinch of salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 c sesame seeds, toasted and cooled slightly
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 325º. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Cream butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until just incorporated. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. (The flour can be added in a couple of stages to prevent it from flying out everywhere.) Stir in the toasted sesame seeds and vanilla extract.
  • Use a teaspoon to spoon the cookie dough onto the prepared sheet. Space cookies so that they have room to spread. Bake 7-10 minutes or until the edges are just crispy and lightly brown. Let cool on the cookie sheet 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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