South Carolina: A sesame seed favorite, Benne Wafers make unique Christmas cookie

bennewafers3Jeremy and I continue our tour of the 50 states, searching for the most interesting Christmas cookie for each.  This week, I am baking a recipe from Charleston, South Carolina, Benne Wafers.

If you have been following our blog, my last stop was  Indiana.  I made Springerle coolies, and they were not too good, but it was entirely baker’s error.  I need to re-visit that recipe because I think I missed a unique cookie.   I have baked my way through New JerseyAlaska, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Alabama.

This week’s recipe was not difficult to find, but I did have to wait a day or two for my order of sesame seeds from Amazon.  The Olde Colony Bakery in Charleston has the history of the Benne wafers, originating in Colonial times with slaves arriving from Africa.

sesameseedsThe seeds are lightly toasted before making the simple recipe. I’m a careless kind of cook, so I concentrated on those sesame seeds for 10 minutes, making sure they were perfectly browned.  Overall, the resulting cookie was thin, crisp and tasty, but not my favorite.  My version was considerably darker than the cookies pictured on the Old Colony Bakery web page, so I suspect I could have taken them out of the oven a little earlier.  My crunchy cookies may have had more crunch (over-baked) than crisp (just right).

I found an easy recipe on SimplyRecipes.com.  I think I should change my approach to bake each cookie recipe twice.  I think if I did this again, I could do better.

Benne Wafers Recipe

by Steve-Anna Stephens

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Dough chilling time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 2-4 dozen, depending on the size of your spoonfuls

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F. Cover cookie sheets in parchment paper. Toast the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown.

Beat the brown sugar and butter together in a medium-sized bowl for several minutes until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add these dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture, mix well. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Chill the dough for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This makes it easier to drop the cookies on the sheets.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving space for the cookies to spread. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheets, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Indiana: German Springerle cookies inspired by a rolling pin

If you are just joining this 2017 adventure, Jeremy and I have challenged ourselves to produce one terrific cookie recipe from each of the 50 states.  Each week, we draw a state name and go off in search of an interesting cookie recipe.  This week, I added Indiana to my group of states.  I have baked my way through New JerseyAlaska, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Alabama.

My choice to bake Springerle cookies was a no-brainer.  Joanne, my co-worker and a German teacher, had surprised me with the gift of a wooden Springerle rolling pin just the week before. When I drew “Indiana,” my first internet search referenced two religious organizations that make traditional Springerle cookies:   I had never heard of the cookies; although, when I searched online, I recognized the unique designs.  Springerle cookies are white, rectangular cookies that have an embossed design–Springerle means ”little jumper” or “little knight,” because of the commonly represented design.

In Indiana, there are several bakeries, including one at the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, Indiana, that make the cookies.  There is a bakery that specializes in all things German, including a huge collection of gnomes:  The Heidelberg Haus.  I may decide to order the cookies so I can see what they are supposed to take like.

I set out to make these traditional cookies.  I started by ordering “Bakers Ammonia,” a pre-baking soda era item because several recipes called for that.  I didn’t use it, though, because there were many recipes that didn’t require the traditional item.  Here’s the problem. There are two types of Springerle cookie recipes:  easy and difficult.  I chose easy.  Easy did not taste great.  I suspect that the cookies must be made with a lot more love than I devoted to them. Unfortuantely, mine were crunchy and nearly inedible.

Here’s Martha Stewart’s recipe.  I did not use this one, but if I were to try again, I would try this one.

Here are some recipes on All Recipes.  (The cookies were not light and delicate, but I suspect that is not the fault of the recipe–I need a tutorial.)