Benne Wafers

There is a cocktail wafer that seems a vital part of the culture of Charleston, South Carolina, and that is called the benne wafer. Benne is the local word for sesame seeds, and few people seem to know that its use in the South, particularly South Carolina, dates from the days of slavery. The seeds were brought into the country from Africa aboard the slave ships, perhaps in the pockets of the hapless passengers. The word derives from the word bĕne from the language of the people of the upper Niger River Valley in Western Africa.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, if desired
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Ice water

Method

  1. Toast the sesame seeds in a skillet over low heat, stirring frequently, or in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes. Cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Place the flour, salt, and cayenne in a bowl. Work in the butter with the fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the cooled sesame seeds, the egg yolk, and enough ice water to make a dough.
  4. Roll out the dough on a floured board and cut into 2-inch rounds. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Cool on a rack.

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