Benne seed wafers are the signature cookie of Charleston, S.C. We loved this rendition from food writer and culinary historian John Martin Taylor, via his friend Virginia Willis. The crisps are sweet, rich and gorgeously lacy.

Recipe note: The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week or frozen for several months.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.


  • 1/2 cup (75 grams) white sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup (42 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (165 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the middle. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Scatter the sesame seeds on one of the baking sheets and bake until lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool and then transfer the seeds to a small bowl.

Step 2

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium-high until it’s the consistency of wet sand, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, add the flour mixture, and then fold in the cooled toasted sesame seeds.

Step 3

Drop level teaspoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. (Allowing space is important, as the cookies will spread.)

Step 4

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, for 7 to 8 minutes total, until the tops of the cookies bubble and the edges turn deep brown, rotating the baking sheets from front to back once during baking. Transfer the baking sheets to a wire rack to cool slightly, then use an offset spatula to transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely. (If you leave the cookies on the baking sheet to cool completely, they will be more crisp; if you remove them immediately, they will be slightly softer.) Repeat with the remaining dough. Serve, or store in an airtight container.

Adapted from “Secrets of the Southern Table” by Virginia Willis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).

Tested by Rachel Leeds; email questions to

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Calories: 25; Total Fat: 1 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 5 mg; Sodium: 35 mg; Carbohydrates: 4 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 0 g.