But regardless of Pop's view of the city, I have found a number of reasons for being thankful my grandmother settled within cannon-shot of Fort Sumter. Right up there at the top of the list is…benne seeds.
The rest of the world, as far as I can tell, calls these treats "sesame seeds", but the good people of Charleston have stuck to their guns, and, contrarian that I am, as far as this goes, I stick with them over the rest of the world.
At any rate, some years back, our family received a copy of this recipe for what has become a very special treat, usually reserved for Christmas (or at least for the autumn/winter holiday season). The recipe is simple enough, but somewhat time-consuming, as compared to your standard oatmeal or Toll House drop cookie. Plus, benne seeds are, in our house, a luxury ingredient, to be saved for special occasions.
Still, here we are, with summer approaching (off-season for holidays), and I must share the recipe, for no other reason than that I stumbled across the recipe card and decided to go crazy in the kitchen, again.
Benne Seed Cookies
2 cups butter, divided
2/3 cup benne (sesame) seeds
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
4 Tablespoons water
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375º F.
In a small/medium saucepan, melt 1 cup butter with benne seeds. Continue to cook over low or medium heat until golden brown. Remove from heat.
In mixing bowl, cream well 1 cup butter and the granulated sugar. Add eggs and 4 Tablespoons of the browned benne seeds (draining away most of the browned butter as you scoop). Add water, thoroughly mix.
Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Grease the bottom of a tumbler or small flat-bottomed bowl, dip in sugar, and use to flatten cookies.
Bake about 10 minutes, or until edges begin to turn golden-brown.
Cool, then frost with Browned Benne Butter Frosting (below).
Browned Benne Butter Frosting
Remaining browned benne seed butter from above recipe
6 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
6 Tablespoons milk or half and half
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Stir all ingredients until smooth and spreadable, or, if you prefer, use mixer to whip until slightly fluffy. Spread generously on tops of cooled cookies.
Makes several dozen, but never enough.