Fort Sumter & Benne Wafers


When last week’s First on the First post went live, I couldn’t believe it was January. There was so much about December that I never got to share with you, like which new cookies I tried ( Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies from Poet in the Pantry were my favorite!) or my trip to Charleston.


I love any good city on the water,


particularly one with a rich history, and Charleston was no exception. One morning we took a ferry ride into Charleston Harbor to visit Fort Sumter.


The island fortification was built following the War of 1812 and, though never completed, manned during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. However, it is most famous as the site of the first shots of the Civil War.


Less than one week after South Carolina declared secession from the Union in December 1860,  U.S. Major Robert Anderson occupied the unfinished fort


and continued to do so despite repeated calls for evacuation from the government of South Carolina. The standoff continued and by April it was clear that Anderson and his soldiers were running out of food and supplies. When President Lincoln announced plans to resupply the fort, it was bombarded by the Confederacy.


After a 34-hour exchange beginning on April 12, 1861, Anderson and his soldiers surrendered Fort Sumter. Union forces would attempt to regain the Fort for four years, succeeding only when Confederate troops abandoned it prior to the capture of Charleston in February 1865. 


In addition to its history, Fort Sumter also offers visitors exquisite examples of why this area of the United States is called the Lowcountry.


And no sweet treat is more quintessentially Lowcountry or South Carolinian than the Benne Wafer. A favorite in Charleston for more than a century, these cookies owe their origin to West African slaves who introduced sesame seeds (or “benne” seeds) to America. Legend has it that sesame seeds brought good luck and, since this is the first Suitcases & Sweets recipe of a new year, I hope these cookies do the same for you!


Click Here to Print This Recipe.

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar.
  • Add two eggs; mix well.
  • Blend in flour.
  • Stir in sesame seeds.
  • Add vanilla, baking powder, salt; mix until thoroughly combined.


  • Drop a teaspoon of batter onto prepared cookie sheet, far enough apart to allow spreading while baking.
  • Bake in a 325°F oven for approximately 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
  • Cool for 7-10 minutes on cookie sheets before removing to wire rack to cool completely.


Distance Traveled from Philadelphia to Charleston: 550 miles

This recipe reflects minor adaptations to a recipe from Charleston Gateway and yields 3.5 dozen cookies. 

Harbour Town & Golf Cake


On our way back from Beaufort, South Carolina, we stopped at Hilton Head Island and went straight to Harbour Town, the southern tip of the island. Part of Sea Pines Resort, this 5,000-acre gated community makes up a third of Hilton Head Island and is accessible by car, bike,


or trolley.


Harbour Town is an active community where you’ll find visitors enjoying its close proximity to the beach and taking part in water sports.


In fact, the heart of town is the yacht basin, where visitors can sit


and watch the boats go in and out of the marina,


or amble in and out of the shops and galleries that line the water.


Up for grabs is the title of Harbour Town’s best known landmark. For many, it’s the lighthouse. Privately built in 1969 to aid navigation, the Harbour Town Light also contains a museum and is open to the public to climb.


While the fee to climb is a bit pricey,  the views from the top are worthwhile.


And it’s from the top that guests can most clearly see the other landmark vying for most recognizable — Harbour Town Golf Links, known for its annual hosting of the PGA tour’s RBC Heritage golf tournament and its famous par-4, 18th hole overlooking Calibogue Sound.

IMG_5093It was Harbour Town and its Golf Links that inspired my latest baking adventure — a classic chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting that any golfer would love!


Click Here to Print This Recipe.


For the Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

For the Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk


    For the Cake

    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13×9 cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper; grease top of paper as well. Dust pan with cocoa powder. Set aside.
    • In a medium bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt.
    • In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, stir eggs, milk, coffee, oil, vanilla.
    • Add in dry ingredients until completely combined.
    • By hand, mix in boiling water.


    • Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
    • Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely.


    For the Frosting

    • In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy.
    • Add vanilla and slowly add powdered sugar, beating until combined.
    • Beat in milk. Increase speed of mixer and beat 4-5 minutes.


    To Decorate the Cake:

    • Cut a hole in the cake and spread a thin layer of light green frosting.
    • Outline greens and sand traps. Fill in sand traps with crushed graham crackers or Nilla Wafers.
    • Using darker green frosting and grass/fur tip, pipe grass over cake.  
    • Top with a clean golf ball — or make one!



    Beaufort & Biscuit Bread Pudding

    During our visit to Savannah, we took a ride to Beaufort, the second oldest city in South Carolina. Located on Port Royal Island, in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Beaufort is quaint, scenic, and historic.


    The city celebrated its tricentennial in 2011, and the entire downtown is designated as a historic district by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Most of the homes date back to the antebellum period, having been built by wealthy plantation owners,


    and the city has taken care to preserve the architecture and maintain its historic character.

    The buildings survived because it was one of the few Southern towns Union troops chose to occupy.


    Used as a naval post for Union forces, Beaufort chooses to honor its military history


    and its Spanish, French, and British past with a series of plaques at Waterfront Park that share the history of the city’s colonization beginning in 1520.


    For those who aren’t history buffs and just want to enjoy the scenery, the park is lined with bench swings where visitors can sit, take a break from shopping, and watch the boats go by.


    Just off Bay Street, a main thoroughfare lined with galleries, antique shops, and boutiques,


    is Blackstone’s Cafe, a favorite of locals for its informal atmosphere


    and delicious shrimp and grits.


    I can’t say “no” to authentic Southern food — or to biscuits — and I was not disappointed by the cheesy shrimp and grits and buttery biscuits that have made this cafe an institution in Beaufort!

    Growing up in New Jersey, recreating this meal seemed like a daunting task, but I knew what I could make to remind me of our day trip…Biscuit Bread Pudding!

    For this recipe, I started with Savannah maven Paula Deen’s recipe for bread pudding, substituted biscuits, adjusted the sugar, and added spices until the result was something even a Northern girl could be proud to serve.


    Click Here to Print this Recipe.


    • 4 buttermilk biscuits, cut into cubes
    • 5 eggs
    • 2 cups milk
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 cup raisins
    • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1 cup chopped pecans
    • Caramel sauce (optional)


    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    • Grease a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan. Arrange biscuit pieces in bottom of pan; set aside.
    • In a large bowl, beat eggs. Mix in milk, granulated sugar, nutmeg, spices, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Add raisins.
    • Pour mixture over biscuit pieces and let sit for 10 minutes.


    • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix and crumble together brown sugar, butter, and pecans.
    • Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until set.
    • Remove from oven, cool slightly, and drizzle with caramel sauce, if desired.




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