I woke up this morning, made myself a nice cup of steaming hot coffee. With that, I took out a couple of Marie biscuits in a plate, to accompany my morning coffee. Every morning countless people do this thing, almost as a ritual. Marie biscuits is generally synonymous with tea, having them with coffee is my personal preference, since I always prefer coffee over tea. Though originally English in origin, the Marie biscuits enjoy huge popularity across the globe, especially in countries like Venezuela, Spain, Mauritius, Denmark, Brazil, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, South Africa, Pakistan, Finland, Sweden and of course India. Everywhere, the biscuits look more or less the same – round in shape, name embossed in the center of the top surface, with intricate designs embossed on the edges.
The Marie biscuits weren’t always called as Marie, instead, they were originally called as Maria, after the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia who married the Duke of Edinburgh in England. Their wedding was the prime inspiration of the biscuit. Where the Duchess Maria Alexandrovna and the Duke got married in London, in 1874, the Peek Freans Bakery commemorated the occasion by creating a sweet, small, round cookie which was stamped with the Duchess’ name – Maria.
However, the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna would not be amused at how she is remembered. She had a strong sense of her status, to the extent of annoying her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. Marie married Victoria’s second son, Alfred, so in the royal pecking order came after Alexandra, the wife of her eldest son, Edward. But Alexandra was daughter of the King of Denmark whereas Marie’s father was the Tsar, Emperor of Russia, and Marie insisted an Emperor’s child outranked a mere King’s.
Queen Victoria didn’t agree, and Marie was so displeased that when the complexities of European royal successions made her husband Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a German princely state, she jumped at the chance to leave Britain. But the good times in Germany didn’t last; her Russian relatives were killed or exiled by the Russian Revolution, and her husband lost his state and title after the First World War. She went to live Switzerland where she is said to have died of shock and humiliation after receiving a telegram addressed to her as plain “Frau Coburg.”
The biscuit became immensely popular all over Europe, especially in Spain, where it became a symbol of the economic recovery of the country after the Spanish Civil War. At the time, there was a huge wheat surplus in Spain, and Spanish bakeries produced very large quantities of this Marie biscuit during this time.
Apart from the Marie biscuit, Peek Freans also created many other biscuits like the Garibaldi, the chocolate covered digestive, the bourbon biscuit, the Creola, the Golden Puff, the Glaxo, the Pat-a-cake shortbread and the Pearl.
Globally, there are many brands of Marie biscuits that have a huge name for themselves.
Maria Cookies – Large golden brown biscuits that are flaky and crisp
Rio Maria – Thin, crisp and sweet
Pagasa Marias Cookies – Crunchy marie biscuits
Maria Gamesa – Claim to make the original marie biscuits
United Kingdom – Biggest producer of marie biscuits
Crawford’s – Airy and light biscuits with vanilla flavor with no artificial flavor and coloring
Marias brand under Goya Foods – popular crispy biscuits
President’s Choice – crispy round marie biscuits
Fibisco – created marie biscuits as starting food for toddlers, manufactures three brands – Marie, Marie Time, and Marie Munch
Treff Marie Biscuits by Disha Foods
Mariebon by Bonn Food Industries
Vita Marie by Britannia
Marie Light by ITC
Other globally known producers of Marie Biscuit are: Regal Maria Biscuits (Indonesia); Marriebiscuits (Pally, Holland); Jacobs’ Marietta (Ireland); Arcor’s Mana Biscuits (Argentina); Arnott’s Marie (Australia); Riviana Pozuelo’s Maria (Costa Rica); KelsenBisca Mariekiks (Denmark); Nestle Ecuador Maria (Ecuador); Kantolan Kulta Marie (Finland); Patisserie Gunz’ Maria (Germany); The Garden Company Limited’s Marie Biscuits (Hong Kong); CV Jaya Abadi’s Marie Regal Biscuits (Indonesia); Morinaga and Company’s Marie (Japan); Muhab Food Co. Marie Biscuits (Libya); Hup Seng Perusahaan Makanan’s Marie Biscuits and Coffee Marie Biscuits (Malaysia); NorgesGruppen’s First Price (Norway); Sætre AS’ Marie (Norway); Verdake’s Maria (the Netherlands); Productos Alimenticios Pascual’s Maria (Panama); English Biscuit Manufacturers’ Peek Freans (Pakistan); Cuetara Triunfo’s Bolacha Maria (Portugal); Khing Guan Biscuit Factory’s Marie Biscuits and Small Marie Biscuits (Singapore); Bakers’ Maries Biscuits and Cappuccino Marie Biscuits (South Africa); Grupo Siro’s Maria, Maria Dorada and Maria Clasica (Spain); Cuetara’s Maria Oro (Spain); LU-Fontaneda’s La Buena Maria (Spain); Maliban Biscuit Manufactories Limited’s Gold Marie (Sri Lanka); Goteborgs Kex’ Guld Marie (Sweden); Katalina Foods (Syria); Simsek Biscuits and Foods’ Gorona ( Turkey); ANI Biscuit and Foods’ Marie (Turkey); Kharkiv Biscuit Factory’s Марія (Ukraine); Kraft Foods’ Maria de Famosa (Uruguay); El Trigal’s Maria Rika (Uruguay); C.A. Sucesora de Jose Puig and CIA’s Maria Puig (Venezuela); Kinh Do Corporation’s Cosy Marie (Vietnam); Lebena’s Marie and Lobels’ Marie (Zimbabwe).
Apart from being popular dunking biscuits with Tea, marie biscuits are popularly had as a sandwich of two marie biscuits with jam, margarine, butter or vegemite. Some people even spread sweetened condensed milk between the biscuits, while other cover the biscuits in golden syrup or crumble them with jelly or custard to make a great pudding or dessert.
Mariesare relative low on fat so they don’t crumble as fast. Due to this they lack a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth feel, however, it makes them better for dunking. This is where Maries really come into their own, their stiff dry structure absorbing more liquid as they go into milk, coffee or tea, but staying together long enough for that fraught journey from mug to mouth. Of course, even Maries fall apart if left in liquid for too long.
On 12 October, 1997 the Times of India reported in a piece headed ‘Marie Biscuits and Mukhiya Mantris’ how chief minister Vasantdada Patil made use of this with the Maries served at Mantralaya press conferences to avoid giving answers: “Crucial questions skipped the chief minister’s attention as he would be too busy scooping out the details of the cup with a spoon.”
There are other ways to pass time with a Marie too. There is meditative pleasure in carefully nibbling off the patterned rim and only then crunching the diminished centre. Or faced with a cup with a mouth too small for a full Marie in, you then contemplate the geometry of how to break it into pieces small enough to go in, but not so small as to make dunking difficult. The small but real pleasure of doing this is why, I think, Parle failed in its attempt to sell MaryLong, introduced in 1987 as “the Square Shaped Marie.” Parle boasted that MaryLongs has won a gold medal at the Monde Selection Awards in Brussels, but Indian consumers evidently didn’t feel the way the Belgians did and the product is now forgotten.
Marie biscuits do have one use where the shape doesn’t matter. Crumbled or broken Maries are the foundation of some delicious puddings. Again, it helps that they aren’t too sweet so offer a counter to the other sweet ingredients used, and that even broken they don’t become complete mush. Sri Lankans have a pudding made of layers of milk soaked Maries with chocolate and cashew nuts in between. Even easier is the recipe for serradura that Fatima da Silva Gracias gives in her wonderful Cozinha de Goa book. The name means sawdust, which is exactly what pulverised Maries look like, and they are layered with a mixture of cream and condensed milk and frozen till solid. There no extra sugar apart from what’s in the condensed milk and Maries and the result is amazingly rich and delicious.