Marie biscuits or Maria cookies, known as galletas María in Spanish, are a type of thin, dry, round, slightly-sweet cookie. They are well-known in many parts of the world and are ubiquitous in Latin America.
Maria cookies are eaten as breakfast or a snack, used in countless dessert recipes and given to babies to munch on. Much like graham crackers in the United States, Maria cookies are one of the homey, everyday type of packaged foods that are found in virtually all Mexican households. There are recipes floating around on the net for making them from scratch, but very rarely do people bake them at home; Maria cookies are one of those foods that virtually everyone is perfectly content to purchase in mass-produced form.
Mexican cookie-making giant Gamesa is the big brand in that country, but other brands reign in different places, and you might even find generic Maria cookies on your supermarket shelves. They are sold in various presentations, such as single-serve packs of 4–6 cookies, rolls of about 30, and boxes of a kilo or more. Since they are quite dry, they have a relatively long shelf life. The standard flavor is vanilla, but you will occasionally come across chocolate-flavored Maria cookies and—once in a while—some other flavor.
Interestingly, despite their enormous popularity in Spanish-speaking countries, Maria cookies seemed to have been invented not in Mexico or even in Spain, but in England in the mid-to-late 1800s, where they were dubbed Marie biscuits in honor of a royal bride. Somehow—probably due to their being inexpensive, versatile, and easy to store—they traveled around the world and became a beloved staple in such far-flung places as New Delhi, Cape Town, Brisbane, and Guadalajara.
Nowadays these unassuming little disks seem to be used (often crumbled or crushed) nearly as often as an ingredient in other recipes as they are enjoyed whole as cookies. Maria biscuits are smashed and turned into milk shakes or atole, layered in many a no-bake dessert and pulverized and used as “flour” in recipes for cakes and other cookies, among other things. There are Maria cookie flans, Maria cookie bon bons and Maria cookie-flavored ice creams—pretty heady stuff for a humble, very mild-tasting little wafer.
Galletas María are one of the main ingredients in our delicious No-bake Creamy Lime Refrigerator Cake. If you have leftover cookies from that recipe—or just picked up a pack of them out of curiosity—here are a few other ways in which this staple is often used in Latin America:
- As a dunking cookie. Due to their low moisture content, Maria cookies don’t fall apart as easily as many others when dipped briefly into liquid, making them an ideal accompaniment to your morning coffee, afternoon tea or other hot or cold beverage.
- As a treat given to small children to keep them quiet and/or occupied at home or in public. Other than the crumbs they make (which tend to be fewer than those made by many other treats), Maria biscuits are relatively mess-free, and their bland flavor makes them acceptable to most any palate.
- Topped with jam, jelly, marmalade, hazelnut spread, peanut butter or some other sweet spread as a simple breakfast or snack.
- Crushed and mixed with melted butter and sugar to produce a no-bake pie crust—in the same way that graham cracker crusts are frequently made in the U.S.
- As a garnish and accompaniment to a dish of ice cream, pudding or similar dessert.
- Topped with cream cheese and a slice of ate (a thick paste made from quince, guavas, figs or other fruit) and eaten as a snack or dessert.
- Dipped in white, milk or dark chocolate (leaving up to half of the cookie un-dipped) and topped with decorative sprinkles—a quick way to add a festive element to a tray of assorted cookies.
- For the ends of a mini ice cream sandwich: Allow the ice cream of your choice to soften somewhat at room temperature. Place a small scoop of ice cream on top of a galleta Maria, then top with another cookie. Press together until ice cream starts to squeeze out beyond the sides of the cookies; scrape off the excess. Set the newly formed ice cream sandwich on a plate (use a cookie sheet if making a lot) and freeze until firm.