All I want for Christmas is to understand why this recipe exists. But so far, I've failed.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Mariah Carey/Getty Images
One Halloween seven years ago, Mariah Carey gave the world a recipe for her Christmas cookies. She shared them exclusively with PopEater, the now-defunct entertainment blog run by AOL, in the preamble to the release of her second Christmas album, Merry Christmas II You, on November 2, 2010.
This recipe for what are essentially frosted sugar cookies is a relic of a bygone era, hidden in the crevices of the internet. The site it debuted on, PopEater, is now dead, swallowed into AOL proper. The original recipe is only accessible via an archived post.
Reading this recipe is the digital equivalent of leafing through the pages of a worn, crusty cookbook where any surrounding context regarding a recipe’s backstory is removed. You’re left to guess what those details are: when Carey first made these Christmas cookies; whether this recipe had been passed down to her; how it dovetails at all with the Merry Christmas II You album beyond the nominal connective tissue; whether she still makes them, or ever really made them at all.
The fact that a recipe for these cookies even exists is mildly remarkable. I’d wager that Carey’s Christmas music is wired into America’s cultural imagination more than any other songstress’ holiday bops. Carey’s Merry Christmas album, along its flagship single “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” emerged in 1994 as a beacon of hope for the tired genre of Christmas music, and quickly became its gold standard. As Billboard's co-director of charts, Gary Trust, explains to me, Carey’s song has been “the unquestioned champion” of Billboard’s Holiday 100 songs chart, having led the chart for 26 cumulative weeks since the chart began in 2011. No other song has led for more than two weeks.
“When the song was released, very few acts were writing and recording new holiday songs,” Trust explains. In "All I Want for Christmas," Carey had created a song that could compete with the established classics been passed down like hand-me-downs from one generation to the next.
“It stood out at the time of its release, and has since, in large part because it's good enough to rank alongside decades-old classics and is by an artist who was then arguably the biggest name in music, and still is a superstar," Trust continues. "That's a combination that few acts have been able to achieve in recent decades.”
Merry Christmas II You proved considerably less popular than Carey’s first Christmas album, and received a more tepid response from critics than its predecessor. “[The] LP's warm heart is in the right place,” Caryn Ganz backhandedly noted in the pages of Rolling Stone. “It’s an attempted rewind,” judged Slant’s Eric Henderson. “As such, it’s probably one of the most revealing and none-too-flattering approximations of the mindset of a certain sort of adult’s Christmas spirit.” Mike Diver of the BBC gave it the distinction of being “not particularly clever.” Poor Merry Christmas II You became the bastard child of Carey's Christmas music family.
MAKE IT: Mariah Carey's Sugar Cookies
Pinning down the album's Christmas cookie recipe's origins turned out to be an exercise in futility. “Thank you for thinking of Mariah for this piece, but she is unable to participate at this time,” her publicist wrote me after a back-and-forth that lasted a week. Ashley Iasimone, who had the byline on the PopEater piece, , did not respond to requests for comment. With few answers about the cookies' mysteries, I quickly reached a dead end.
At least we’ve got the cookies themselves. As the recipe’s skimpy headnotes indicate, the cookies are meant to serve a batch of four dozen, and the recipe itself is deliriously uncomplicated. You don’t need much: butter, sugar, an egg, lemon zest, milk, vanilla, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt—basic pantry staples.
Besides, who but the most tormented of misers can argue with frosted sugar cookies? They’re the gastronomic epitome of holiday comfort. We don't want a lot of Christmas, and Carey's cookies—simple and unexplained as they may be—go down easy.