Oil is the dominant theme--and ingredient--in traditional Hanukkah food. Hanukkah, of course, celebrates the successful Jewish revolt against the Syrian Greeks. When the Jews wanted to rededicate the Temple that had been destroyed in the fighting, the story goes, only a day's worth of oil remained to light the menorah. Miraculously, that oil lasted for eight days. Though most Jews now commemorate this by lighting wax candles instead of oil lamps, the idea of eating greasy food for an entire eight days is too good to give up.

Jelly-filled donuts--known in Hebrew as sufganiyot--are a traditional treat that makes ample use of oil. But there are other ways to integrate oil into delicious desserts. The following three recipes combine oils and the fried dough concept into a more modern treat--cupcakes. 

Jelly-Filled "Sufganiyot" Cupcakes
Lemon Cupcakes with Olive Oil, Sage, and Sea Salt
Deep-Fried Chocolate Cupcakes

Note: For best results in any of these recipes, bring all ingredients to room temperature before preparing.

Jelly-Filled "Sufganiyot" Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes.

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil (or other oil suitable for baking)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk--dairy milk or a nut, rice, or soy milk all work fine
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup jam or jelly of your choice
1 batch buttercream frosting, with ¼ cup cocoa powder added if desired.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Outfit a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another medium bowl, beat eggs. Then add sugar, oil, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Whisk together, then mix in the milk.

Gradually add flour mixture to the liquid mixture, stirring as you go.

There are two ways to get the jelly or jam filling into your cupcakes. One is to add it at this point, before you bake the cakes, and the other is to cut a hole into each cupcake after baking, fill with jam, and then close the hole. The first method is faster and perfectly tasty, but with the second method, the cupcakes look more attractive when sliced or bitten into.

If you're planning to fill the cupcakes before you bake them, fill the liners with batter about 1/3 of the way. Add a level teaspoon-sized dollop of jam or jelly in the center of the batter. Add more batter so the liners are ¾ of the way full.

If you're planning to hollow out the cakes after baking, go ahead and fill the cups ¾ full in one step.

Either way, bake for 20 minutes or until the tops bounce back when touched, and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

To cut out the center: Remove cupcakes from tin and allow to cool until they are comfortable to handle. Using a paring knife, cut out a section about 1 inch in diameter, starting at the top of each cupcake and going down about ¾ of its depth. Slice out the section, which will look like a cork-shaped piece of cake, and fill most of the hole with jelly. Cut off part of the "cork" and place it back in the cupcake (check out a picture of what this will look like here).

Frost cupcakes with buttercream.

Buttercream Frosting

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 ½ to 2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons milk--dairy milk or a nut, rice, or soy milk all work fine

Cream butter and about half of the powdered sugar. Gradually add milk and the rest of the powdered sugar, stirring well until smooth and spreadable.

Lemon Cupcakes with Olive Oil, Sage, and Sea Salt

Makes 12 cupcakes.

This recipe puts a new twist on dessert by throwing in a couple of savory flavors with the sweet ones. Here, a citrus-infused batter receives the rich "umami" of olive oil and the briny crunch of course sea salt. It's like a lemon birthday cake for grownups.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon honey
2/3 cup strongly-flavored extra virgin olive oil
Zest of one large lemon (about 1 Tablespoon)
Juice of one large lemon, plus enough milk to make ½ cup liquid
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
lemon hanukkah cupcakes
Preheat oven to 375 F. Outfit a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another medium bowl, combine sugar, honey, lemon zest, and olive oil. Whisk together.

Add eggs and beat well.

Gradually add flour mixture, lemon juice, and milk to the sugar/honey/zest/oil/egg mixture, stirring as you go.

Add sage and stir a few more times to combine and ensure that the batter is smooth. Do not over-mix.

Fill liners ¾ of the way, and bake for 20 minutes or until the tops bounce back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Fried Sage Leaf Garnish

1 cup olive oil
15-20 fresh sage leaves
Course sea salt

Heat oil in a skillet with tall sides to about 365 F (you can check with a deep fry thermometer or candy thermometer). Drop sage leaves into oil, 4 or 5 at a time, and allow to fry for about 5 seconds. Remove and lay on paper towels.

To assemble cupcakes, top each with frosting, place a sage leaf or two in the center, and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.

Deep-Fried Chocolate Cupcakes

The base of this recipe is a moist chocolate cupcake with a rich chocolate ganache. The iced cupcakes are quite delicious on their own, but enrobed and deep-fried in a fluffy, sweet batter, they are divine. The "plain" version is vegan and pareve, while the battered and fried version includes both eggs and dairy.

When preparing this recipe, keep in mind that one can only eat so many deep-fried cupcakes--at Hanukkah or any time. I recommend making a batch of the chocolate cupcakes below, battering and frying half of it, and then serving the rest unfried.

In the case of these cupcakes, there is a simple way to make the "plain" cakes stand out. Just before offering them to guests, sprinkle course sea salt atop the ganache. Delish!

Basic (Vegan) Chocolate Cupcakes

This recipe is from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, reprinted with permission of Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who co-authored the book with Terry Hope Romero. Makes 12 regular cupcakes or 24 mini cupcakes.

1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, chocolate extract, or more vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or regular
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Outfit a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, and extracts to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to the wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay).

Pour into liners, filling 3/4 of the way. Bake 15 to 20 minutes (on the lower end if making mini cupcakes), until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache Topping

This is a thick ganache that you can spread like a frosting. Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes.

3 Tablespoons milk--dairy milk or a nut, rice, or soy milk all work fine
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Heat milk in a saucepan until steaming.

Remove from heat. Add half of the chocolate chips, stir to melt, and then add the other half. Stir until smooth. If too runny to spread, add more chocolate chips.

Spread over cupcakes while the ganache is still warm.

Refrigerate any cupcakes intended for frying. The others can stay fresh at room temperature, covered, for a few hours or even a few days.

Deep-Frying Batter

Makes enough to coat 6 regular cupcakes or about 10 mini cupcakes.

1 egg
2/3 cup milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

Powdered sugar

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.

In another medium bowl, beat together the egg and milk. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, and stir until a smooth batter forms.

In a deep fryer or saucepan, bring several inches of oil to 370 F. (If using a saucepan, clip a candy thermometer or deep fry thermometer to the side to monitor the temperature. Adjust the heat under the pot as needed.)

Working with two or three cupcakes at a time, first coat each with the deep-frying batter, then drop into the hot oil. Fry for three minutes, turning if needed for even browning. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and dust with powdered sugar.

Serve warm.

Rhea Yablon Kennedy

Rhea Yablon Kennedy holds a master's degree in creative nonfiction from Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Washington Jewish Week, Examiner.com, and Edible Chesapeake magazine. Rhea has long been a cook by hobby and sometimes by profession. She currently writes full time for Gallaudet University.