I love the notion of hiddur mitzvah, this idea that beautifying a ritual object enhances and heightens the mitzvah related to that object. Hiddur Mitzvah can apply to a mezuzah, to a pair of tefillin, to a tzedakah box, to an etrog and, of course, a menorah, and it’s this principle that has brought us the fine works of Judaica art through the ages. There’s something fascinating about a religion not of minimum requirements, but of maximum aesthetics.
So here’s my question: what about a cupcake menorah?
You may think that cupcakes, which at this point have become a bizarre cultural phenomenon, are over-hyped. Well, you’re right. But I love them anyway and I love – with a convert’s zeal – Chanukah. Put the two things together and you have a cupcake menorah. It’s like a delicious and decorative dayenu. So if we’re encouraged to go the extra mitzvah mile, then why not do so with baked goods?
I say, yes! An edible sacred candelabrum counts! Not only is it homemade, you fulfill the mitzvah by lighting it and then—cherry on top—you eat it. What’s more hiddur than that? And why stop at Chanukah? Why not take the rare opportunity to make an appropriately themed chag-cake for other holidays? Consider the options: 10-plagues cupcakes? Cute bite-sized Day of Atonement ones? Let your imagination wander!
The requirements for a kosher, edible menorah are as simple as constructing it:
1) Prepare a simple white cake. I’m a baker-by-feel, so the recipe I give is approximate. Basically, beat a stick of butter and a cup of sugar, add a couple of eggs and teaspoon or so of vanilla extract. Slowly incorporate about 2 1/2 cups of flour, a couple teaspoons of baking power and a cup of milk. Ladle into cupcake tins and bake at 350 for roughly 20 minutes. Or, of course, you can just buy a mix. Duncan Hines is kosher.
2) Cut out a piece of cardboard long enough for 9 nine cupcakes and cover with foil (gold wrapping paper, if you want to go for it).
3) Put eight cupcakes in a straight line and a shamash (aka two cupcakes stacked), slightly above, standing watch.
4) If you really want to impress, swirl a drop of blue food coloring through the batter before baking and voila! Blue marbled cake! Delicious and religious!
But perhaps the sweetest bit, besides the unnaturally bright blue frosting, comes with the custom that a woman should light the menorah during Hanukkah and cease all work to admire its radiance. Even in the pre-feminist era, I learned that because the victory of the Maccabees was due in part to the bravery of women, they too should share in the lighting. So ladies and gents: make your menorahs, and sit back and enjoy. Or as the Talmud famously puts it – You can have your cupcake menorah, and eat it too…
Elizabeth Savage is a writer, organizer and cupcake maker. She can be reached at Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org