When I heard someone call sorrel “lemonade in a leaf,” I was immediately intrigued. I’d known the herb was common in fish dishes and soups, but now I found myself headed to the market with a sweeter mission in mind.
Refreshingly tart and a bit grassy, sorrel is citrusy, herbal and mellow. I decided to pair it with sweet, tangy cherries at the peak of their season, which proved to be a perfect match.
Served beneath the fruit, chiffon-style cakes offer a tender, sweet crumb that’s speckled with lemon, sorrel and a splash of vanilla. With a generous dollop of crème fraîche (or the like), the finale is a bright and decadent dessert, surging with the taste of summer.
A lovely alternative to strawberry shortcake, cherry sorrel cakes make an excellent do-ahead dessert that can be made a day in advance and assembled just before serving. In fact, the lemony notes of the herb will bloom pleasantly while chilling with the cherries, while the cakes are at their best at room temperature.
Cherry Sorrel Cakes
Serves 10 to 12
Cherry topping 1 1/2 pounds fresh cherries 1 medium lemon 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 1/2 ounces fresh sorrel
Chiffon cakes 1 medium lemon 2 egg whites 1/2 cup granulated sugar 6 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt Crème fraîche, sour cream or unsweetened whipped cream, for serving
To prepare the topping: Rinse and dry the cherries. Remove and discard pits, then slice cherries in half, placing cut cherries in a large bowl.
Juice the lemon and discard seeds. Pour 2 tablespoons lemon juice over the cherries. (Set aside remaining lemon juice for cake recipe.)
Add 2 tablespoons sugar to the cherries. Stir gently until sugar no longer feels noticeably grainy.
Rinse and dry sorrel; remove and discard stems. Mince the leaves until you have 1/2 cup, well packed. Add 1/4 cup minced sorrel to the cherries; stir until evenly distributed. (Set aside remaining 1/4 cup minced sorrel for cake recipe.) Tightly cover and refrigerate.
To make the cakes: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Generously grease and flour 12 cups of a muffin pan. Rotate pan to disperse flour, then invert and tap pan to shake off excess.
Finely zest the peel of the lemon. Juice the lemon and strain to make 1/4 cup juice, using any leftover juice from topping recipe if needed. Set zest and juice aside.
Using a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Slowly and gradually, add 1/4 cup of the sugar while continuing to beat. Keep beating on high until whites are opaque, firm and voluminous; set aside.
In a separate large bowl, use a whisk to beat the oil with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Add the vanilla and mix well.
Sift 3/4 cup flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt over the oil mixture. With a spatula, begin to stir while gradually adding the 1/4 cup lemon juice. Mix until smooth, scraping bowl often. Fold in the lemon zest and the 1/4 cup minced sorrel until evenly dispersed.
Add about a third of the egg whites to the batter. Delicately fold in the whites, being careful not to deflate them. Repeat with remaining egg whites, slowly folding just until batter is even in consistency.
Immediately scoop batter into prepared muffin pan, filling each cup about halfway. You should have 10 to 12 filled cups. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges of cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake tests clean.
Let cakes cool for a few minutes in pan. Just when pan is cool enough to handle, transfer cakes to a cooling rack or counter top. Let cakes cool completely. If not serving right away, cover and store at room temperature (not refrigerated).
When ready to serve, place cakes on plates or in shallow bowls. Give the chilled cherry-sorrel mixture a good stir, then place a generous scoop of the fruit on top each cake. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche, sour cream or unsweetened whipped cream. Devour immediately.