Joy the Baker

Baking 101: Must We Sift This Flour?

September 25, 2013

blackberry lavender scones

Question: Do we really need to sift the flour?
Answer:  Nah… it’s cool, why bother?


We’re done here, right?  Almost…

chocolate filled vanilla sugar doughnuts

You’ve seen the recipes… they read something like ‘sift together flour, baking soda and salt’, or they say something like ’3 cups sifted flour’.

If you’re anything like me, you read those recipes more like ‘take out that sifter that you sometimes use as a pasta strainer, dirty it up with flour, make more of a mess than you intended, and then keep baking.’  Not ideal.  I know.

Do we rreeeaalllyyy  have to sift the flour when baking?  No, and yes.

Sifting is meant to aerate flour before it is incorporated into a dough or batter.  

First things first:  be honest about your flour.  Is your flour sitting in the paper sack you bought it in?  Is it hiding in the back of your cupboard with a discarded bag of brown sugar sitting on top of it?

Just by virtue of being shipped from a place in a bag on a truck means that your flour has been packed and compressed within its confines.  It’s best to transfer flour to a large, airtight storage container when you get it home.  Transfer it to a big ol’ container and give it a big stir with a wooden spoon.  You just aerated the flour!  Boom.  That was easy.

Second things second:  now it’s time to make and bake!  Take the big ol’ flour container out of the cupboard and once again give it a stir with a wooden spoon.  That’s air in the flour.  Use a light hand when spooning flour into the measuring cup (we’ll talk about measuring vs weighing soon!) and swipe the flour with a knife to that the flour is flush with the measuring cup.  Place in a bowl.  Combine the flour with the other dry ingredients. Things like baking powder, baking soda, and salt will likely also go with the flour.

Next:  we ‘sift’… with a whisk!  Whisk together all of the dry ingredients.  Literally.  With a whisk.  Just get in there and go for it!  Whisking is just the aeration we need to create in our flour.  Using a whisk is like killing two birds with one stone.  The flour is aerated and the dry ingredients are combined. Whisking the flour also gives you a chance to really look at your flour, making sure it’s fluffy and debris-free.

But wait!  What if the recipe calls for 3 cups sifted flour?  Well…. plunge that whisk right down into your flour container (because you have a big one now), give it a good whisking and then measure accordingly.  I promise things will work out.

Hold up!  Should I sift powdered sugar?  Yes.  You should.  Powdered sugar is one ingredient that will meet your laziness with lumps.  Rude (the lumps not the laziness.)

Baking 101: How To Read A Recipe

Baking 101: Why We Use Unsalted Butter

Brown Butter Banana Bread with rum and toasted coconut

Photos above feature:  Lavender Blackberry Scones, Vanilla Sugar Doughnuts, and Brown Butter Banana Bread with Rum and Coconut.

81 Comments Add A Comment

  • i totally agree with the above and have been whisking instead of sifting for years.. my only exception is when i am making a cake that i want to as light as possible so i am as exact as possible. and one more thing i always do sift is cocoa. was making chocolate glaze yesterday with unsifted cocoa and it was hard to get rid of the small lumps.

  • I grew up in a place where there were sometime weevils (small bugs) in the flour when we bought it and that is why we sifted (gross, I know, but when you want cake….). I’ve never heard of this happening in New York, but I still sift everything. Old habits. :)
    Thanks for the whisking suggestion for aeration!

  • I ALWAYS Sift the flour on my recipes.. i mean.. no big deal just an extra step on the recipe

  • Whew, now I don’t feel so bad for not actually sifting — I always just “fluff up” my flour with a whisk :)

  • Yeahhhh… I never sift unless it’s for chiffon cake. Whisk whisk whisk away!

  • I think I love you.

  • You can still find the old time sifter at Amazon. If my flour is really lumpy I will use mine.

  • Well I am inherently lazy so when I get my flour I shift 1.5kgs of flour all at once into my storage container. This helps (at least for me) makes sure it is a light as possible before going into goods. Great tips joy!

  • Thanks SO MUCH for breaking it down. Yeah, my flour has been in storage seemingly forever. Yeah, I feel guilty about using it. But I don’t have room in my tiny kitchen for a flour sifter, so knowing that I can whisk it and get just about the same effect is great. Not everyone has the time to do things 100% – sometimes we really need to know what works, not just what the recipe says. So thanks for being real.

  • I remember reading a version of all of your thoughts on this in your cookbook and it was so refreshing to read you didn’t sift. It was like, okay cool, now I can admit I almost never do either!

  • Thank you so much for your explanation, Joy! Just a few days ago, I was baking pumpkin muffins using a recipe that called for 6 cups sifted flour (we were doubling a recipe). I thought to myself, “do I really have to sift a whole bunch of flour just to measure out 6 cups?” Instead, I measured out 6 cups, sifted, which I know isn’t quite the same. At least I know I don’t have to run my flour through a sifter next time!

  • If you are not sifting your flour.. try it. … it will change your baking!!

    • I bake a lot. The only time I have ever noticed a difference due to sifting has been in super light fare like the aforementioned chiffon cakes. 92% of the time, there is no difference is you use a light hand and aerate with a whisk.

  • hmmm…. I definitely need to try “sifting” with a whisk. I always actually sift and it takes forever while making a huge mess.

  • I had no idea that sifting was aerating the flour! I used to think that sifting was mainly to remove lumps in the flour and I dragged myself to do it if the recipe called for it even though I was supppper lazy to! Now I know that all you need to do is whisk it, thanks for the tip Joy!

  • I love that I’m not the only one who uses the ol’ “whisking is just as good as sifting” trick.
    I had a rather old fashioned flour sifter once upon a time, but really a whisk is just as good!
    I love this new series you have started Joy. Even as someone who bakes a lot (a. lot) I could always use some brushing up on my skills.
    Thanks Joy :)

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