Question: Do we really need to sift the flour?
Answer: Nah… it’s cool, why bother?
We’re done here, right? Almost…
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.)
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Photos above feature: Lavender Blackberry Scones, Vanilla Sugar Doughnuts, and Brown Butter Banana Bread with Rum and Coconut.
I made banana bread for the first time and didn’t sit or whisk the flour, just stored with fork. It turned out pretty good, but I bet it would have been lighter if I had sifted or whisked the flour first. Thank you for the info!!
I agree, these recipes were made in perhaps 1890 when they needed to remove bugs,and didn’t have digital scales. I still whisk so it hydrates better.
Jeff the Chef
Love this article. Couldn’t agree more. I sift pastries that need to be light, delicate, or might suffer if they were to become to heavy or compact. But I usually whisk most cakes. Love your writing style, btw.
Well, gee whiz……………..just whisk it! What a huge plus. I’d about giving up on baking that called for the mess of sifting! God bless our whisks!
Joy, have you ever read the introduction to Rose Levy Barenbaum’s “The Cake Bible.” There’s a cute little story about how she knew she found her future husband and it had everything to do with sifting flour. I’ve sifted my flour ever since reading it, mostly because I’m sentimental.
My kids 4 and 7 live to sift, but its good to know that there are other options.
Now that I live in the UK, all the recipes use weight rather than volume. That means that worrying about whether 6 cups sifted is the same as 6 sifted cups is no longer an issue. 500g flour is 500g flour no matter how much air is in it! So now I weigh and whisk — presto!!
Call me slow u just do not get the whisking technique pls explain step by step
thank all of you!! Whisk it is!!!!!!!!
And I just hunted all over my kitchen for the flour sifter, that I can’t remember when I last used it.
But I have a new package of flour after throwing away what I had forever. I don’t bake much, but it is Christmas and I want to make some cookies.