When and How to Sift Flour? Know the Truth

a bowl of flour, sifer, a bowl

Even if you don’t use it very often, having an old-fashioned flour sifter on hand is a good idea.

They used to be in every kitchen, and they were occasionally attached to a free-standing cabinet called a Hoosier cabinet. If the home cook wanted soft cakes and biscuits, a flour sifter was a must-have. Although most modern recipes do not require sifting flour, it is still a good idea to keep a sifter on hand for those rare instances when it is required. How do you know whether and if sifting flour is actually required if one recipe calls for it but another doesn’t?

Why You Should Sift Flour?

two hands showing sifted and unsifted flour.

Sifting your flour will break up any lumps, allowing you to achieve more precise measurements. When producing batters and doughs, sifted flour is significantly lighter than unsifted flour and is easier to combine with other ingredients.

Bakers and cooks used to sift the flour to separate the flour from the chaff (corn or seed husk) and debris before milled flour became widely available. Today’s refined flour is free of these undesirable ingredients, therefore if a modern recipe calls for sifted flour, it most likely indicates that the recipe calls for a more aerated, lump-free flour.

Sifted cake flour, for example, gives delicate delights like angel food cake with its thin, light crumb. If sifting flour with another ingredient, such as cocoa powder, is required, the process aerates as well as mixes the ingredients.

When to Sift Flour?

The most important thing to remember is that you should not sift flour unless the recipe clearly instructs you to do so. Home bakers rarely need to repeat the process because modern flour processors sift flour multiple times before it exits the plant. Flour is now sold in bags that are ready to use right out of the bag.

In the past, sifting was required to remove the flour from husk fragments, seeds, and other debris, including bugs. Thankfully, today’s commercial flours are refined sufficiently to eliminate the need for sifting in regular baking.

However, it’s a good idea to stir your flour before measuring it, then spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level it off with a knife. When baking those great layer cakes for family reunions and other special occasions, this ensures there are no weird clumps or air pockets in the flour and you obtain the exact proportion you need.

Some recipes benefit from the use of sifted flour. For angel food or sponge cakes, for example, the flour should be sifted to remove and prevent lumps from weighing down the mixture.

When your flour has been hanging around for a long and appears to be tightly packed, you should sift it. Before you measure it, sift it to ensure you receive the appropriate amount.

If you want a thin layer of flour on your work area, sifting flour instead of tossing it over it when you’re going to roll out or knead dough is a smart option, because adding too much flour to your dough can make it tough or dry.

How to Sift Flour?

sift flour with a sifter

A sifter—basically a cup with a sieve at the bottom—is obviously the best tool, but if you don’t have one, a strainer will suffice. Hold a fine-mesh strainer (or sieve) over a bowl, pour in the flour, and tap the side of the strainer gently until all of the flour has passed through. You may need to move the last small bit about with a spoon to assist it to get through the holes.

If your recipe calls for “X cups sifted flour,” sift a large amount of flour (more than the recipe calls for), then measure out the amount needed in the recipe. If the recipe calls for “X cups flour, sifted,” measure out the amount of flour needed, sift it, and use it.

How to Measure the Amount of Flour to Sift?

Regardless of whether you sift the flour or not, be sure you measure it precisely. Beautiful, fluffy flour will not aid your recipe if you use too much or too little. An incorrect flour measurement will destroy a recipe in the baking world.

There are wrong and right ways to measure flour. You should scoop the flour directly into the measuring cup, mound it on top, and then level it off with the side of a knife for consistent results. There will be no scooping, tapping, or packaging.

Read More: Best flour sifter.

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