Admit it, you've skipped sifting. Never? Really??? Some savvy bakers swear this step is the secret to light and fluffy cakes and cookies. Others take a "whatever" approach and bake happily on. Turns out that while skipping the sift probably won't ruin your baked goods, there are actually some pretty good reasons to include this step.
Depending on where you live, flour can compress more or less during storage. In a humid, tropical climate, flour packs more densely — that means if you measure a cup of flour in Houston, it may actually weigh more than a cup should, throwing off the proportions of the recipe overall. The result? Dry and crumbly baked goods filled with too much flour.
Sifting flour will give you a more even and consistent measurement, no matter the climate or texture of your flour.
Note: Some recipes are more forgiving than others when it comes to even measurements,. But in general, the more delicate the finished product, the more important sifting is. So skipping sifting might not be a big deal for a dense scone, but it could make a world of difference in your angel food cake.
Here's where sifting really does make a big difference — it aerates the flour for a light, airy and delicate texture in your finished goodies. It also breaks up clumps of flour, because those aren't fun to bite into. For cakes and cookies in particular, this step can be the difference between a lumpy, bumpy baked good and a delicately crumbed, professional-quality masterpiece.
We'll admit that it's rare to find unexpected particles in your flour, but it's not totally out of the question that a stray cookie crumb or maybe a bug could find its way in. Things happen. Don't let them.
Sifting flour with other dry ingredients, like baking soda, salt or cocoa powder, is a good way to ensure they're really well mixed.
Sift and measure... what's the right order?
It actually depends! So check your recipe and proceed accordingly.
- If a recipe lists the ingredient and then says "sifted" ("2 cups flour, sifted"), then you should measure the flour first, and then sift.
- If the recipe says "sifted" before the ingredients ("2 cups sifted flour"), then you should sift the flour first and then measure it.
What tools do I need?
A flour sifter — that gizmo with mesh screens and a rotating blade — is tidiest and fun to use. But if you don't have one, a fine mesh sieve works just fine. Either way, know that sifting is always going to spread a little flour around. That's just how it is.
Using a sifter
- Fill the sifter about 3/4 full with flour and hold it over a bowl.
- Either gently shake the sifter or turn the handle. The sifted flour will drift through the mesh screen and into your bowl.
Using a sieve
- Place the sieve over a bowl.
- Pour flour into the sieve and stir with a spoon or spatula to encourage the flour to pass through.
- To get those last bits, hold the sieve with one hand and gently tap the edge of it with your other hand. Press any remaining flour lumps through with your spoon if needed.