Cupcakes frosted with buttercream, chocolate chip cookies, fruit tarts – all these homey baked goods start with the same pattern: preheat the oven, grease the pan, add a few more dry ingredients, and sift them together.
But do you sift them at all, or just mix ingredients together. Have you ever seen sifted flour noted in a recipe and skipped over it? Sometimes, you tend to be a rule-breaker. You probably skip this step. It’s a very important step that can result to dry baked goods if skipped.
Learn the benefits of using sifters when cooking here.
Why Was Sifting a Thing?
Have you ever wondered how cakes and biscuits used to be so fluffy and light before all the modern tools were available? It was because sifting was a common, must-do procedure in order to make light and fluffy baked goods. Most recipes that included flour needed it to be sifted before it was added to the texture.
Back then, sifting flour was also necessary to remove any lingering husks or seeds that might have snuck through. It was even needed once in a while to remove some lumps or even stray insects that might have been hiding in the flour. Thankfully, we don’t have the problem of having extra things on the flour anymore. But still, it can be helpful to sift your flour nowadays.
Sifting the flour can benefit your baking and cooking projects, as it can loosen up the flour that has been sitting for a while, adding more air to it. Once it’s sifted, flour actually takes up more volume than it did compare to when it was packed together. Fluffing up the flour and adding more air can improve the gluten composition of the flour and give it a better texture.
When sifting flour, you’re removing any lumps it might have by adding some air. If the recipe you are using calls for sifted flour, and you don’t do it, you might end up with a product with too much flour, which can make it too dry.
Tools You Can Use for Sifting
Newbies might ask if you want to sift flour, how do you do it? Is there an actual flour sifter? The good news is that it’s not necessary to buy a separate flour sifter if you want to sift your flour. But that’s up to you – if you’re going to be baking regularly, then a flour sifter can be a necessity. But besides using an actual sifter, there are other ways to fluff up your flour and remove its clumps. You can use these kitchen items, which you probably already have:
A popular way to sift at home is to use your trusty sieve or a fine-mesh strainer. Usually, professional bakers are the ones who invest in sifters because they will be using them a lot, but for home cooks, it’s not that practical. If you have a mesh strainer, you just need to hold it over a mixing bowl and add the flour while you gently tap the strainer against the bowl. Once all the flour has passed through, sift another batch until you have enough flour needed for your recipe.
You can also sift your flour by putting it in a food processor and pulsing it a few times. This helps to add some air and activate the gluten elements. A food processor can also mix up your dry ingredients really well before adding them to your mixture. It can help you make sure that everything’s thoroughly combined together.
Another way to get sifted flour is through whisking. While it’s not technically “sifting,” whisking can be enough to remove any lumps and fluff up the flour. In most cases, whisking will combine your dry ingredients nicely and keep you from having another dirty tool to wash. Whisking the flour can be fine for those who prefer to do fewer steps. Anyways, most small clumps can be broken up using your fingers or a whisk. But sometimes, sifting can be an avoidable necessity, so it’s better to use a fine-mesh strainer or a flour sifter for those occasions.
Is Sifting Really Necessary?
As mentioned earlier, whisking can be enough. But in some instances, sifting is worth the added step. Cake flour, baking soda, almond flour, cocoa powder, and confectioners’ sugar tend to form clumps, either in their unopened packages or once exposed to air.
Sifting is necessary if you need to fold dry ingredients into a delicate batter, like when making an angel food cake. It’s too bad to skip the sifting only to find a pocket of dry flour in your delicate cake! You can sift the entire box or package of your dry ingredient and put it in an airtight container to save some time. This way, you don’t have to sift it every time you use it.
But if you’re beating dry ingredients into a batter using an electric mixer, you don’t have to bother taking the extra step. The clumps tend to work themselves out, thanks to the beaters. If lumps appear on oil-based batters, you can just strain the whole batter using a medium to large-mesh sieve to do it faster.
Sifting is also imperative if the recipe calls for “2 cups sifted flour,” as opposed to “2 cups flour, sifted.” The former means that you have to sift the flour first before measuring, while the latter means that you have to measure it first and then have it sifted. The differences in volume can be significant, and it might make or break some baked goods. If you don’t want to believe this, give these two methods a trial at home and weigh them out, and you’ll see a difference.