To Sift or Not to Sift: Answering the Questions of Measuring Flour
Anyone who has ever glanced through a baking cookbook has seen it – the confounding instructions involving sifting ingredients. They may say to sift the flour, or use sifted flour, or to sift the dry ingredients. Whatever they say, you may find yourself asking if sifting is actually essential to the outcome of your baking or if you can skip this step in the interest of less mess and a faster bake.
The sifting debate is one that has heated contenders on either side. Some sifting supporters have undying devotion to the practice, stating that sifting dry ingredients, particularly flour, is crucial to creating the light, fluffy, and delicate texture they desire in their baked goods. Those who are unimpressed by sifting declare the step unnecessary with modern processing practices and prefer to must measure out their ingredients and mix them together rather than taking the time to sift each.
Like many things in baking, the decision to sift or not to sift is a highly personal one you must make for yourself based on your own understanding of the process and experiences with both practices. Understanding the whole point of sifting can help you determine why the step is included in recipes and make it easier for you to make your decision. Knowing why many baking proponents say sifting is an important part of baking lets you determine if your ingredients require this attention or if you would rather dive straight into mixing up your doughs and batters.
Get Rid of Unwanted Visitors
One of the primary reasons for sifting flour is to remove impurities that may be lurking in your flour bag or canister. This is not as much a concern in modern kitchens as it once was, but flour is an ideal environment for a variety of bugs. Even without these pests, flour could contain pieces of the wheat, lumps, or other small inconsistencies. Sifting pushes the pure flour through while holding back any of these unwanted additives so you don't bite down on something unpleasant when enjoying your next cookie.
Fluff it Up
Unlike in past generations, today's flour is usually purchased in tightly-packed paper bags. This makes them convenient for your pantry, but also results in compacted flour. Sifting aerates the flour for a lighter, less dense texture in the finished goods.
Many people measure their flour by scooping directly into the bag, leveling it off, and pouring it right into their mixing bowl. This results in far too much flour being added to the recipe because it compacts the flour into the measuring cup. Sifting loosens up the flour and ensures it is added lightly into the mixing cup for a more accurate measurement. Be sure to check the recipe to determine whether you are supposed to sift the flour and then measure it (X cups of sifted flour) or if you should sift the flour after it has been measured (X cups of flour, sifted).
Even Mixing of Dry Ingredients
Getting your dry ingredients distributed consistently through your recipe is essential to the outcome of the product. Adding all of the dry ingredients into your sifter and then sifting them all together ensures even distribution and complete mixing.
You don't necessarily have to have a sifter to gain some of the benefits of sifting. If you want to aeration and accurate measurement, use your trusty whisk to mix up the flour. You can also use your whisk to mix the dry ingredients for better distribution.
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