Sift Happens: How and Why We Sift Flour

By Jessie Oleson Moore

View All Food & Cooking Articles »

DO YOU SIFT? When you're baking, do you measure and sift your flour? Or, do you scoop the flour into a cup and hope for the best?

Metal Sifter

Photo via Joss & Main

When it comes to sifting flour, there are different levels of belief, whether folks are just learning how to bake or are baking experts. Some swear by sifting, claiming that it is the secret to creating light and fluffy cakes or cookies. Some shrug and say it's not necessary for a delicious finished result. So what should you believe?

Let's take a few moments to explore sifting, including why it is necessary in order to create a great cake as canvas for cake decorating, and how to do it well.

Sifting flour is a baking basic.

Traditionally, sifting has been a way of fluffing flour, as well as filtering out impurities. When you're eating a delicious cookie, cake, cinnamon roll, or basically any type of delicious sweet, the last thing you want to to chomp down on big clump of gluey flour -- or even worse, a bug!

Cartoon of Bags of Flowers Going Against Flowers

Illustration via CakeSpy

Why sift?

SIFTING AERATES THE FLOUR.,

This is advantageous in many ways when baking. First, it allows for a light, airy and delicate texture in a finished baked good. It also reduces any clumps of flour in the batter. For cakes and cookies in particular, this can be the difference between a lumpy, bumpy baked good and a delicately crumbed, professional-tasting finished product.

Cartoon of a Happy Cupcake in the Middle of a Field of Flour Flowers

Illustration via CakeSpy

LEVEL OUT YOUR MEASUREMENTS.

Depending on the climate you live in, the flour can compact more in the bag or container. For instance, in a humid tropical climate, the flour can tend to pack more densely, so if you measure out a cup of flour, it may actually weigh more, and you may be using too much flour, resulting in baked goods that are too dry and crumbly.

Simply sifting the flour can allow for a more even and consistent measurement, no matter the climate or texture of your flour. This adds up to a consistent finished result.

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 will be to the process. For instance, if you forgo the sifting process in a dense scone recipe, your results might be better than if you attempt to make a light-as-air angel food cake without sifting first.

REMOVE DEBRIS OR UNWANTED MATERIAL.

In times past, store-bought flour could have bugs or bits of debris in it. While better conditions in factories make this less of a problem today, there's still the possibility that a bug or bit of debris could find its way into your flour bag. To remove the possibility of baking something you didn't intend to be part of your cake, sift your flour. You may save yourself a big headache.

MIX YOUR INGREDIENTS TOGETHER.

You can sift flour with other dry ingredients, such as baking soda, salt, or cocoa powder, to ensure they are really well mixed.

WHAT TOOLS DO I NEED TO SIFT?

A flour sifter, of course! The most common sifter is a canister type with either a single mesh screen or triple mesh screen and a rotating blade that is controlled by a turning, rotary handle. However, a fine mesh sieve can be used for sifting if you do not have a flour sifter.

VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION: WHEN SHOULD YOU SIFT?

Refer to your recipe. If a recipe lists a quantity and then specifies "sifted" (for instance, "2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted"), then measure the flour first, and then sift. If the recipe lists the sifting action before the quantity (for instance, "2 cups sifted all-purpose flour"), then you should sift the flour first and then measure it.

Metal Sifter Next to Measuring Cup

How to sift flour (with a sifter)

Note: Refer to your specific recipe for quantities and whether or not the flour should be sifted with other dry ingredients.

STEP 1:

Place a sheet of waxed or parchment paper below your work surface to keep things clean.

Fill the sifter about 3/4 full with flour and hold it over a measuring cup or bowl.

Sifter Full of Flour, Placed Over Measuring Cup
STEP 2:

Either gently shake, or turn the handle. The sifted flour will drift through into your measuring cup or bowl.

STEP 3:

Once you have your desired quantity, continue with your recipe with the confidence that your flour is the perfect texture for baking.

Sifted Flour in Bowl

How to Sift Flour (without a sifter)

Note: Refer to your specific recipe for quantities and whether or not the flour should be sifted with other dry ingredients.

STEP 1:

Place a sheet of waxed or parchment paper below your work surface to keep things clean.

Press the flour down through the sieve. Hold it over a bowl (a measuring cup may be too small to catch the sifted flour from the larger sieve).

STEP 2:

Hold the sieve with one hand, and gently tap it with your other hand. The flour will sift through into your prepared bowl.

Sift happens! And now, you're well educated on why we sift flour, and how to do it well. To explore even more important techniques of baking, check out The Wilton Method®: Baking Basics to explore all those important aspects of the baking process, from properly measure and mixing ingredients to leveling a cake.  

Be honest: do you sift?

 

View All Cake Decorating Articles »