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The New "Potato/Potahto"

Sifting Flour

Q: What does sifting flour do?  How is it done? Is it necessary?

In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes.  When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour.  With modern milling equipment, tighter food regulations and higher quality control, the need to sift to remove impurities is greatly reduced.

Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform.

As flour sits, it slowly settles, becoming more compacted.  A cup of sifted flour may weigh 20% - 25% less than a cup of flour that has settled.  This difference can significantly affect the results, making breads and cakes more dense.

The best way to assure uniform results in baking is to weigh flour rather than measure it.  In fact, many baking and breadmaking books now give not only flour but all of the ingredients by weight.  Now if we could only get reliable protein measures on flour (see Flour Power?)!

Another method, when sifted flour is called for, is to loosen the flour, removing the error caused by settling, and then measure it.  Many recipes now use a scoop-and-level technique, which is quicker than sifting.  To do this, stir the flour in its container to aerate and lift it.  Then scoop out the required amount, getting a heaping measure, and level it off with the back of a knife or other straight edge.  The measuring cup should not be tapped or shaken to make the flour settle.  This method results in something close to sifted flour in the amount, but isn't very convenient if you keep your flour in the bag.  Scoop-and-level works best if you have a bin with a large opening to work with.  Some recipes, however, will use a scoop and level technique but clearly tell you not to disturb the flour first.  Sometimes they will say not to fill the measuring cup by spooning the flour into it, which would also partially aerate it.

Sifting makes for a uniform measure, plus it adds air which can make the resulting product lighter.  It is important to read the recipe however.  A recipe that asks for, say, "one cup of flour, sifted" will use more flour than one that asks for "one cup of sifted flour".  In the first instance, the flour is measured prior to sifting, while in the second it is sifted first then measured.

Another purpose of sifting is to blend the dry ingredients.  In this case, all of the dry ingredients are placed together in a bowl, lightly stirred and then sifted together.  This may mean that the flour is sifted twice, once on initial measure and again in mixing the dry ingredients.

To sift flour, either use a sifter designed specifically for the job, following the manufacturer's instructions, or place the flour in a fine mesh sieve and shake it gently to cause the flour to flow through.  In either case, sifting onto a piece of wax paper or a flexible cutting sheet makes it easier to move the flour on to the next step than if you sift into a bowl.

Is it necessary to sift flour?  Not really, provided that you follow the above suggestions to weigh or scoop-and-level, but it may add a bit to the quality of your cakes and to the crumb of your bread.


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Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward

Comments

Does anyone sift ready made pancake mix?

Interesting article, thanks for that. I was always wondering why i should sift the flour, though usually I don't. Under certain circumstances the reason for sifting due to flour impurities has a point.

Not following the sifting instructions never really affected the outcome. Since wheather conditions influence the behaviour of the flour and the type of flour used, there are often adjustments to make. So it is a better guide to watch how the dough behaves and then adjust. Since ten years we live by approximate amounts and amounts in relation to one anothr and it works well.

Accidents happen due to forgetting baking powder or not allowing yeast dough the time to rise properly, or sticking to the amounts but using heavier flours :)

How do you measure it after it is sifted? I can only figure out how to measure it before. (I'm sifting into a big bowl- it would be so messy to then put it back into the measuring cup!)
---------------
See http://www.kitchensavvy.com/journal/2012/07/flour-sifting-101.html

Another good reason to sift is most flour and cereals get flour beetles in them at some time or another, they are a major pest problem in mills and it's impossible to get rid of of them all, so sifting ensures you don't accidently get more insect protien in your diet.

Thanks so much

Find out how much by weight and go with that. That's how the bakers do it, as humidity affects it as well.

I sifted my flour (actually I sifted twice because I wanted my pound cake to have a light, fine texture) and then measured the amount called for in recipe. It seems to be taking forever for the cake to cook thoroughly--for toothpick inserted to come out clean and dry. I thought perhaps it was because I had too much batter, i.e., too much flour, due to my sifting. If I'm understanding the explanation of flour measured AFTER sifting, however, I don't think my sifting caused an over-abundance of flour/batter? ...Perhaps I just need a much bigger Bundt pan... :-)

Thanks! I made a Birthday cake the other day. It was beautiful, but the cake was really dense. I didn't sift the flour!

I never knew the difference until I read this!
Might explain why my stuff turns out like crap most of the time. :)

thanks a ton for the info guys:)

If my recipe calls for 2 cups of flour... then I sift it-- I have well over two cups... do I use it all or just take out the two cups after sifting... this is my confusion now in sifting flour !!

Thank you for this very informative page. I have a bread recipe calling for “partially” sifted and “sifted” flour. After reading your page on "sifting" flour, I am more confident in getting a better first result.

Thank you
Ken Vetter

Thanks for this info Dave. I usually use the scoop and level method but never stirred the flour before. Will try the stirring and see what it does for my cakes

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