Is Sifting Flour Necessary?

The sifter hiding behind two mountains of fluffy, sifted flour

The sifter hiding behind two mountains of fluffy, sifted flour

Some practices have gone the way of the dodo.

Sifting is one baking technique that isn’t used anymore. “Is sifting flour necessary?” was a question I found myself asking recently.

The question came after an interaction with one of my roommates. I was sitting at the table, sifting through three cups of unbleached white flour for my Grandma’s Classic Sugar Cookie Recipe. Meryum stopped in the doorway and stared.

“What are you doing?” she asked as she sat down next to me.

I looked up as the flour softly swish-swished in a pile on the paper towel.

“Oh, I’m sifting the flour, wait, you haven’t seen a sifter before?”

“Uh, no. I gotta take a picture of this,” she said, whipping out her iPhone.

Which got me thinking, what is a sifter used for?

Am I causing my fingers needless angst?

I used it for Grandma’s Sugar Cookie recipes because that’s what Grandma did. I never questioned it (even though my fingers resisted it).
After a little research, I discovered why sifting flour was important a few decades ago.

I also found two reasons the home baker might want to use a sifter today.

Historically, a sifter was used to get the lumps out of the flour during a time when flour would come to the home cook full of lumps. Nobody wants to bite into a lump of flour (ewww) and lumpy batter or cookies is not appealing. Thus, the sifter was created.

Additionally, the sifter removed any extra stuff that had snuck into the sacks of flour during the packaging process at the mill.

2 Reasons the Home Baker Sifts Flour Today

Is a sifter necessary in today’s modern kitchen? It depends what the home cook wants to do and achieve.

The first reason the home baker might want to sift is to measure the flour as accurately as possible.
Flour often settles during packaging and shipping. Thus, when the home baker scoops it out, it is heavier than the recipe calls for.
The solution is to sift the flour and then measure it.

Is this tedious?

Um, Yes! And, when I’m making a batch of cookies I often don’t want to go to the effort. I’m not going to sift flour for my drop cookies. However, if I am making a recipe where I want the cookies to be as light and airy as possible, the sifter is going to be the best product to achieve a lighter cookie.

The pros at Kitchen Savvy suggest the scoop and level method as the next best thing to an accurate measurement. Use Flat measuring cups, scoop the flour. Then take a knife and level the excess flour back into the bag.

The most accurate measurement device is a kitchen weight. (more on those gadgets in an upcoming post).
The second reason for sifting the flour is to achieve a lighter batter.

Sifting the flour for cake baking is very helpful for making cakes, especially if the home baker doesn’t have any cake flour on hand. Sifting all-purpose flour will create a silky, airy batter making a cake fluffy and less dense.

Is a sifter a helpful tool? Yes, but it’s not necessary, especially if the home baker is just starting out and adding to their tools. Check out the (upcoming) post The Top 10 Tools for the Home Baker for a list of the essentials.

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