Sift and measuring and...some help needed
I have a question that has been perplexing me for some while...
When using a digital scale measurement (say, for flour), should I measure the specified weight first and then sift (if the recipe calls for it)?
Somone told me that the weight of sifted flour and unsifted should be the same, is there a method to this madness?
Also, in Baking By Flavor, Lisa calls for flour to be [I]measured and then sifted onto a wax paper sheet[/I]. How the hell am I supposed to transfer ingredients sifted on a wax paper sheet into my stand mixer (or whatever else someone might use) without mixing the sifted ingredients?
Finally...don't leave yet...should I sift the ingredients in the order they are listed,one on top of the other, (i.e. sift flour, then baking soda on top, then salt on top...) or should I sift them at the same time so that they are not so easily distinguishable on the wax paper? I really need some answers, it's killing me (I am a very fastidious baker)...Thanks!
1) I would sift flour first, then weigh, then put back into sifter
2) I would measure the other dry ingredients into the sifter on top of the flour
3) I wouldn't be concerned about mixing the ingredients after sifting onto wax paper, the ingredients will be blended by the sifting.
Let me know if this answers your questions.
1) Since sifting doesn't change the amount of flour, it just incorporates air (which doesn't weigh anything), the weight of the same amount of flour before and after sifting will be the same.
2) There is not reason you would want to keep the dry ingredients separate. If anything, you might want to combine them a bit further before or after sifting. Most cookbook writers tend to assume that sifting will mix the dry ingredients well enough, but of course they don't blend that much, as you can see if you sift a brown spice into white flour. A quick stir with a whisk will do the trick.
3) Since mixing the dry ingredients is what you want, you can put them all in the sifter at once.
A cup of sifted flour will be a full ounce lighter than a cup of non-sifted flour. If you know the weight of the sifted flour (a cup is 4oz), you can sift right into a bowl on the scale.
The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, is a classic, and an especially worthwhile purchase for a precise baker. Not only does she specify the weight of each recipe's ingredient, she has a table of the weights, in grams and ounces, of dozens of common ingredients (including flour, sifted and not).
The reason this is so great is that it makes possible her low-mess method of cake-baking: she has you sift all the dries directly into the mixing bowl, weighing as you go. Then comes the butter with a little extra moisture, then the eggs and other wets. It's inside out from the usual dry-wet-dry alternation, but it works very well.
Flour used to have to be sifted but it does not any more. Also, all of these precise instructions in recipes give cooking a scientific exactitude that is really not appropriate. Most baking recipes don't require exact proportions. Just browse through cookbooks at recipes for the same dish, e.g., scones, and you will see the variety of ingredients and proportions. So just approximate the amounts, dump them in a bowl, stir, and don't worry.
Dump away - if you don't mind getting only approximately the same result as intended. That's certainly how I do my day-to-day cooking - I never bother with a recipe for a regular dinner, and I wouldn't obsess about proportions for biscuits or pancakes.
For a cake you'd like to come out just so, however, the proportions of course make a difference. Sorry to bring out the same book twice in the same thread, but check out, in the Beranbaum book, the table that contrasts the differences amongst her cakes in terms of the fat/flour/egg proportions. Same ingredients, somewhat different proportions, very different results.
Perhaps people with an especially good 'feel' for baking don't need to measure - I certainly do.
I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, precision is much more important in making cakes (and, for that matter, cookies) than in making biscuits or bread or puddings or whatnot. But I do think people can go overboard. I put the blame solely on the shoulders of Ms. Beranbaum, who seems to fetishize a degree of precision that is meaningless. What if my baking powder is a little old and less powerful than it used to be? Maybe I should put in a little more, and not worry about following the recipe to the gram. Flours vary signficantly, not just from brand to brand, but from year to year. I know the ganache we used to make at the bakery had to be adjusted every spring for the increased richness of the cream we got - and of course the packaging was exactly the same, no indication that there was a higher butterfat content. But there certainly was. With all of those factors coming into play (and things like the weight and color of pans, the idiosyncrasies of ovens, and so on), it irritates me to imply that baking is an exact science that produces the exact same results each time if only you measure perfectly. It doesn't. An extra egg will likely change the texture or your cake, but an extra teaspoon for flour won't.
Oh, and I just want to clarify regarding weighing and sifting, becuase I reread my own message and it wasn't clear - if you are measuring by weight, it doesn't matter if you sift before or after weighing. If you are measuring by volume, it does.
Sifting is necessary for baked goods that you want to be very light 9like sponge cake) because it incorporates air. If something is not supposed to be very light (like sugar cookies or dense chocolate cake) sifting is not necessary. Old cookbooks normally required sifting for all recipes, because the flour wasn't pure. No longer a problem. But there are some recipes that do require it, mostly cakes.
Agree that given uncontrollable variables, precision cant guarantee identical results; but it does give pretty darn close ones. And its the uncontrollable variables themselves that are the best argument for keeping steady the variables that are controllable.
It may be that I measure closely because my baking skills simply arent up to improvisation, as are my regular cooking skills. On the other hand, when, extremely occasionally, I closely follow a recipe for something I usually make from memory, Im amazed at how much Ive drifted, how many steps I skip.
Its the tiny things, the little precisions, that often make a difference between something everyone loves on a Tuesday night and something sublime.
Ok, if precision is what you're going for, I think sifting, then measuring, then sifting again (if necessary for the recipe) is the best way to go, since weight will be fairly significantly affected by humidity. I live in New Orleans, and because of the high humidity, I have to add much more (like almost a cup in a bread recipe) flour than I did when I lived in the midwest. This is why bread recipes read "6-7 cups of flour."
Now, in cookies, the variance would be more like 1/4 cup, depending on the volume of flour.
Plus you have to calculate baking times based on your altitude.
My advice is to pick a method, then stick with it. Try the recipe as is, then the next time add or subtract flour as necessary, but still using the same method of measuring it out. No amount of precise adherence to the recipe is going to help a recipe that is wrong for your locale.
This is why many of us are cooks rather than bakers: we prefer the less precise (and more intuitive) nature of cooking. My neighbor is a baker, and thinks I am a great artist because of my intuitive way of cooking, but I likewise bow before her baking, which she of course thinks is nothing special.
Thanks for all your help...I needed some reassurance.
But another question, one that I imagine would change the content of the product, has arisen.
If a recipe, say one from Baking By Flavor, calls for 2 cups of flour, can I simply weigh the flour so it amounts to 2 cups according to the flour packages measurements?
i.e.: the package says 1/4th cup is 30g and therefore I weigh out 240g (30 x 8). Would this result in too much flour, because the book's measurement was likely done by the dip/sweep method?