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Nov 5, 2008 02:21 PM

when to sift?

when baking cookies, muffins, bars, and quick breads, am i supposed to sift the dry ingredients every time or only when the recipe specifically calls for it? in cases where the recipe doesn't say "sift dry ingredients" in the instructions, should i whisk the dry ingredients or leave them as they are?


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  1. No. Unless the recipe specifically says to sift, just use the dip/level/pour method. Sifting flour, when the recipe calls for it, helps adjust for the compaction that the flour has experienced during processing and shipping. A recipe that doesn't include sifting instructions has usually taken that into account in specifying the amount of flour to be used. Sifting also helps remove debris, if you happen to have some neglected flour on hand that has given a home to certain insects, etc., but that's not very common with today's food handling disciplines.
    In my experience, cake recipes instruct you to use sifted flour while bread recipes don't typically bother with it.
    If the recipe doesn't specify "sift dry ingredients", just combine the dry ingredients using a whisk or similar instrument before adding the wet ingredients.
    One added note - When you're recipe calls for x cups of sifted flour, it's not the same as x cups of flour sifted. When you follow sifting instructions, put your flour into the sifting device (sifter, wire strainer, etc.) and sift the flour into the measuring container until you've reached the level specified in the recipe.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      good to know that at i should whisk the dry ingredients before combining. i haven't been doing that. thx!

    2. I only sift when it asks in the recipe and even then I don't always do it. When I worked in a pastry kitchen, we rarely sifted, unless it was powders that tended to have lumps, like cocoa powder or cornstarch. I tend to follow that rule at home too.

      While some recipes work better with sifting, for the most part, I see it as more of a holdover from the days when the quality of products was less consistent (e.g. flour not as finely ground or with bits in it) or the storage methods let more debris or critters in the products.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Sooeygun

        I thought of a clarification. When I am making anything where the flour is folded into a batter that needs to keeps its aerations (e.g. a sponge cake). I sift. If you are going to beat, knead or otherwise mix thoroughly, I never sift.

        1. re: Sooeygun

          Ive also worked in the baking world and I also follow this rule. I usually weigh the flour and then I sift it before I incorporate it into the batter. This isn't necessary in cookies and such, but cakes defiantly benefit from this extra step.

          If the product is raised via yeast or the product is rolled and cut, sifting can be ignored.

          1. re: Kelli2006

            thx to you sooey and kelli. so in a quick bread (non yeast) like pumpkin bread, because it's getting flour folded in, i should sift.

            since you have a lot of experience in baking, what do you usually assume for flour ounces if the recipe doesn't provide the info?

            1. re: midtownDiner123

              You can sift the flour for the pumpkin bread but I doubt it will make much of a difference, unless the flour has absorbed moisture and has lumps. Pumpkin bread is a quick bread, so excessive stirring while incorporating the flour will lead to excessive gluten production that could result in tunneling.

              My default weight is 4.5 Oz..s per cup for wheat flours.

              1. re: Kelli2006

                Is that both white and whole wheat? That's incredibly useful information.

                1. re: roxlet

                  You might want to remove .25 ounces for whole wheat, but that is such a small amount and can vary if the flour has absorbed any moisture which is common when it is packed in permeable paper bags.

                  I made biscuits for dinner tonight and I had to add 1/2 of a cup, even with a newly opened bag of unbleached flour.

                  1. re: Kelli2006

                    In a humid enviro, (here in S. Fla.), I always whisk the flour in its container first to aerate before measuring. Age of recipe and the rest of the method as stated above usually dictates whether I sift after that. If I do, I always use a triple-sifter; otherwise, use a balloon whisk and it accomplishes the same thing. (Rose Levy Berenbaum experimented with both to show this.) And: Flour needs to be replaced if it's been around a while -- especially whole wheat. It will let you down in rise and flavor.