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Sifting brown sugar for cookies

I have always sifted brown sugar when baking cakes, but just recently started sifting brown sugar for cookies. I am trying new recipes right now, so I'm not 100% certain sifting the brown sugar is making any difference, but I feel like the cookies might come out different if I don't sift the brown sugar. Any thoughts?

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  1. I have never sifted brown sugar, I would imagine that the moisture content would make it difficult. I go through it so fast that it doesn't dry out.

    1. Are you sifting to remove lumps or to distribute more evenly? Do you use a sifter (or rub through a sieve?) It never occured to me to do this with brown sugar, but do you think it improves cakes?
      Trying to remember, I guess I just allow the liquid in my mixture to dissolve and therefore distribute, the brown sugar.

      1 Reply
      1. re: blue room

        I sift to remove lumps and distribute more evenly. I rub it through a sieve. I definitely think it improves cakes, especially if the cake is supposed to have a light crumb.

      2. Are you using granulated brown sugar? I can't imagine trying to sift the regular and don't see a need to sift the granulated. I'm curious as to what the difference you think sifting is making in your baked goods?

        1 Reply
        1. re: gourmanda

          I using the regular brown sugar. I feel like it mixes more evenly and prevents me from overmixing if that's a concern for a recipe. I have made recipes both ways and feel the sifting is often worth it.

        2. Most recipes call for brown sugar to be packed....why sift?

          3 Replies
          1. re: sunshine842

            I always thought the "packed" was just to help you measure it, just like "scoop and sweep" method to measure flour.

            1. re: bmorecupcake

              so you pack it first, and then sieve it?

          2. How does one even "sift" brown sugar?

            1 Reply
            1. re: ipsedixit

              I have a sieve that's coarser than most sieves and I just rub it through with a spatula.

            2. Using volume measurements and the standard process of sifting then measuring, I don't see how you could possibly NOT get a different result doing this. OTOH, if you are volume measuring or weighing and then sifting... But still, what is the rationale? In cakes that call for creaming butter and sugar and most cookies, what I consider proper technique is to cream until the sugar is totally dissolved into the fat. I don't see how sifting gets you any benefit at all if the sugar is going to be dissolved anyway.
              I've never heard of sifting brown sugar. Or granulated sugar, for that matter. I can't even think of a cake recipe that calls for brown sugar. Snack cakes like gingerbread I guess.

              4 Replies
              1. re: splatgirl

                My grandmother made a cake that had brown sugar - kind of a spice cake. Yum.

                I've heard of sifting granulated sugar with the flour and other dry ingredients (cakes again) -- but yeah, I can't think of ever having heard of sifting brown sugar.

                there's something called cassonade over here, that's basically unwhitened white sugar -- it's brown, but it's textured like large-crystal granulated sugar, so sifting wouldn't do anything for you.

                1. re: splatgirl

                  Recently I'm coming across newer recipes that call for brown sugar in cakes. I guess it's a trend, not sure. It got me thinking, so I've also went over some older recipes and replaced some of the white sugar with light brown, sometimes with pleasant results. I will usually reduce some other liquid to deal with the extra moisture from the molasses.

                  1. re: bmorecupcake

                    i frequently sub some brown sugar for white, especially in fruit-based desserts. i like the added dimension. but sifting certainly seems like an unnecessary step since the sugar is either creamed into the butter or worked into hot, melted butter. in over 25 years of working in fine dining, with some of amercia's most outstanding pastry chefs, i have never ever seen brown sugar sifted.

                    dry ingredients, i blend with a whisk.

                  2. re: splatgirl

                    That's my question, too... why sift if one is going to cream the butter and sugar?

                  3. I have never sifted brown (or white) sugar for any purpose - for the most part, I cant see the point,and, depending on when and how the measuring is dont, it could throw off the ingredient proportions. it alo might make them "cakier" which is not necessarily what is aimed for in cookies.

                    Since the brown sugar is usually beaten in with the butter til light at the beginning of cookie recipes, I cant see that sifting would add much, either.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jen kalb

                      you sifted flours and sugars to remove maggots, weevils and other bugs.

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        You still sift to incorporate air into the flour -- e.g., angel food or chiffon cakes.

                    2. I've been baking for more than 50 years, and count among my friends and colleagues many well-known baking pros. This is the first time I have ever heard of sifting brown sugar. Not even the meticulous Rose Levy Beranbaum sifts brown sugar......

                      1. +1. Never sifted brown sugar, can't imagine it would ever go through any sieve I possess....the most I'd do to it is squash it with the back of a spoon if there were visible lumps.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: flashria

                          I'd fish out any really hard lumps (if my kid didn't get to them first....those hard little lumps of brown sugar are a treat chez Sunshine!)

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Okay, so I searched Google and definitely there are others who sift brown sugar. If I am crazy, at least there are others out there who share my affliction.

                            I originally started sifting after producing a cake batter with quite a few super hard lumps of brown sugar. I had spent a considerable length of time making sure there weren't hard lumps and was quite embarrassed when the final product was lumpy.

                            After that, it just became habit and now I feel like the sugar incorporates evenly and faster, and I run less risk of overmixing. Especially for things I mix by hand, like muffins, I would now be uncomfortable without sifting the brown sugar first.

                            1. re: bmorecupcake

                              Do you mix w/ a mixer or by hand? Once you remove the lumps from the brown sugar, the mixer will mix in the sugar and butter evenly. How quickly it does it does't really matter to me but I can't imagine, with a stand mixer, that the time in significant, compared to the time to sift it. If the brown sugar is lumpy, I either use my fingers to smooth out the lumps or I remove them, if they're too hard.

                              I don't even sift flour--I whisk it.

                              1. re: chowser

                                likewise. Unless my recipe specifies sifted flour Ive taken to whisking then spooning and levelling. And to whisking my dry ingredients together after they are assembled. Its a lot easier than mucking with the sifter.

                                As far as the brown sugar goes, leaving a moist paper towel in the bag for a day or so does wonders to soften it up. Or microwaving it for a few seconds closed with the moist towel. that is, ifyou dont want to treat yourself with the lumps.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  Has brown sugar changed over the years? When I was younger, I remember it getting pretty hard regularly. These days I haven't had that problem. It might get some lumps that are easy to take care of but I can't remember the last time I had to microwave it, or put an apple in to soften it. It didn't occur to me until just now.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    I think it may be storage habits that have changed. When I was little, brown sugar came in a box with a paper liner and few people transferred it to an airtight container. Now that it's sold in a thick plastic bag it's moist when opened, and if you store it carefully, it stays that way longer.

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      I wondered because I either make my own brown sugar or I buy a huge Costco bag, plastic resealable. My kids are terrible about resealing it properly but it still stays soft. Maybe it's just Costcos.

                                    2. re: chowser

                                      I think brown sugar has changed, yes. AFAIK, there is only one major brand (c and h) that is still cane sugar vs. beet, not that I can specify why that would matter in this regard. And I think it actually used to be brown due to being less processed whereas now it's just fully refined white sugar with molasses added back in. It doesn't taste the same to me anymore either, so for things that benefit from that brown sugar flavor and extra moisture, I add a T. or two of molasses.

                                      1. re: splatgirl

                                        That's a good thought. I wonder when they switched over to adding molasses back. For a long time I just mixed in molasses so I can control how rich I want it but Costco's brown sugar is such a good price that I buy that, too.

                                  2. re: chowser

                                    chowser: I mix both ways, with a handheld electric mixer (not a stand mixer) and by hand, depending on the recipe. Brown sugar will still get hard. I have to use the damp paper towel trick often, especially if I haven't baked in a while. But yes, storage habits and packaging have gotten better too, IMO.

                                    1. re: bmorecupcake

                                      I can imagine by hand or hand mixer that it might mix more easily sifted.

                            2. I have been baking for 65 years and have never sifted brown sugar, not one single time.

                              1. The only time brown sugar needs sifting is when there are hard lumps in it that will not dissolve in mixing, after that it is either packed into a measuring cup or weighed.....

                                1. I've never sifted brown sugar either, but I do dump it in a bowl after measuring and break it up with a whisk, just to be sure it combines better with the other ingredients.

                                  1. Are you creaming sugar and butter in your method? So, you sift the brown sugar, then mix it with the butter? Other than just breaking up the sugar (if it has become lumpy in storing it), what is the purpose?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: wyogal

                                      Yes, for most cookies I am creaming the sugar and butter. For some recipes, like the Toll House cookies, I feel it's very easy to overbeat and aerate the butter in this step, resulting in cakey cookies. By sifting I can even do this step by hand.