James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Baking Techniques: To Sift or Not to Sift

This is a pile of dry ingredients for Chocolate Doughnuts passed through a sifter.  It makes an attractive, well-aerated conical mound that will combine easily with the wet ingredients to give you a smooth dough.

It’s rare these days to read recipes that actually require you to sift flour. To be sure, flour gets compacted in bags during shipping, but the prevailing wisdom is that it’s best to thoroughly whisk your measured flour with other dry ingredients instead of sifting them together because sifting doesn’t do as good a job of thoroughly combining them.  This idea is wronghead.

And here’s why.  In order to whisk your dry ingredients together well you have to do it for about 30 seconds.  Some writers even tell you to use the low speed of a hand-held mixer. In that amount of time I can sift my ingredients 3 times and aerate it thoroughly.  Here are some recipes posted previously where, for the best results, I always sift the dry ingredients: Angel Food Cake, Chocolate Doughnuts, Pound Cake, and Spanish Buns.

Sifters have been around for centuries, and though their form has changed over time, they still perform the same functions: Aeration and mixing.

The three sifters Greg Patent uses in his kitchen.

The one on the left is a triple sifter, meaning it has three mesh screens.  It does an excellent job.  The middle sifter has a crank handle attached to an arch-shaped thin metal rod.  I put the dry ingredients in, turn the handle, and it does all the mixing and aerating.  The third sifter holds enough flour for about 1 cup, and I can sift directly into my measuring cups with it.  Some recipes say to do that.

If you don’t own a sifter, please buy one.  They’re not very expensive and they last for years and years.   I’ve used the ones in the photo for over 40 years!


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