Gooey, cupcakes frosted high with, tarts filled with
is at its peak: I love baking and need little excuse to toss on an apron and reach for a set of measuring cups. Most of these homey baked goods begin with a similar pattern: preheat the oven, grease a pan, round up a few dry ingredients and then sift them together. It was only recently while baking a cake from a new cookbook that I gave sifting much thought. I realized that when a recipe calls for sifting, I often reach for a whisk instead, thinking since many recipes instruct to whisk together dry ingredients the two techniques are equally effective at breaking up clumps in dry ingredients. So why sift flour when whisking seems quicker, less fussy, less messy, and more modern? With its open, shouldnБt a whisk provide the same blending and aeration as a sifter? I turned to two experts for the answer. , pastry chef and cookbook author, and Katherine Yang, a New York City-based pastry chef and owner of. БI am totally a whisker I only sift if it s truly necessary,Б DeMasco says. БIn most cases, whisking will combine your dry ingredients nicely and keep you from having another dirty tool to wash. Б Yang agreed: БThe less steps I have to take, the better. Most small clumps can be broken up with a whisk or your fingers. Б But, they also agreed that, sometimes, sifting flour is an unavoidable necessity. When Is It Important to Sift Flour? In some instances, the chefs concurred, sifting is worth the added step and not just when it comes to run-of-the-mill flour. Cake flour, almond flour, baking soda, confectioners sugar, and cocoa powder tend to form clumps, either in their unopened packages or once theyБre exposed to air.
As DeMasco put it, БIt s terrible to skip the sift only to find a pocket of dry cocoa in your cake! Б To save repeated sifts, when opening a new box of baking soda, she sifts the whole thing and puts it into another container. Once that s done, she says, Бyou don t have to sift it each time you use it. Б Yang follows a simple protocol, БIf I m folding dry ingredients into a [delicate] batter [such as ], I generally sift. If I m beating dry ingredients into a batter [with an electric mixer], I donБt bother. With the beaters, the clumps tend to work themselves out. Б She also offered a great pro tip: БIf lumps appear in oil-based batters, you can strain the whole batter through a medium- or large-mesh sieve. Б Keep your sifter close, but your whisk closer. Photo by Chelsea Kyle, food styling by Katherine Sacks One other instance where sifting is imperative: if your recipe calls for 2 cups sifted flour (as opposed to 2 cups flour, sifted ). The former means that the flour should be measured after sifting, while the later means that it should be measured first and then sifted. The differences in volume are more extreme that you might believe and can make or break some baked goods. Give the two methods a test run in your own home weigh them out on a kitchen scale and you ll see what I mean. You may never ask why sift flour? again! Do You Need to Buy a Specialty Sifter? That s up to you. Old-school models can be fun, whether they re of the or variety.
A sieve, or, can do the job just as well though even if they may require a bit more patience on your part. And bonus! a sieve just may, too. Kitchen Mysteries is a weekly exploration of oddities surrounding cooking and food. They could be recipes that fail when they shouldn t, conflicting advice from different sources, or just plain weirdness. If it happens in a kitchen, and you re not sure why, send a tweet to The Food Geek to find out what s happening. Mary passes along a question for, Hi, Mollie and Mary, Two major things happen when you re sifting flour. Well, two major things are supposed to happen, but only one really does. The first thing is that all of the flour gets spaced out and away from each other, so it takes up a lot more volume than it used to. That definitely happens with sifting. The second thing, which is supposed to happen but doesn t really, is that the other powdered ingredients (baking soda, baking powder, different kinds of flour, or what have you) get mixed up and evenly distributed within each other. So: gluten formation. This is not the first time that regular readers will have noticed me writing about gluten, because it is vital to most baked goods. Gluten is the web of molecules that form when glutenin and gliadin, proteins found in wheat flour, mix with water. They lend structure to all manner of doughs, sauces, and similarly thickened materials. With cake, you want enough gluten to provide structure so that the cake rises, but not enough structure to impede chewing at all. if you can spread the flour out before you mix it into the water and fat, you let the fat get in-between a lot of the flour before the water mixes with it.
The more fat that coats the flour the less water can get in (after all, oil and water don t mix, and that goes for other fats just as well), and the less water that meets the flour, the less gluten you have. A sifter spreads out flour admirably. If you put flour through a sifter, you can virtually see in-between every particle of flour as it falls out of the sifter. It s fantastic. What the sifter doesn t do well is mix ingredients. You want to mix the dry ingredients well because the the dry ingredients will generally be structural, provide flavor, or provide lift. If you have clumps of undistributed flavor or leavener hidden in caches around your cake, then someone will have an unhappy surprise when they bite into it. With a sifter, you have a mechanism on one end that spreads out the powder as it drops it. When you add ingredients, you tend to do a scoop here and a scoop there, so having something at one end spreading out nearby powders will only mix ingredients that are already pretty well blended. A better method for incorporating dry ingredients that does pretty well with the aeration of the powder is to mix it with a whisk or, if you re particularly ambitious, a food processor. Particles spread out, different powders mix together, and you get a nice cake without fussing with a big piece of equipment like the sifter. Give it a try if you generally sift, I think you ll be pleased.