The Step Most People Skip When Measuring Flour
You've likely heard that when measuring flour, if you're not measuring your flour by weight, it's critical that you lightly spoon it into your measuring cup and level the flour off with a flat edge. The alternative measuring method (and a common rookie mistake), which entails scooping flour straight from the bag with your measuring cup and shaking away the excess, packs in more of the soft, powdery substance than you actually need.
It's true that using a kitchen scale is the most precise means of measure for flour — or any dry ingredient; however, when I'm following a recipe that calls for measurements by volume rather than weight, I am generally inclined to do the same. (My thought is that if the recipe developer wrote the recipe measuring using dry cups, the best way for me to approximate the same amounts used and successfully replicate their end result is to go with the same form of measurement). That said, regardless of what I'm baking, before I ever start spooning, there is one essential (to me) step I take: aerating the flour.
Related: How to Measure Flour
As anyone who's turned a stand mixer to a higher speed too quickly knows, it doesn't take much to bring out flour's light and breezy side. However, as your flour sits in the pantry, waiting for its moment in the sun, it's naturally going to settle and become relatively compact. So, even if you're using a delicate hand as you transfer your flour to a measuring cup, it's kind of difficult to avoid snow-shoveling if it's compressed.
The solution takes two seconds and couldn't be easier. Simply grab your whisk (a large fork will work in a pinch) and gently fluff the top layer of flour you'll be measuring from. Note, you may need to repeat this after spooning away that layer if you're using multiple cups of flour. This simple step of incorporating a tiny bit of air into the particles of flour helps combat packing when measuring and puts the flour in its ideal airy state to combine with other ingredients. That's why many recipes ask us to sift their dry ingredients together.
Thus, even if you are measuring by weight this little pre-measuring measure is still a good idea. You can definitely aerate your flour right in the bag, but I like to store my loose flour in a plastic bin with a wide mouth (I use an OXO Pop container) because it makes both aerating and spooning easier.
Buy It: OXO 4.4Qt Steel Pop ($22.99, amazon.com)
Now, is this a dramatically critical step that you've been passing over? Maybe not. It's not a complete make-or-break move. However, it can very well make a noticeable difference in the texture of your baked goods. Plus, it's in accumulating these sorts of small good habits that we continue to become better, wiser bakers.
Related: How to Store Flour So It Stays Fresh