To Sift or Not to Sift: Or Is It a Waste of Time?

It’s everyone’s favorite step to skip in a baking recipe — so how important is it really?

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It's not unlikely that you've encountered a cake recipe that called for "sifting together the dry ingredients" for your batter or "sifted powdered sugar" to make a frosting. But, what exactly is the point of sifting an ingredient?

In short, sifting dry, powder ingredients (such as flour, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, baking powder, etc.) busts up any clumping present and aerates the dry ingredients. That said, it's not always as necessary as your recipe might imply.

When You Can Skip Sifting

Do you enjoy the art of baking? As in, you pull your baking staples from the pantry at least a couple times a month and make something delicious?

If you answered "yes" to the above, chances are, the most commonly called for sifting action, you can more than likely skip. When a recipe calls for sifting all-purpose flour, or sifting all-purpose flour along with the baking powder and soda, it's often unnecessary. If you're regularly using your baking supplies, there's a fairly slim chance that you'll be encountering clumps that won't be busted up in the mixing process.

You'll more frequently see instructions to sift flour in older recipes (say, a cake recipe passed down from your grandmother) because of the way flour was processed decades ago. However, in today's store-bought all-purpose flour, you aren't going to see the same kind of inherent clumpage.

That said, if you're not going to sift, I would highly suggest you follow my advice about whisking up your flour before measuring it. (Keeping your flour stored in a wide-mouthed, airtight container makes this incredibly easy.)

Times When Sifting Matters

Now, I'm sorry to say that there will come times when you'd rather skip dirtying up your fine mesh sieve, but you shouldn't.

If you're a highly occasional baker and your flour sits untouched for months at a time, A.) you should consider storing your flour in the freezer and B.) you should probably play it safe and sift it when measuring. The longer flour rests in its container, the more prone it is to clumping.

You'll also want to bust out the sieve when you're working with ingredients that really are prone to detrimental clumping — in other words, powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Especially if you're using either of these ingredients in a frosting recipe, save yourself some heartache...and sift. Nobody wants a lumpy frosting.

The last occasion where you ought to go ahead and sift is when you're making a particularly light and airy batter, and the dry ingredients being as aerated as possible really matters. The obvious example is angel food cake; however, I'd even go so far as to suggest sifting when making a classic white cake.

So when it comes to whether or not to sift, like it is with many baking inquiries, the answer obnoxiously is — it depends.

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