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Do I need a flour sifter?

oxo flour sifterThere are lots of recipes out there that call for sifted flour – particularly cake flour – and even more that ask you to sift together dry ingredients before incorporating them into the batter of whatever it is you’re making. Do you need to have a flour sifter to ensure that the recipes work properly? And for that matter, does flour really need to be sifted?

To start with the second question, the answer is that flour and other dry ingredients, including cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar, sometimes do need to be sifted. The finer your ingredient is, the more likely it is to clump up in its storage container. If you live somewhere very humid and don’t use airtight containers for flour,etc., clumping may also be more likely. Sifting can break up clumps of flour/sugar/cocoa that might not otherwise break down with simple stirring and prevents these clumps from holding their shape in your finished product. When it comes to sifting multiple ingredients together, sifting can help give you a more even distribution in the mixture. This just speeds up the work that otherwise needs to be done during mixing to ensure that your salt or leavening is well-incorporated into your batter.

But flour doesn’t always need to be “sifted” with a flour sifter. You can certainly use one if you like the look or feel. I personally find flour sifters to be a bit of a pain, especially since I like to sift cocoa and other ingredients and they can be annoying to clean. I tend to use a large sieve for sifting fine ingredients, particularly cake flour and cocoa powder. It works incredibly fast, is easy to clean and can also be used in other kitchen applications. If I just want to evenly distribute flour, leavening and salt (say, in a batch of cookie dough), I’ll skip the sifting and just use a whisk to fluff the mixture up. I tend to call for this when I write recipes, only specifying that an ingredient needs sifting when it is required.

So, have a large sieve or two around to help out in the kitchen, along with a whisk. For the vast majority of home baking, they’re all you’re ever going to need as far as flour sifting goes.

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  • Stef
    February 12, 2008

    I was just fighting with my sifter last night. I find it takes so long to use. I’m excited about this tip!

  • Laura
    February 12, 2008

    I completely agree but wanted to add that if you use your sieve a lot for other stuff (as I do) I really recommend you have 2 (as I plan to as soon as I remember to buy one!) because I am tired of having to wash and then dry with a hair dryer the sieve to get it dry enough for flour, etc to be sifted through it. Just a thought. 🙂

  • LinC
    February 13, 2008

    Another good tip from Alton Brown, who does “Good Eats” on the Food Network — Alton says to shake the canister of flour to fluff it up. And then use a spoon to fill up the measuring cup. You can avoid having to sift unless you want to sift together several ingredients. Personally, I never sift except for angel food cakes and when I’m incorporating cocoa into the flour and want an even distribution. I find that a quick stir into the dry ingredients is all that’s needed for baking powder or soda when the flour will then be beaten or stirred into the wet ingredients.

  • Ani
    February 13, 2008

    I like my sifter it’s just a pain to clean.

  • Avi
    February 13, 2008

    100% agree. couple of weeks ago I through out one of these flour sifters because I found it almost impossible to clean it properly after sifting cocoa. I went back to using a sieve, the way as my mom. It is cheaper, works great and very easy to clean.

  • Amelia
    February 13, 2008

    Yes sometimes you really would need to sift! But I’m often more lazy and just not sift. 😛

  • JD
    August 20, 2011

    I threw out my old sifter because I just couldn’t get it clean. I thought, “There has to be a better sifter out there”. Alas, no. So, reluctantly, I bought another of the same kind. I’m taking it back on Monday and exchanging it for a sieve (or two). Thanks for the great tip!

  • Dionne Madison
    April 4, 2013

    I have my Mothers sifter the one she bought back in the 1950’s….. I simply run it through the dishwasher on the top rack….. easy breezy 🙂

  • Christina
    February 6, 2014

    You can find crank sifters on Amazon. If you’re going to use one, that’s the kind you want–and *Not* the kind with the squeeze lever!

    The crank sifter is easy to clean; there are no inaccessible parts to it, as with the other style.

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