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Is there really an advantage to sifting flour that I bought that was labeled 'sifted'?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Maybe!

Flour is unusually variable in how densely it will settle, so this can make a big difference for some recipes. The purpose of sifting is to make the amount of flour in a given volume reliable. (If you are measuring by weight, you don't need to sift.)

By moving around the sifted flour, or pouring it from one container into another, you are changing the way it is packed. Therefore, you can easily "unsift" it in the course of normal handling. Proper sifting is done straight into the measuring device.

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3  
The key is to find recipes that measure by weight instead of volume, buy a good scale, then don't worry about it! Or give the flour a quick whisk if you need it not to be packed. –  Harlan Jul 9 '10 at 19:23

Assuming you're baking: Sifting does more than just standardize the density of your flour (which it doesn't even do all that well). Most recipes that call for sifted flour do so because it helps aerate the batter, as well as keeping the flour from clumping and forming lumps. It won't incorporate a large volume of air, but it will bring in lots of microscopic "seed bubbles", which will then provide lots of nucleation points for the leavening to form CO2 bubbles. Without those seed bubbles, you'll get fewer, larger bubbles of leavening, resulting in a different texture. (Creaming sugar into softened butter performs a similar function in many recipes.)

Also, +1 for hobodave's food processor tip. Or a good whisking in a large bowl will do in a pinch.

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+1 for the wisking -- I hate dirtying more than I have to. (and as much as I hate cleaning wisks, when it's dry goods, it cleans up easily.) –  Joe Nov 1 '10 at 13:35

It can't hurt. I wouldn't trust flour that came pre-sifted. Anything will settle during transport.

Random tip: pulse your dry ingredients in a food processor instead of sifting.

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Ideally your recipe will have the flour by weight, not volume, as you can't reliably tell how much flour you are adding when you measure the flour by volume. You should search for baking recipes on the net that list the flour by weight (good books do this for bread baking; the Bread Bakers Apprentice does this, for example).

After weighing the flour you should still sift it as this adds air and can help lend lightness to a quick bread or cake.

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@AdmaF: this would indeed be ideal, but I've never once seen it in any popular cook book, recipe card, or most web sites. Also, this would still not address the matter of breaking up clumps or aerating. –  Dinah Aug 16 '10 at 3:01

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