How to Sift Flour

Learn how to sift flour like a professional, even if you don’t own a handheld sifter. Sifting is the key to light-as-air cookies, cakes, and all your best pastries. Here’s how (and when) to do it, and why it matters.

Flour being sifted onto parchment paper.

Got a baking sifter in the far reaches of your kitchen’s baking drawer? Even if you don’t, you can aerate flour in no time at all. When your favorite cake recipe calls for sifted flour, don’t leave out this crucial step. It’s the key to fluffy angel food cakes and lump-free pancake batter.

Sifting notes:

  • Why do it: When a modern recipe calls for sifted flour, it usually means that the recipe requires fluffier, aerated flour, or flour without any lumps. As it is packaged, shipped, and stored, flour settles in the bag. Sifting lightens it up again. It also creates space for the other components in the recipe to get in between the flour particles and do their work. Cakes become fluffier, pancakes lighter; you get the idea.
  • When to do it: Should you sift flour for all recipes, even if they don’t specify? No. Commercial flour has already been sifted several times, so unless the recipe you are reading specifically requires it, you shouldn’t have to take the extra step.
  • Sift then measure, or measure then sift: This is important. And it’s easy to determine if you read your particular recipe carefully.
    • If the recipe calls for 3 cups sifted flour, then you need to pre-sift the flour into a bowl and then measure the flour.
    • If the recipe calls for 3 cups flour, sifted, then measure the flour first, and then sift it.

Instructions:

You can sift flour with a flour sifter or a fine-mesh strainer. My preference is the strainer because it’s a versatile kitchen tool that can be used for more than task. And the flour sifter hurts my hand after a while.

  • Fine-mesh strainer: A strainer (or sieve) is a circular gadget with a finely-woven mesh net used for straining liquids such as stocks or juice. It also works really well for sifting flour. Just pour your dry ingredients in it and gently tap the side with one hand. Anything left in the bottom can be pushed through with a spoon.
  • Flour sifter: A flour sifter is a kitchen device that looks like a cup with a handle and a mesh strainer on the bottom. Some sifters have mechanical blades that help push the flour through the mesh, while others don’t. As you squeeze the handle (or turn the crank) the blades are activated and sifted flour falls out the bottom of the cup.

You can sift flour into a bowl, but parchment paper (or foil) makes the best funnel. When you’re done sifting, just lift the paper and aim it at your mixing bowl. It’s much cleaner than trying to pour dry ingredients out of a large bowl into a second bowl attached to a mixer.

Sifted flour on parchment paper with a flour sifter next to it.

Tips and variations:

  • Sifting other ingredients: Sifting is not just for flour! Dry ingredients like salt, baking soda, baking powder, or dry milk are sometimes sifted together, in order to distribute them better. And cocoa powder or powdered sugar are often sifted to remove lumps.
  • Whisk: If you don’t have a fine-mesh sieve, just add the flour to a dry bowl and whisk it briskly.
  • Best way to measure flour: Spoon the flour out of the bag and directly into the measuring cup. Make a high mound on the top of the cup, then level off the measuring cup using the back of a knife.
  • Wrong way to measure flour: Do not scoop or dip the cup into the flour because it packs the flour into the cup and will result in too much flour in your recipe. Also, never dip, tap, tamp, jiggle, shake, or pack flour down into the measuring cup.

Test your skills with these recipes:

Flour being sifted onto parchment paper.

How to Sift Flour

Learn how to sift flour like a professional, the key to light-as-air cookies, cakes, and all your best pastries. Here’s how (and when) to do it, and why it matters.
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Course: Pantry
Cuisine: American
Cook Time: 1 minute
Total Time: 1 minute
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 112kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour or other flour or dry ingredients

Instructions

To sift with a fine-mesh strainer:

  • Over a sheet of parchment paper, foil, or a bowl, add flour (or any dry ingredients) to a fine-mesh strainer and tap the side with one hand. Anything left in the bottom can be pushed through with a spoon.

To sift with a flour-sifter:

  • Over a sheet of parchment paper, foil, or a bowl, add flour (or any dry ingredients) to sifter cup. Squeeze handle to activate the blades repeatedly until sifted flour falls out the bottom of the cup.

Notes

  1. Why do it: When a modern recipe calls for sifted flour, it usually means that the recipe requires fluffier, aerated flour, or flour without any lumps. As it is packaged, shipped, and stored, flour settles in the bag. Sifting lightens it up again. It also creates space for the other components in the recipe to get in between the flour particles and do their work. Cakes become fluffier, pancakes lighter; you get the idea.
  2. When to do it: Should you sift flour for all recipes, even if they don’t specify? No. Commercial flour has already been sifted several times, so unless the recipe you are reading specifically requires it, you shouldn’t have to take the extra step.
  3. Sift then measure, or measure then sift: This is important. And it’s easy to determine if you read your particular recipe carefully.
    • If the recipe calls for 3 cups sifted flour, then you need to pre-sift the flour into a bowl and then measure the flour.
    • If the recipe calls for 3 cups flour, sifted, then measure the flour first, and then sift it.
  4. Sifting other ingredients: Sifting is not just for flour! Dry ingredients like salt, baking soda, baking powder, or dry milk are sometimes sifted together, in order to distribute them better. And cocoa powder or powdered sugar are often sifted to remove lumps.
  5. Whisk: If you don't have a fine-mesh sieve, just add the flour to a dry bowl and whisk it briskly.
  6. Best way to measure flour: Spoon the flour out of the bag and directly into the measuring cup. Make a high mound on the top of the cup, then level off the measuring cup using the back of a knife. 
  7. Wrong way to measure flour: Do not scoop or dip the cup into the flour because it packs the flour into the cup and will result in too much flour in your recipe. Also, never dip, tap, tamp, jiggle, shake, or pack flour down into the measuring cup.

Nutrition

Calories: 112kcal
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @CulinaryHill or tag #CulinaryHill!

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