How to Sift Flour - Bob's Red Mill Blog
How to Sift Flour
Baking 101 on April 7, 2017 by

How to Sift Flour

Even for an avid baker, sifting flour can get a bit tricky. With each recipe saying something different, it can be hard to know if sifting flour will truly make or break your end result. The shortest answer is yes, it matters. Or at least, it can matter. Let’s explore.

Whether you are new to baking or a seasoned pro, one thing you may have noticed about flour is that it can get clumpy and stick together when it is kept away in your cupboard for a long period of time. Unfortunately, this can can lead to lumpy, stuck together baked goods. This is where sifting flour comes into play.

Sifting flour is basically the same thing as aerating flour, so all you are doing when sifting your flour is adding more air to the mixture. With the additional air, your flour will likely create lighter, fluffier pastries and cakes, so if light and airy is what you are going for, then you absolutely need to sift.

One thing to note, as well, is that sifted flour weighs significantly less than unsifted flour, so you may be putting in the wrong amount if you are not sifting carefully. But never fear, we have put together a very simple guide that will teach you everything you need to know about sifting flour.

How to Sift

The most basic way to sift flour is to use a sifter. You throw the flour into a sifter, shake or squeeze it, and make sure that the subsequently sifted flour lands in the right place to keep working. Easy peasy.

The same process can be done with a fine mesh sieve if you have one handy. Don’t have either? That’s perfectly okay; there are plenty of other methods of sifting flour available!

How to Sift Flour Without a Sifter

#1. Wire Strainer

Probably the easiest way to sift flour without a sifter is by using a wire strainer—you know, that thing you use to drain pasta occasionally. Follow a similar path as you would with a sifter, and give the handle some light taps to get the flour to strain through at a good rate.

#2. Whisk

If you prefer, you can also sift flour with a whisk. We recommend putting the flour into a slightly larger bowl for this method, and just whisking it around in circles as you would a whipped cream (although, definitely not as long!).

Other Helpful Tips and Tricks

One thing to note is that if a recipe calls for “one cup of sifted flour” then you should sift the flour first, and then measure out one cup. If your recipe calls for “one cup flour, sifted” then you should measure out one cup of flour first, and then sift it.

Sifting is also a perfect time for you to work any similar ingredients into your recipe. If your recipe calls for salt, baking soda, baking powder, or anything else like this, it typically makes sense to go ahead and sift it in with the flour—this way you get an even mix and uniform texture.

Do you always need to sift your flour? Not always. Especially if you use your flour quite often as technological advances in the milling processes have made sifting not as necessary as it used to be. However, it is always a good idea to follow what your recipe calls for on the sifting front, and pay special attention to sifting well if you are making lighter, fluffier goods like cakes, pastries, or croissants.

Types of Flour

 

The type of flour does not really change the sifting process, but it can change the weight of the flour. For instance, our Organic Whole Wheat Flour may weigh slightly more than our Gluten Free Baking Flour, due to protein differences, so most bakers weigh out their flours on a scale to ensure they are getting the most accurate results. Check out our baking flour guide, where we discuss different types of cooking flours and what each is best suited for!

Although it is not as common or quite as necessary as it used to be, sifting flour is still important in getting your baked goods to take on the perfect structure and rise to the right level. These tips should help you know when and how to sift your flour like a pro!

25 Comments

  1. Lisle Kin
    One lb of flour weighs one lb, whether or not it's been sifted. Assuming, of course the weight of the "air" is negligible. The article should state that the VOLUME of sifted flour is significantly different than unsifted flour.
    Reply
  2. Earlene Millier
    Earlene Millier
    It's especially important to sift the flour when baking cakes that use no chemical leaveners, such as pound cakes. Sifting the flour provides some extra "lift" and results in a less-dense baked product. Thanks for your excellent article!
    Reply
  3. Paula S
    More of a question about sifting. I've noticed that when I'm making some breads, including dessert types like banana, that they seem to be a heavier consistency when baked. Even though the recipe doesn't call for it, would sifting help? I use unbleached, unbromated white flour.
    Thank you.
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Sifting will definitely help. You may want to sift the flour and then gently measure it.
      Reply
    2. Paula S
      Sarena Shasteen thank you very much. I will definitely try this next time I do some baking, bread or what have you. Can't hurt!
      Reply
    3. Charlotte Libby
      Charlotte Libby
      Absolutely. I always sift my flour for sweet breads. You may also need to add a "little" less banana.
      Reply
  4. Helen
    I usually give it a couple of whizzes in the food processor. Does this work as well or should I go back to sifting?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      That should work too.
      Reply
  5. Michele
    I weigh my flour. Should this not be the fool proof method?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      If the recipe specifies the weight, then yes. Sifting adds air and clears the flour of any lumps before you use it in your baked goods.
      Reply
  6. Jane Kobres
    Seems to me the problem is partly that American recipes measure flour by volume instead of weight. What if a recipe doesn't call for sifting and you sift it anyway, and the recipe was actually written for unsifted flour? Then you end up with too little flour. What about spooning it lightly into the cup? Recipes should specify if sifting is required, and give flour measurements by weight and volume.
    Reply
  7. Bertha Dager
    Thanks a lot for the wonderful recipes, tips, advices, teachings, and more that you kindly provided us with!! Your products are the best I love them!!!
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Thank you for your kind words. We truly appreciate it.
      Reply
  8. Freddie Haff
    Thank you for making quality gluten free products. I have been using Bob's Red Mill baking mix to make biscuits. My store stopped carrying it. I finally found the baking "flour" at a different store. I haven't used it yet. Thank you for adding the xanthan gum to it. It makes it better than trying to buy extra ingredients and hoping I add the right amount.
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Thank you for your kind words. We sincerely appreciate your feedback.
      Reply
  9. Sonia Keepes
    A lot of recipes I use don't mention sifting...do you need to sift if the recipe doesn't specifically call for it?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      No you don't have to, but it would get rid of any lumps if you happen to have any in your flour.
      Reply
  10. Fannie Watt
    I learned one thing I didn!t know or forgot. Sift before you measure. Thank You.
    Reply
  11. Patricia C.
    Thank you for your quality products! They make baking a pleasure, especially for gluten free baking.
    For years I've used the same recipe (regular flour) for a dense black chocolate cake, the one with the cup of hot black coffee added. The batter is very thin. For the last few years, the cake rises, but then falls in the middle. It tests done, but there's always a big hole in the cake (just a place for more frosting, according to my husband). I've changed nothing, not the flour, the oven, the pans, and my leavening is fresh. The recipe doesnt specify sifted vs. unsifted flour. So, to sift or not to sift; that is the question. (Sorry Shakespeare!) Would it help?
    Reply
  12. Susan Eason
    Been baking for years. Didnt know all these facts. Thanks
    Reply
  13. Shayl
    Does sifting make a difference in graininess? I used your gf 1 to 1 flour blend and made two versions of a scone. 1 came out beautiful the other came out grainy. But I'm wondering if it's because I didn't sift the second.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Shayl - possibly. If you're sifting out larger particles that would definitely affect the texture. Sifting also helps aerate the flour which in turn will contribute to the final texture.
      Reply
  14. Kelly
    I am adding Xanthan Gum to my Gluten-Free flour. Would you suggest I sift it with my other dry ingredients or not?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Sifting or whisking would be the best way to incorporate it evenly.
      Reply

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