why do you have to sift flour
is a finely milled, low protein flour that is known for its ability to create cakes with a very even, soft and tender crumb. As the name suggests, it is excellent for making cakes and is commonly found in pound cakes and angel food cakes. Almost every recipe that calls for cake flour asks that you, while recipes that call for all purpose flour (including mine) simply ask that you stir or whisk the flour before incorporating it into your batter, so I often get asked if it is necessary to sift cake flour before using it. To put simply: yes, cake flour must be sifted before using it. Cake flour is so fine that it clumps together very easily. While large clumps can be broken up with a spoon or spatula, small clumps are tenacious and will show up as lumps of uncooked flour in your finished cake if you are not careful. PAll purpose flour and bread flour do not have the same fine texture of cake flour and often do not need to be sifted in a recipe to prevent lumps of flour from popping up unexpectedly. Some recipes ask that you sift the cake flour before measuring it, while others will ask that you sift the flour after measuring it.
Either way, the flour should be sifted at least once to remove those small lumps and help ensure that your cake turns out as perfectly as possible. In the event that you come across a recipe that calls for cake flour but does not ask you to sift it, I would recommend sifting it just to be on the safe side. There is no harm in sifting flour for your recipes and a lumpy cake is just one less thing you ll need to worry about.
Kitchen Mysteries is a weekly exploration of oddities surrounding cooking and food. They could be recipes that fail when they shouldn t, conflicting advice from different sources, or just plain weirdness. If it happens in a kitchen, and you re not sure why, send a tweet to The Food Geek to find out what s happening. Mary passes along a question for, Hi, Mollie and Mary, Two major things happen when you re sifting flour. Well, two major things are supposed to happen, but only one really does. The first thing is that all of the flour gets spaced out and away from each other, so it takes up a lot more volume than it used to. That definitely happens with sifting. The second thing, which is supposed to happen but doesn t really, is that the other powdered ingredients (baking soda, baking powder, different kinds of flour, or what have you) get mixed up and evenly distributed within each other.
So: gluten formation. This is not the first time that regular readers will have noticed me writing about gluten, because it is vital to most baked goods. Gluten is the web of molecules that form when glutenin and gliadin, proteins found in wheat flour, mix with water. They lend structure to all manner of doughs, sauces, and similarly thickened materials. With cake, you want enough gluten to provide structure so that the cake rises, but not enough structure to impede chewing at all. if you can spread the flour out before you mix it into the water and fat, you let the fat get in-between a lot of the flour before the water mixes with it. The more fat that coats the flour the less water can get in (after all, oil and water don t mix, and that goes for other fats just as well), and the less water that meets the flour, the less gluten you have. A sifter spreads out flour admirably. If you put flour through a sifter, you can virtually see in-between every particle of flour as it falls out of the sifter.
It s fantastic. What the sifter doesn t do well is mix ingredients. You want to mix the dry ingredients well because the the dry ingredients will generally be structural, provide flavor, or provide lift. If you have clumps of undistributed flavor or leavener hidden in caches around your cake, then someone will have an unhappy surprise when they bite into it. With a sifter, you have a mechanism on one end that spreads out the powder as it drops it. When you add ingredients, you tend to do a scoop here and a scoop there, so having something at one end spreading out nearby powders will only mix ingredients that are already pretty well blended. A better method for incorporating dry ingredients that does pretty well with the aeration of the powder is to mix it with a whisk or, if you re particularly ambitious, a food processor. Particles spread out, different powders mix together, and you get a nice cake without fussing with a big piece of equipment like the sifter. Give it a try if you generally sift, I think you ll be pleased.
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