Test Kitchen tips: Sifting and whisking dry ingredients
Very often, you'll see a baking recipe call for sifting flour into a bowl. Often, flour is sifted with other dry ingredients to combine them before adding liquids to form a batter or dough. Sifting is done to lighten flour that has settled, adding air and removing any clumps.
Incorporating dry ingredients: While sifting is great for introducing dry ingredients to a bowl, it does not necessarily incorporate them evenly and uniformly (ever notice that your spices remain in one corner of the bowl after sifting, or that the cocoa doesn't fully mix with the sugar?). To thoroughly incorporate dry ingredients, whisk them after sifting. This will help to insure all those pesky spices are evenly distributed, and also helps to lighten the overall dry blend.
Sifting brown sugar: When brown sugar is called for in a recipe, sift it before mixing it into a recipe. Even if the sugar is soft, it may still have small hard lumps, which can be hard to pick out of a batter or dough. Sifting beforehand takes care of any clumps before they become a problem.
Measuring flour: Always check to see how the flour measurement is given in a recipe. Measurements will vary depending on whether or not the flour is sifted beforehand, and incorrect measuring can affect the final recipe. "1 cup flour, sifted" means you measure the flour before you sift it. "1 cup sifted flour" means the flour is measured after sifting.
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-- Noelle Carter
Photo credit: Noelle Carter