To Sift or Not to Sift….
It is the age old question (among other more important age old question, such as: What’s the meaning of life?) When a recipe says to sift the dry ingredients, the question that always goes through my mind is: Do I have to? And when I ask this, I do it in a whiney voice because it means one more step, one more thing I’m going to have to wash! Usually I am not spending a leisurely Saturday baking and have time to do everything “the right way”. I am usually whipping something up the night before… or one hour before, fitting in baking a cake or batch of cupcakes into an already crazy busy schedule. Clearly adding the butter can’t be omitted, but for me, sifting is the first to go. Yes, my cupcakes still turn out tasty and beautiful, but are they the tastiest and most flavorful they could have possibly been?
So, what is the big deal with sifting anyway?
Well, its about quality. More specifically, quality of your finished product. When professionals look at their final product, whether it be bread, pound cake or cupcakes, they typically cut it in half and break it apart (yes, just like communion) to examine the crumb.
Crumb is a term referring to the interior texture, gluten network, tenderness, and general feel of a bread. Desirable crumb size and texture varies depending on the product. (taken from website: http://www.thefreshloaf.com)
With some breads, sifting may not be as important because the dough is mixed so much that all the ingredients are worked together well. Raw bread dough is smooth and elastic and no one ingredient is visible. In other breads, such as focaccia and ciabatta, the crumb is fully of large gaps that air bubbles have formed when baking. For these breads, this is a good thing.
Cakes are a different story. Over mixing cake batter, to be extreme, is detrimental!! Without getting too scientific: over mixing = a tough cake. Nobody wants a tough cake! The most pleasing cake is one that is fluffy and light. So, how do you get a light airy cake, but make sure that everything gets mixed in well enough? In essence, how do you prevent over mixing?
Now get ready…. I am about to reveal why sifting matters.
Imagine biting into a gorgeous cupcake and there is a big clump of raw flour or cocoa powder. Trust me, it is not a nice experience. Flour does not naturally “cook out”. Unless it is worked in with a liquid (butter/oil, sugar, egg mixture), it will remain raw. Same with cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and spices!
So here are two main reasons to sift:
- It takes lumps out of ingredients mentioned above. Once you have sifted the ingredients, anything left in the sieve should be thrown way.
- It homogenizes the ingredients to insure even distribution throughout the batter. (which means no mouth full of raw flour!)
Will forgoing sifting ruin your dessert? Nope, not at all (in most cases). But will taking the time to quickly sift those dry ingredients benefit your dessert? Absolutely.
So, the moral of the story is (or blog as it is): If you have the time, take the time. Sifting is a wonderful technique to enhance the texture of your cakes.