Sifting flour is only useful in recipes where a dough or batter is mixed gently.
Some people have asked me about this, and others have told me that I should try it.
So, there you have it. The answer is short and simple. No, sifting flour does not make bread dough lighter. As I show in the video the flour is only light and fluffy and not lumpy while it is dry and undisturbed. As soon as water is added, and the dough is kneaded it turns in the worst lump that you could imagine. Sifting will not help here.
There are cases where you might want to sift your flour for bead making. If you have wholewheat flour that contains a lot of bran and you would like to make it slightly lighter, then you can sift the coarse bran out of the flour.
If your flour has been sitting in the cupboard for ages it may be infested with some creepy crawlies. Sifting would be a way to find out for sure. Of course, if you find some bugs in there, then you may want to get rid of that bag of flour.
Back in the old days people used to sift flour because the production process was not as refined and there was a chance that the flour could have some foreign objects in it. Sifting would remove them.
Nowadays there is no reason to sift fresh flour as it will be clean.
Getting back to sifting to make something light and fluffy, here is a prime example of when you absolutely should do it. Making a genoise sponge which is meant to be gently stirred with a spatula and requires minimal disturbance to keep it nice and light, unlike bread dough that is beaten up in a mixer or kneaded by hand until it becomes a dense lump.
A recipe like this is the only time sifting will help with lightness. If you are mixing something in a mixer, then it obviously cannot make things light as you are beating the batter to hell.
Sift your flour when you want to remove unwanted stuff from it. Sift your flour when the recipe requires gentle mixing.
As an extra here is the Genoise cake recipe. I know this is a bread channel, and I only wanted to show the mixing process for the cake, but then I decided to make a recipe out of it. Perhaps you will find it useful. It is a great cake. Easy to make and super soft, light, and fluffy.
For the sponge –
200g (7oz) eggs
120g (4.2oz) sugar
120g (4.2oz) flour
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon
50g (1.75oz) melted butter
For the syrup –
40g (1.4oz) sugar
15g (0.5oz) water
15g (0.5oz) lemon juice
Bring these up to a simmer before brushing.
For the filling –
150g (5.3oz) double cream
60g (2.1oz) sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Whip everything together until stiff.
Strawberry jam or any other jam you like.
To finish –
Icing sugar to sprinkle on top
- In a large bowl over a pot of simmering water whisk the eggs & sugar until the they reach 40C (104F). Make sure the hot water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
- Take off the heat and keep whisking until cooled down and at least tripped in volume. Using a mixer would make light work of this. I whisked 8 minutes by hand.
- Grate in the lemon zest.
- Sift the flour and pinch of salt into the egg mix.
- Now carefully stir the flour into the eggs using a rubber spatula. Go around the edge and turn the bowl. Be gentle and take your time. Do not stir vigorously as the flour will get mixed in even if you go slowly. The main objective is to keep as much air in the batter as possible. This will take at least one minute. You can see why sifting flour is important here as it would be near impossible to break up lumpy flour by mixing this batter gently.
- Add the melted butter and mix until combined. Still being gentle.
- Pour the batter in a 20cm (8in) cake tin lined with non-stick paper. You can use a wider tin, 25cm (10in) should work fine.
- Bake the cake in a preheated oven at 170C (340F) fan off for 30 minutes. Do not open the oven halfway through the bake as the sponge may collapse. You can open it after about 25 minutes to check the sponge. Gently press it in with your finger. If it springs back that means it is ready or at least almost ready. If the indentation stays, then bake it for longer. The surface should be nicely golden brown too.
- After 30 minutes you can insert a skewer and see if it comes out dry. If yes, then the sponge is ready.
- Leave it to cool down in the tin for around 30 minutes.
- Poke the surface with a skewer all over. Soak with the hot syrup. Remove the sponge from the cake tin and leave it to cool down completely. A coupe of hours should do it.
- Slice the sponge in half using a serrated knife. Cut it in a sawing motion gradually and carefully.
- Remove the top. Use the palms of your hands to handle the sponge to prevent it from breaking.
- Spread the lemon whipped cream evenly on the bottom half. Cover with jam. Lay the top sponge down & sprinkle with a generous layer of icing sugar.
Serve it up and enjoy!
Watch the video here