Southern bakers know that a sifting makes a big difference in certain recipes like tender layer cakes and pound cakes. Sifted flour has been aerated through a fine mesh strainer, so it has a light, airy texture. Sifting also removes pesky lumps from confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder.
Sifting is also an excellent way to lightly dust your countertop with flour if you’re rolling out dough. You’ll end up with a very fine and even coating of flour rather than random sprinkles here and there. (Click here to find out our favorite brand of all-purpose flour.)
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But you don’t need an old-fashioned flour sifter to do this—in fact, there is an even better tool to get the job done. And you probably already have it in your kitchen cabinet. I started using a fine mesh strainer as a sifter and have not looked back since. Simply measure the flour, then pour it into the sifter and position it over the mixing bowl. Gently tap the side of the sifter with one hand until all of the flour passes through. You can use it for any dry ingredient that requires sifting. My old metal sifter is now a plaything for my 21-month-old son, who likes to turn the “ball” (AKA the round handle).
Of course, if you get a warm feeling in your chest every time you crank the handle of the old-timey sifter Mamaw handed down to you, by all means, use it. That’s part of the charm of baking—it brings back happy memories.
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Whether you use a hand crank sifter, or a fine mesh strainer, there is one important thing to remember: measure, then sift. Other than using a kitchen scale, the most accurate way to measure dry ingredients like flour is the "dip-and-scoop" method. Spoon flour into a measuring cup and mound slightly. Draw the straight edge of a knife or spatula across the top of the measure to level the top.