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The Right Time to Sift

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2009

Does it really matter if you sift your flour before you measure it or after? In a word: Yes. When a recipe calls for “1 cup sifted flour,” the flour should be sifted before measuring; whereas “1 cup flour, sifted” should be sifted after measuring. Here’s why: A cup of flour sifted before measuring will weigh 20 to 30 percent less than a cup of flour sifted after measuring—a difference that can make a huge impact on the texture of finished baked goods. The best way to make sure you’ve got the right amount of flour? Weigh it.

Here’s what various types of flour weigh, both sifted and unsifted:

TYPE OF FLOUR WEIGHT OF 1 CUP

UNSIFTED

WEIGHT OF 1 CUP

SIFTED

All-Purpose 5 ounces 4 ounces
Cake 4 ounces 3.25 ounces
Bread 5.5 ounces 4.5 ounces

JUST RIGHTThis cake was made by measuring flour by weight before sifting, as the recipe directed.

TOO LITTLE FLOURThis cake was made by measuring flour by volume after sifting, causing us to use 25 percent less flour by weight, resulting in an overly wet, dense texture.