“Do I really need to sift the dry ingredients in this recipe?”
How many times have we asked this question? And how many times have we said, “Forget it! I ain’t sifting!”
We wonder if this “forget it!” mentality is the best course of action when baking, so we made two chocolate loaf cakes – one with sifted dry ingredients, and the other, un-sifted. Rakhi, who is Stacey’s longtime (note: not “old”) friend, found a great recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog for Everyday Chocolate Cake that called for sifting of dry ingredients. So Rakhi and Stacey took a Sunday afternoon to make two loaves and finally answer the question about sifting ingredients. And the answer?
Well, this wasn’t the most scientific of experiments, you see. While the ingredients and measurements were identical, one cake was baked in a metal pan, the other glass. So there’s a question about whether the pan itself made more of a difference in the end than the sifting. And since we’re strict followers of the Church of America’s Test Kitchen, we think the pan might have made the difference in the end after all.
But really, what did we find? The three taste testers all agreed: the cake that wasn’t sifted was more dense, drier and with a crunchier crust. It was moister toward the center of the cake. The un-sifted cake was baked in a dark metal pan. We all preferred the cake with the ingredients sifted and baked in a milk glass pan. It was lighter, more chocolaty and moister overall.
Here’s the Smitten Kitchen recipe so that you can test the theory in your own kitchen. Heat the oven to 325. Butter and flour a loaf pan (or spritz with butter-flour baking spray). Then in your stand mixer, cream 1 stick of softened butter on medium until smooth. Add 1 cup of brown sugar and ½ cup of granulated sugar. Beat for 3 or 4 minutes until it’s fluffy. Add an egg that has come to room temperature, 1 cup of buttermilk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. The batter will probably look lumpy. Then sift – with a fine mesh strainer or a crank sifter – 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¾ cup cocoa powder. (What’s that, Big Spender? You want to use Dutch cocoa powder? Reduce the baking soda to ¼ teaspoon and add ½ teaspoon baking powder.) Blend everything together, but don’t overmix.
Scoop the batter into the pan and bake for at least 60 minutes on the center rack. We found that both loaves finished in 65 minutes; the cake in the metal pan finished a few minutes before the one in milk glass. You’ll know they’re done when a toothpick poked in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. We served it with a light dusting of powdered sugar and sliced strawberries.
Do you sift dry ingredients in a recipe? Do you think it really matters?