Secret to tender cakes!! Cake flour preparation: Mix-Sift-Fluff Theory
Flour preparation is the first most crucial step in baking. It is the process of combining dry ingredients together to create an evenly blended mix. Sifting is a common term used in flour preparation… but have you heard of Mixing and fluffing?! Welcome to my world of baking where I share experimented tips, tricks and hidden details for successful baking !
So you’ve tried a soft , tender cake at a friends party or at your favorite bakery and wondered how it was achieved? The secret primarily lies in SIFTING (unless of course chemically treated flour is used…but let’s achieve this with universally available All-Purpose/Maida flour). Is it important… really….? Yes! It can be the most tedious step in baking… but remember , avoiding it is not an option as there is no short cut to perfection!
Sifting to me is a 3 step process …
- Pre sift- mixing
- Post sift-fluffing
While most of us are familiar with sifting, I find that the two additional steps- pre and post to sifting, give an added benefit of aerated, (more) evenly blended dry mix, which (together with other factors) help with producing an evenly baked, tender cake.
Below are my three steps with little tricks to cut short preparation time.
Role in baking? Sifting does not necessarily even-distribute dry ingredients- this I realized when I was sifting my cocoa-flour mix one day… 4-5 sifts later the color was still not uniform, evident that “even blending” was not achieved. A step prior- mixing, helps with this process.
Measure your dry ingredients into a widespread bowl and mix in a circular motion. You can use a regular hand whisk/dry spoon for mixing. If your flour contains a color element like cocoa powder, an even brown color indicates your mix is blended well enough. Otherwise do 10-15 strokes.
Now your flour mix is ready for sifting !
Sifting , also known as sieving is a process of passing dry ingredients through a thin mesh.
Role in baking?
- Aeration- This is the primary function. This helps separate flour particles from “clumps” allowing air to surround them creating aeration.
- Blending- In addition it helps a little with blending ingredients together.
- Particle separation- separates the little particles from the hard to dissolve “lumps” and other debris.
In my years of baking experiments I have come to a conclusion- more the number of sifts , more tender the cake !
As a rule of thumb I like to sift my ingredients as many times as the number of ingredients in the mix (ignoring salt as an ingredient). For instance if my mix contains flour, sugar, leavening agents, cocoa powder and salt then the number of sifts would be total number of ingredients (5) -salt (1) =4 sifts.
Now how to make this process easy to achieve? As my articles are tailored to guide a novice, here are my 3 steps that get the job done in half the painstaking time !
- Place two parchment papers one on top of the other. As shown in the picture place a “circle tin sifter” on top of the parchment paper. Place a “hand sifter” with the flour on top of a circle tin sifter.
2. Do your first sift by passing the flour directly onto the second sifter. Now the flour mix that is piled on your second sifter needs to be passed through onto the parchment paper. How easily the second sift is done!
3. Next move the parchment paper holding the flour mix aside leaving the bottom paper as it was. Place your two sifters on this second parchment paper and repeat the above steps. whola!! 4 sifts done in half the time!
Remember more the sifts , lighter the cake ! So go ahead and experiment …. See how it works for you.
Do NOT tap your container that holds the sifted aerated flour.
Fluffing is an optional step but easy, so why avoid… It adds aeration to flour. Just use the hand whisk and fluff- move it vertically up/down 5-6 times and job done.
A well sifted flour mix is light and does a quick even blend with wet ingredients preventing any lumps , cracks and instead yields tiny porous tender cakes !
If a recipe calls for “sifted flour” then sift your flour before measuring it out. Later after combining other dry ingredients -mix, sift and fluff.
Now that you have mastered the three word mantra of baking … chant away to your friends and family “mix-sift-fluff”… repeat !