Ina Garten’s Genius Baking Hack Eliminates Need to Sift Flour: It ‘Makes All the Difference in the World’

Ina Garten has no problem with using store-bought ingredients for some recipes or finding a shortcut here and there. For instance, she solved the issue of taking the time and trouble to sift flour but still gets the preferred outcome without the extra step.

Ina Garten speaks onstage during a talk with Helen Rosner at the 2019 New Yorker Festival
Ina Garten | Brad Barket/Getty Images for The New Yorker

Ina Garten skips sifting flour for recipes, but does something similar

During a 2018 Bon Appetit Test Kitchen video, where she demonstrated how to make scones, Garten showed host Carla Lalli Music the technique she uses instead of sifting.

“So this is how I measure flour,” Garten began to explain as she pulled a container of all-purpose flour towards her. “You know, like your mother or your grandmother used to sift it so that each cup of flour had exactly the same amount of flour in it.”

She continued, “But what I do instead is I just lighten the flour in the flour bin … and then very carefully scoop it and just level it off with your finger.”

The technique, she explained, fluffs the flour a bit so it’s not packed into the measuring cup. “You’re not packing it in,” she said, demonstrating how more flour would fit in the measuring cup if it wasn’t lightened first.

She added, “That makes all the difference in the world” with baking.

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Ina Garten uses the technique often

While Garten has sifted ingredients for a variety of her recipes, she’s just as often seen using this technique.

She explained the alternative to sifting during one Barefoot Contessa episode when responding to a question submitted by a fan.

The viewer asked, “My question is this … ‘sifted flour’ … gets me every time. Do I sift and then measure? Or measure and then sift?”

The experienced cook, of course, had the answer. “This is what I do. The point of sifting flour is actually to make sure every cup of flour is the same as every other cup,” Garten explained. “One’s not more compacted, which has more flour in it than another cup.”

“So, you can either sift it before and then carefully spoon it into the cup and just level it off with your hand or knife.”

She continued, “Or, what I do is I just take my cup, lighten the flour, scoop it without compacting it and level off with a knife and you’ll be just fine.”  

Is sifting flour necessary?

Some recipes call for sifting flour, but is it always necessary? One of the cooks at America’s Test Kitchen answered that question in a video, explaining that there are some instances where sifting is preferred.

The cook explained, “Whether or not a recipe calls for sifting flour, there are a few cases where it’s definitely worth going to the trouble. For delicate cakes, like sponges, genoise, and angel food cakes, where flour is folded into beaten or whipped eggs, sifted flour distributes faster and more evenly, meaning less chance of deflating the batter.”

She continued, “In most other cases, sifting isn’t strictly necessary and a good stir with a whisk or fork will do the trick.”

She added that attention should be paid to measurements, however. “If a recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, sifted, you should measure first and then sift… whereas, if it calls for 2 cups of sifted flour, you want to sift right into the measuring cup.”

When flour is sifted, it’s aerated and the volume increases, “so one cup of sifted flour is actually less than a cup unsifted,” she explained.