Pre-sifted flour, cake flour, pastry flour, whole wheat flour -- there are so many options to choose from when you want to bake some treats for the kids. Brownies are a classic and while you may have a tried-and-true recipe, you may want to consider sifting, or using a pre-sifted, flour. Brownie recipes tend to be pretty forgiving, but you'll get the best results by using the right ingredients and measuring them correctly.
Why Sift Flour?
Sifting incorporates air into the flour, making it fluffy and lighter. If the flour has absorbed any moisture while in storage, it may become dense or lumpy, and sifting prepares the flour for baking. Some recipes may also call for you to sift together flour and other dry ingredients, such as leavening, salt or spices. This ensures that the ingredients are thoroughly combined and evenly distributed, so you don't wind up with a hard nugget of baking powder in the middle of your brownies.
How to Sift and Measure Flour
To sift flour, run it through a sifter or shake it through a pasta strainer. You can also whisk the flour by hand or with a food processor, although the results aren't as good. If your recipe calls for "1 cup sifted flour," first sift the flour and then measure out 1 cup by carefully spooning the sifted flour into a measuring cup until it is heaped over the top, and then level it off with a knife or straight-edge spatula. The overflow can go back in the bag of flour for later use. If your recipe calls for "1 cup flour, sifted," scoop one cup of flour from the bag or canister, level it off, and then sift it. You don't need to re-measure.
Flour is often sifted at the factory to improve the texture and remove any foreign objects such as insects or wheat chaff. But as the flour is packaged and stocked out on the grocery store shelf, it settles in the container and in humid conditions may absorb moisture, and so may no longer be considered sifted for baking. Pre-sifted flour is fine to use for brownies, cookies, cakes and other baked goods. However, if your brownie recipe calls for sifted flour, sift it again yourself, even if the package of flour says it is "pre-sifted." If your recipe doesn't specify, you don't need to sift -- although it probably wouldn't hurt.
Choosing the Right Flour for Brownies
There are dozens if not hundreds of brownie recipes out there, from dense, fudge-like brownies that generally call for less flour, to light, cake-like brownies that call for more. Since sifting flour incorporates air, if you sift before you measure you use slightly less flour, so your brownies may turn out a bit chewier and fudgier. If you choose not to sift, you'll be using slightly more flour, and your brownies may turn out cakier than you were expecting. Either way they'll probably taste great with a scoop of ice cream or a glass of milk.