Flour 101: Tips to baking the perfect holiday cookies

Holiday baking season is now upon us, and the Chatelaine Kitchen has some essential flour tips: when you should sift, how to measure and store.

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Roberto Caruso

With the holiday baking season is now upon us, what better time to share some Chatelaine Kitchen best practices to help you get the most out of your baking. Today, we’re talking flour.

 

The Chatelaine Kitchen’s method for measuring flour is to spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup and then scrape the flour to level using a knife. If this seems finicky and you’re used to scooping your measuring cup directly into the flour bag, consider this: The difference in weight between one cup of flour using our method, and one cup using the ‘scooping’ method can be up to 20g. While 20g may not seem significant, in the baking world it is. Our gingerbread recipe calls for 3 cups all-purpose flour. If not measured properly you could end up with 60g extra flour – which is practically ½ cup flour. Too much flour results in tougher, drier products – so get out those spoons.

Try it: Gingerbread

Although we rarely call for sifted flour – have you ever wondered why some recipes do? It is because aerating (sifting) the flour allows maximum absorption of liquid into your flour with minimal stirring. When you have liquid and flour, any stirring that occurs will begin to develop gluten. So in cases where a particularly tender product is desired, less stirring is better, and sifting is sometimes called for. Sifting also rids the flour of any clumps. Softer flours, such as cake and pastry flour will typically clump together more than all-purpose flour. The Chatelaine Kitchen tends to recommend whisking flour with other dry ingredients instead of sifting – which has a similar effect.

Regardless, be sure to read your recipe carefully. If a recipe calls for one cup of sifted flour this means you measure the flour after sifting. However, one cup of flour, sifted, means you measure the flour – and then sift it. There is a significant difference in weight between a sifted and unsifted cup of flour.

The majority of Chatelaine Kitchen baking recipes – with the exception of our gluten-free recipes – call for all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour is a high quality, versatile product. Occasionally, we call for a second flour, such as with our ultimate shortbread recipe that also requires rice flour. In this case, rice flour is added because while being flour (or a “meal”) it does not contain gluten, therefore resulting in a crispy, buttery and delicious shortbread.

Try it: Ultimate Shortbread

Storing tips:
Despite being a “dry” ingredient, all-purpose flour does contain on average between 11-12 percent moisture. Like anything exposed to air, it loses moisture as it ages. Flour likes to be stored in a cool, dry place – and properly stored can last up to six months. I like to write the date on the bottom of my flour bag just before opening it. It is best to purchase flour just as you need it – however if you have a surplus, feel free to freeze it in an air-tight container or freezer bag. Be sure to bring the flour back to room temperature before using. Cold flour absorbs liquid at a different rate and will interfere with the success of your baking.

Enjoy the kick-off of to the holiday baking season!

Originally published November 16th, 2011.