Flour is the foundation of many baking recipes. The root of all baking failures is not measuring correctly. When you fail to aerate your flour, your measuring cup will contain more flour than if you had. This can lead to a complete baking catastrophe or your baked goods coming out too dry.
Aerating flour is a simple task and should be completed before measuring. Aerating is not the same as sifting. As flour is aerated, oxygen is introduced to the mixture. The extra oxygen fills in the space between the flour particles, making it lighter and more airy.
This airiness is essential because without it, you could scoop way too much flour into your measuring cup.
How to Aerate Your Flour
To begin the aeration process, bring your flour container onto your counter. Open the container. With a large spoon or a thin spatula, mix up the flour. Stir it around and rotate the flour thoroughly. This process will also prevent clumping and premature expiration of your flour.
After stirring the flour, do not be tempted to dip your measuring cup into the container. Placing your measuring cup inside the container to scoop the flour out could undo your aeration and compact the flour.
Instead, using your spoon or spatula, spoon the flour into your measuring cup. Fill your measuring cup until it is slightly overflowing.
Then, with a butter knife or the spatula, cut clean across the top of the measuring cup, allowing the overflow of flour to fall back into the storage container.
What Happens When You Don’t Aerate Your Flour
If you opt not to aerate your flour, you’ll find that your container of flour goes bad more quickly than it needs to. Flour should be stored in an airtight container.
The airtight container isn’t because flour should be kept away from oxygen; it’s to keep it from attracting moisture. If moisture enters the flour, it will clump up. Wet flour can even mold in a container.
Flour that isn’t aerated is more compact than flour that has been given a good stirring before measuring. The density of the flour particles is important.
When measuring dry ingredients, you fill your measuring cup or spoon until it is full. Flour that is compacted will take up less space in the measuring cup, thereby requiring more flour to fill up the cup.
More flour in the cup equals more mass. Baking is an exact science. Recipes have measurements for a reason. You’ve probably tried a delectable-sounding cake recipe that was passed down to you from a family member but you were disappointed when your cake turned out dry.
If you didn’t aerate your flour before measuring, you incorporated too much flour into your recipe. Too much flour will zap any moisture from a batter.
Delicate cakes such as angel food cake and sponge cake are meant to be light and airy. Puff pastry is highly regarded for its unweighted texture. In these recipes, the more air introduced to the batter, the better.
Using flour that isn’t aerated in a recipe rising is important will disable the baked good from being as fluffy as you wish it to be.
Aeration in Bread
There’s been a recent influx of homemade bread bakers. The goal of any bread recipe is to create an airy loaf. Light, fluffy bread is accomplished by adequately aerating your flour, accurately measuring your ingredients, and allowing it to proof.
For a simple bread recipe, you need warm water, sugar, yeast, salt, vegetable oil, and flour. To begin, you’ll need to aerate your flour.
Once you’ve adequately stirred the flour around, you’ll spoon it into a one-cup measuring cup five times. Set the flour aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine two cups of warm water and a half-cup of granulated sugar. Add one and a half tablespoons of active dry yeast to your sugar water. Mix the yeast in gently and allow the mixture to sit for about five minutes.
After the five-minute mark, mix one and a half teaspoons of salt and a quarter-cup of vegetable oil to your yeasty syrup. Then sift your flour one cup at a time into the wet ingredients.
Stir thoroughly after each cup. Repeat this process until all of your flour has been added.
After the ingredients have become a sticky dough, you’ll need to knead the bread for approximately seven minutes. When your arms feel as though they’re about to give out after seven minutes, oil a clean mixing bowl and place the bread inside.
Cover your oiled-up dough ball with a damp cloth and allow the bread to rise at room temperature for one hour.
When the hour is up, take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for a little over a minute. Cut the dough in half and shape to fit two loaf pans. Bake the bread at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 40 minutes.
Do not open the oven to peek at your bread during the baking process. This will lower the temperature inside the oven, preventing the bread from baking evenly.
Once the bread has completed baking, it is ready to enjoy. You may be thinking, “What am I going to do with two loaves of bread?” You’ll be delighted to know that bread can be frozen.
Before storing the bread in the ice box, go ahead and slice it. Dividing the bread into slices will make it easier to thaw the bread, and you can extract exactly how much bread you need at a time.
Once cooled, wrap your loaf in plastic wrap. Then, bundle up the loaf with another layer of wrapping, this time with foil or freezer paper.
To thaw your bread, simply place it on your kitchen counter and allow it to defrost overnight. In the morning, you’ll have fresh bread ready for consumption.
If you’re impatient, you can take frozen slices of bread and place them directly into the toaster. After warming up and toasting for a few minutes, you’ll have the base for an incredible sandwich.
Whether you’re baking chocolate chip cookies for a bake sale or making your own sourdough from scratch, the first step of any flour-based recipe should be aerating your flour.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.