What is sifting? Sifting is define as a way to aerate flour before it is incorporated into a dough or batter. So, sifting and whisking basically perform the same task in baking. And not only do they both add air – resulting in light fluffy baked goods – but they also break up clumps and mix your dry ingredients (provided you are sifting or whisking all your dry ingredient together).
What do I mean by whisking? Well, I literally mean using a metal, balloon-like shaped kitchen tool called a whisk to combine and aerate the flour in a bowl. Whisking, at least to me, just seems simpler, quicker and more modern. Whisking the flour, has the added bonus of giving you a chance to really look at your flour to make sure it’s fluffy and debris-free in the process. Somehow using a simple whisk instead of a mixing machine or old-fashioned sifter also seems to make cleaning up less of a chore. This is especially true when I can use my whisk again in the same recipe meaning I have one less tool to wash up.
Is there an exception? Well, there is a benefit to sifting over whisking when you use certain ingredients. Some chefs believe sifting is still worth the extra step especially for cake flour, almond flour, baking soda and cocoa powder. These ingredients tend to form clumps which whisking can miss.
For more information and find out what the chefs say, see Epicurious’ article.