Baking with Flour...Flour Sifters

Myrna's sifter on top; Sue's sifter at bottom    

When I think of baking, the first ingredient is usually flour of some kind.  One tool I don’t want to do without is a flour sifter.  I have watched all the food channels, and it appears that using a fine wire strainer to sift flour is the trendy thing to do.  NOT!  Do I want to waste time and energy and get the flour all over, or do I want to do like Mom and Grandma and use a flour sifter to make this job efficient?
Both Myrna and I use flour sifters…the 3-screen sifter is the one I use; I only have a one-cup one because I only sift the dry ingredients together for cakes and muffins, and that is large enough.  It has the advantage of being able to sift right into a cup or bowl (although I often use a cheap paper plate to sift on).  They also make these in a 3-cup size.  Myrna gave me this one after my old one finally gave out after some 40 years!.  She finds that having to squeeze the handle on this style is a little hard for folks with arthritic hands.
Myrna has the flour sifter with the bail inside turned by the knob, about a 3-cup size.  It is easier to use; however, you need to check one if you buy it to make sure the bail inside actually comes in contact with the screen.  I purchased an expensive stainless steel sifter like hers and it was useless because it didn’t get out any lumps of baking powder or salt that I wanted to blend with my flour.  Myrna’s old one works just fine.
Both of our sifters are OLD!...they just don’t make them like they used to!  I never wash my sifter; and I don’t let it come in contact with anything wet.  My husband made a cover for the top and bottom so I can keep it clean on the shelf.  Our mom always kept hers right in the flour bin.
I often set my sifter on a paper plate right on my scale and weigh my flour, then add the other dry ingredients I want to blend into the flour and then sift it.  I just like getting out any flour lumps.
Read your recipe to see if you should sift your flour before or after measuring. 
  • Cookbooks before the 1940’s usually sift the flour, then lightly spoon it into a measuring cup…the result is usually 4 ounces of flour per cup. 
  • Cookbooks from the 60’s through the 80’s use the stir, spoon lightly into the cup and then level method…resulting in about 4 ½ ounces of flour per cup.
  • Recipes from the 1990’s on often just scoop the flour with the measuring cup and then level it…flour for those recipes usually weighs 5 ounces per cup. 
Often the cookbook will give you their flour measuring method and weight per cup in the introductory section of the book.  When in doubt, start with the smaller amount of flour…you can always add some if the mixture doesn’t look right to you.

All Purpose Flour...Peach Upside Down Cake

While searching for something different to bake with peaches I came upon this recipe for upside down cake. Baked it this weekend and it was very, very good.
My daughter and grandchildren were here and it was all eaten but two pieces. We let it get cold though the recipe suggested serving warm. Still good.
I did not have any buttermilk in the house, so soured some sweet milk instead.
One tablespoon of vinegar or lemon to a cup of milk and let set for five minutes or so. This makes a good subsitute and saves running to the store. I used the lemon juice as there is already lemon in the recipe. I also felt it needed a little spice so sprinkled a little nutmeg over the top when I took it out, Next time I think I will try using brown sugar with the peach mixture. If you use a One to One GF flour it works well. I use King Arthur though there are several on the market.
This was easy to make and I think would work with about any fruit. Plums or Pears maybe. I made this with fresh peach earlier this fall and with frozen peaches this time, but I think it could be made with drained canned peaches also. Maybe add a little more cornstarch if using canned fruit.
Peach Upside-Down Cake
Yield: 9 servings (serving size: 1 cake 
The sugar and fruit juice tossed with the peaches create a glaze as the cake bakes. 
3 cups thinly sliced peeled peaches (about 1 1/2 pounds) 
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 teaspoon cornstarch 
1 teaspoon lemon juice 
Cooking spray 
2/3 cup sugar 
1/4 cup butter, softened 
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 large egg 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/8 teaspoon salt 
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 350°. 
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a bowl. Spoon into a 9-inch round cake pan coated with cooking spray. 
Place 2/3 cup sugar and next 4 ingredients (2/3 cup sugar through egg) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (for about 5 minutes). Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add the flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition. 
Spoon batter over peach mixture in pan. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Place a plate upside down on top of cake, and invert onto plate.

Small Recipes...Baking and Cooking Less

Here are some more ideas for baking and cooking for one or to reduce recipes, mixes and cook smaller amounts to cut down on leftovers.  
Reducing Recipes:
One of the hardest parts of cutting down a baking recipe is using less than one egg.  I used to only reduce them down to one egg, and then the recipe still made too much.  
Here are a couple of ways to do it.
Use a medium egg for half egg – buy medium eggs, use one for half an egg in most baking recipes.  I save the small farm eggs I get for this purpose.  A half egg is also 2 tablespoons of beaten egg.  
I also substitute an egg yolk for half an egg for some recipes...I can use the white in another recipe.  This works in yellow cakes, most muffins and cookie doughs.
Split mixes like cake mixes, muffin mixes, pudding mixes - weigh the mix or measure the whole thing, divide in half and add half of the remaining ingredients.  You’ll only have to get this measurement once; then add it to a list so you’ll remember it.  For example, ½ of a 2 layer cake mix is about 1 ¾ cups, you need 2/3 cup water, ¼ cup oil and 1 egg to make a single layer or 6 cupcakes.
You can check the weight of the mix on the box…weigh out half and save the rest for next time.
Buy single layer cake mixes like Jiffy.
Use the same method with pudding or gelatin mixes like Jello.  Weigh out half or a third, then reduce your liquid the same way.
Smaller Recipes:
Bake cupcakes instead of cake...easier to freeze for single portions later...frost them when you serve them. 
Try fruit desserts like crisps and Betties instead of pies.  Easier to reduce the recipe.  Remember canned pie fillings freeze well…save the rest for next time.  Pie crust also freezes well; in patty or rolled out form.
Microwave frozen corn muffins or regular muffins 15-20 seconds and then toast them in your toaster oven until crisp...just like fresh baked! 
Toast leftover biscuits (top with butter, sugar and cinnamon), toast and butter cornbread leftovers – use your toaster oven.  
Home can in small jars – meat, poultry, soups, soup vegetables, any vegetables, fruits in pints, 12 ounce or ½ pint jars. 
Make fresh salad bottles languishing in the fridge.  Try Vinaigrette dressings or Creamy Dressings; they last several days.
Use thick white sauce– no need to have leftover cream soup.  Cream soups do freeze well too…you can weigh out half the can, and freeze the rest.
Microwave a single potato and then toast it in your toaster oven to crisp up the skin. 
Make patties and meatballs instead of loaves – they cook more quickly too.  Put extras in the freezer for another day, or try small loaves.
Brown up a whole pound of ground beef, freeze it in meal-size portions…less mess next time.

Alsatian Noodles

Here’s a recipe from one of our holiday dinners…one that included actually 2 traditional dishes from our family heritage…Alsatian Noodles and Ostakaka or Cottage Cheese Custard.  We enjoyed it with Christmas ham and buttered peas with pearl onions.
Pierre Franey, the French chef who was popular as The New York Times "60-Minute Gourmet", included this recipe in one of his cookbooks, saying that his mother called it Alsatian Noodles.  I expect she was correct, as our maternal Grandfather’s family emigrated from Alsace, and the recipe was handed down in the family.   The only other cookbook where I have seen the recipe was one with Mennonite recipes from a group that also originally emigrated from Alsace in France.  Myrna and I both still make it; and my husband requested it for this meal.  
Here is my version of the recipe; I occasionally make it with homemade noodles, Myrna likes it with much narrower noodles…it’s all good!  I give the weight of the dry noodles; as it is the same for wide or thin noodles.   This is quick, simple, inexpensive, and can be made close to the last minute.  
Alsatian Noodles or Noodles with Crumbs
  1 ½    Ounces  noodles -- dry
  3        Tablespoons  butter
  7        saltine cracker squares -- crumbled
Cook noodles in boiling water as package directs.  Drain.  In same saucepan, melt butter, let foam subside, add crumbs and brown lightly.  Add drained noodles and serve.
2 servings

All Purpose Flour...Lemon Cream Wafers

These pretty, dainty “tea” cookies simply melt in your mouth. They are a cross between butter pie crust and shortbread with a tangy filling. They are a nice addition to a cookie plate. Versions of these cookies are in many older cookbooks.  This recipe is much better than some similar cookies I purchased recently for $2.50 for only 18.  These only cost 97¢ for 2 dozen.
Lemon Cream Wafers
1 Cup Flour, All-purpose -- 4 1/2 ounces
1 Tablespoon Sugar
½ Cup Butter -- cold
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice plus 1 tablespoon ice water
1 Tablespoon Water if needed
Sunshine Filling
1 Cup Powdered Sugar -- sifted 3 1/2 ounces
1 Tablespoon Butter -- softened
½ Teaspoon Lemon Zest -- finely shredded or 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
2 Drops Yellow Food Coloring
2 -3 Teaspoons Milk
  • In medium mixing bowl, stir together flour and measured sugar. Cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Combine lemon juice and 1 tbsp. of water. Sprinkle HALF of the lemon juice mixture over part of the flour mixture; then gently toss with a fork, Push moistened portion to side of the bowl. Repeat with remaining juice mixture. If necessary, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp of water to moisten all of the flour mixture. Form dough into a ball.
  • On lightly floured surface, roll dough to SLIGHTLY LESS than 1/8 inch thickness. Using 1 1/2" round cookie cutter, cut dough into rounds. Place 1" apart on an ungreased or parchment lined cookie sheet. Lightly sprinkle with additional sugar.
  • Using the tines of a fork, prick 2-3 parallel rows of holes in each round. Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes until done. Let set on sheet a minute or two, then remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.
  • Meanwhile make filling, use 1/2 teaspoon of filling on each of half of the cookies; top with the remaining cookies.
  • About 2 dozen sandwich cookies.

Smaller Recipe Cooking and Baking - Appliances, dishes and pans

Myrna and I were talking about how hard it can be to cook for just 1 or 2 people. My sister-in-law Bonnie has the same problem.  We regularly cook for 1 or 2 and we don't like to eat leftovers for days.  We have a few ideas to share that work for us and give us more variety with less waste.   I hope a few of them will work for you too.  These aren't new ideas and we have talked about them before...but it's a good refresher to help you get on track and back to cooking regularly.
Smaller appliances can help – smaller coffee pots or one that makes 2-4 cups well or use a thermos for extra coffee.
Cuisinart mixer, OXO egg beater, Rösle whisks   
A hand-held electric mixer will whip up those cake and cookie recipes that are too small for your stand mixer.  An egg beater is handy too...OXO makes a current one that works well.  Smaller whisks for beating eggs and making small amounts of sauce help.
top to bottom:  Breville, Cuisinart, Krups toaster ovens   
A good quality toaster oven like Cuisinart, Krups or Breville – We bake quick breads, muffins, cookies, pies, fish, chicken, chops, small casseroles, etc. in mine – they only take 5-10 minutes to preheat, as well as make toast.  You will use a toaster oven like this so much; it pays to invest in a good one that has good temperature control.  Look for them on sale.
Measuring Cups and Spoons:
Look for a measuring cup and spoon set that contains lots of sizes - this set ranges from 1/8 cup to 2 cups...and the spoons have a big variety - from 1/32 teaspoon on up.  These help you halve recipes without having to do so much math and cost less than $10.

Clockwise; top left:  Old pyrex refrigerator dishes, 3 cup pyrex dish, 3/4 quart Corningware, Corningware individual casseroles,  Le Creuset 4x6" and 5 x 5" oven dishes,  
 Pans and Dishes:
I’ve found a 5” x 7” shallow glass refrigerator dish holds half of an 8”x8” or 7”x11” recipe – or ¼ of a 13” x 9” recipe.  I have bought these dishes at both Walmart and Target.  I have several for baking casseroles.
I have several small 8” pie plates (old) that hold only 2 cups of filling – half of a usual pie plate.  Look for them at antique malls, etc.  I paid $1 each. Then I make a half recipe of filling and freeze the rest.
Make individual pies in custard cups or small metal individual pans
Buy several sizes of custard cups and ramekins for desserts and even things like corn custard, etc.  I have even made cornbread in greased custard cups.
We like the small Le Creuset casseroles for one or two servings, they are good quality and often come in a set.
Top to bottom:  6 cup muffin pan, 7 x 11" roaster with rack, 3 x 5" loaf pans, 6" cake pans, 6 cup bundt pan, 5" pie plates and heart-shaped molds     
6 cup Bundt pans and loaf pans make half of tube or Bundt pan recipes (check the capacity of your loaf pan by measuring cups of water in it).
The small baking pans work for desserts, breads, cakes and pies for one or two.  Cupcake or muffin pans make those recipes easy to freeze as individual portions.
Toaster oven sets, like this one from Nordic Ware, also help with small portion cooking.