What Is Powdered Sugar?

Powdered sugar is often confused with confectioners’ sugar, granulated sugar, or icing sugar. The difference between them lies in their granulation. Powdered sugar has finer grains than confectioners’ sugar. It also dissolves easily into liquids.

Confectioners’ sugar is a coarsely ground white powder that is commonly added to baked goods such as cakes and cookies. It adds sweetness and helps prevent icings from sinking into the cake batter.

Icing sugar is a finely ground white powder that is usually mixed with water before being applied to food. It is used to add moisture and texture to frostings and glazes.

Both types of sugar are interchangeable in recipes. They both contain cornstarch, which gives baked goods a nice crumbliness. But today we’ll be talking about the powdered stuff.

What Exactly Is Powdered Sugar?

Simply put, powdered sugar is a finely ground form of granulated white sugar. Granulated sugar is already finely ground; however, commercial powdered sugar is also mixed up with small but mighty amounts of cornstarch that act as an anti-caking agent, preventing the formation of large clumps.

This gives powdered sugar a finer texture than granulated sugar, making it easier to mix into frosting and icing recipes.

If you’re looking for something similar to confectioners’ sugar, try sifting some superfine sugar over cake batter or cookie dough. You’ll notice that it doesn’t stick together as granulated sugar does.

What Is Powdered Sugar Used For?

While some people use powdered sugar as a finishing touch, others prefer to keep things simple. If you want to make something sweet, there’s nothing wrong with simply adding a pinch of powdered sugar to whatever recipe calls for regular sugar.

In fact, most baking recipes include instructions like “creaming butter and sugar,” meaning that you’ll beat butter and sugar together until the mixture turns into a smooth mass.

This process creates millions of tiny air bubbles throughout the batter, which gives baked goods a lighter texture. However, if you’d rather avoid the extra step of creaming butter and sugars, just add a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar to your batter.

The fine texture of the powder helps the fat molecules cling to each other much better, creating a smoother, fluffier final product. If you’ve ever tried to mix the icing sugar with butter, you know how difficult it is to achieve that perfect consistency.

By contrast, powdered sugar dissolves easily into liquids, such as milk or water. If you’re looking to bake something moist and tender, look for recipes that contain powdered sugar.

How Do You Make Powdered Sugar?

What Is Powdered Sugar?

Making your own powdered sugar at home requires just three simple steps: combine equal parts granulated sugar and corn starch; add water slowly while blending, and pour into a container. The resulting powdery mixture will keep indefinitely without refrigeration.

The classic ratio of sugar to cornstarch is one part sugar to two parts cornstarch. But we’ve found that even though our ratio yields slightly less powdered sugar than what we’re used to making, it makes a much finer texture.

This could be because we use a high-powered blender, but we suspect it’s because we don’t grind the sugar as finely as others do. If you’re looking for a fine texture, try grinding the sugar first.

The recipe for powdered sugar calls for 2 cups sugar and 1 cup cornstarch. You might want to adjust the proportions according to how thick you’d like your powdered sugar to be.

If you’re planning on making a lot of powdered sugar, consider buying a large-capacity blender, or food processor. A smaller blender won’t work well for this task to make such fine powder.

Why Does Powdered Sugar Contain Cornstarch?

The answer to why we add cornstarch to our powdered sugar lies in the fact that cornstarch keeps powdered sugar from caking. However, most store-bought powdered sugar contains cornstarch because of its anti-clumping properties.

This is great news for people like me who love making homemade powdered sugar but hate having to buy powdered sugar every few months just because it gets too hard to use.

To avoid this problem, simply make sure to keep powdered sugar stored properly. If you’re storing it in the refrigerator, do not let it sit out for longer than 24 hours.

Also, once you’ve opened up the container, mix it immediately. You’ll find that cornstarch works best in powdered sugar when it is freshly mixed, and has a smooth consistency, like refined sugars. 

A food processor should do the job because of the way a food processor finely grinds down the powder.

How Long Should It Last?

If you buy powdered sugar, don’t worry about the expiration date. If you’re making it yourself, however, you’ll want to know how long it lasts once it’s been mixed into icing or frosting.

A box of powdered sugar usually contains 3 cups of granulated sugar, and some recipes call for just 2 tablespoons of the stuff. So, what happens if you mix up too much of the stuff?

In most cases, the powdered sugar will keep well for several months if stored in a cool place away from sunlight. But there are exceptions.

You might find that certain brands of powdered sugar go rancid faster than others. And even within a brand, different batches of the same product could vary widely in terms of flavor and texture.

So, unless you’re planning to store it in your pantry indefinitely, we recommend buying powdered sugar in small quantities and mixing it up as needed. Make sure to keep it in an airtight container too, as an airtight container will keep it for longer.

Final Thoughts

Powdered sugar is an essential ingredient in many baked goods, including cookies, cakes, pies, and brownies. It also adds a nice crunch to pastries and other desserts.

But powdered sugar isn’t just for baking. It can be used as a finishing touch for ice cream sundaes, fruit salads, and cocktails. It can also be sprinkled over hot chocolate, coffee, and tea.

And while it may seem like a hassle to have to buy powdered sugar sometimes, it’s actually quite easy to make at home. Just follow these simple instructions, and you’ll soon be whipping up delicious treats without ever leaving your kitchen!

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Kathryn Sewell

Hi! I'm Kate and I have been baking and cooking for as long as I can remember. I like to share the most interesting tips and recipes I try here on What Kate Baked for you to enjoy. If you have a favorite recipe you'd like to share send it over on social.

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