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What is Powdered Sugar?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Powdered sugar is very fine sugar known by numerous names. It can be alternately called confectioner’s sugar, icing sugar, frosting sugar, and 10X or 4X sugar. This sweet treat is preferred in numerous baking applications because it dissolves quickly. As the name icing sugar implies, powdered sugar is frequently used in various forms of frosting.

This form of sugar is derived from granulated sugar made from sugar beets or sugar cane. It can have an additional ingredient, cornstarch, which helps to keep the sugar from clumping. Essentially, granulated sugar is ground into a finer sugar to make the powdered form.

Most people shopping for this ingredient at the store don’t know that it comes in a variety of grades referring to how finely it is ground. 14X is typically the highest grind, but this may not be shown on labels, and for most home baking it isn’t necessary to buy a specific grind. Higher grinds do dissolve more quickly and may be more suited for things like whipping cream.

Another classification for powdered sugar is fine and superfine. This description refers to grain size. Superfine confectioner’s sugar has much smaller grains than does fine powdered sugar, but again, not all boxes or packages in stores carry this labeling.

Even though icing sugar contains cornstarch it may still clump at times. It can help to sift the sugar to get accurate measurements of sugar amounts and to eliminate any small clumps that may be hard to mix into wet ingredients. This step isn’t generally necessary when dipping things like donuts in powdered sugar.

The issue of dipping brings up another frequent use of this form of sugar. It can either be used to dip things like cookies or other baked goods or it can be sprinkled on the top of simple cakes. Gingerbread or brownies can be delicious with a bit of powdered sugar on top, and breakfast foods like french toast can be topped with it. Try waffles with whipped cream, confectioner’s sugar and fresh strawberries as an alternative to waffles covered in syrup.

Though most people purchase confectioner’s sugar in the grocery store, it is possible to make finely ground sugar at home. This does require a blender, granulated sugar, and cornstarch. With these ingredients on hand, confectioner’s sugar can be made in a pinch.

To make powdered sugar, combine a cup of granulated sugar with about two tablespoons of cornstarch in the blender (about 227 grams of sugar and 57 grams of cornstarch). Blend until the sugar reaches a fine powder. Let the sugar sit for approximately 15 minutes prior to using.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By chicada — On Jul 29, 2010

@ Cougars- Powdered sugar icing is easy to make. Simply mix 1 stick of butter, 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar, 1-2 tablespoons of whole milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with a hand mixer until fluffy and smooth.

To make a chocolate frosting, just add a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder. If you are making chocolate cake or brownies, you can even make a nice peanut butter frosting. Use the same base recipe, but add 3/4 cups of smooth peanut butter and another tablespoon or two of milk.

By Glasshouse — On Jul 29, 2010

@ Cougars- Caster sugar is simply super fine granulated sugar. It gets its name because it is fine enough to be shaken through a fine caster (shaker). Recipes often call for caster sugar because it dissolves faster than granulated sugar, but does not contain the starch added to powdered sugar in the manufacturing process.

For your icing, you can substitute powdered sugar frosting. Powdered sugar will work because it dissolves quickly and the starch will have no effect on the consistency of your frosting.

In your cake, you should probably use granulated sugar because its taste properties are closer to caster sugar. Powdered sugar will make the pores in your chiffon cake a little larger, but will not affect the overall quality of the cake.

If you have a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder you can make your own caster sugar. Simply blend granulated sugar until it looks powdered, but you can still feel tiny granules.

By cougars — On Jul 29, 2010

What is caster sugar? Can I use powdered sugar as a substitute for caster sugar? I asked the baker at my local grocery store what caster sugar is and he did not seem to know. The recipe I am making calls for caster sugar both in the chiffon cake and in the frosting. Should I use powdered sugar or granulated sugar as a substitute? Someone please help!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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