What is Confectioner's Sugar?

Michael Pollick

A number of desserts and sweets are not complete without a final dusting of confectioner's sugar, also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar. It is actually granulated sugar that has been mechanically ground into a very fine powder. This powdered form of sugar is commonly used to make cake frostings, sugar glazes, dessert sauces, and decorative icings. It's also used to provide additional sweetness to fried donuts, funnel cakes, and beignets.

Donuts.
Donuts.

Confectioner's sugar is rarely used as a substitute for regular granulated sugar in recipes for a number of reasons. The ratio of powdered to granulated sugar would make most recipes cost-prohibitive, for one thing. This type of sugar also does not tolerate long periods of heat, which makes it much more suitable for cold icings and glazes, not heated sauces or custards. It also usually contains up to 3% cornstarch as an anti-caking agent. Although some specialty stores do carry sugar without such additives, but it is intended primarily for commercial candy companies and bakeries.

Confectioner's sugar sprinkled on Belgian waffles.
Confectioner's sugar sprinkled on Belgian waffles.

Most of the confectioner's sugar sold in grocery stores has been ground ten times, which explains the 10x designation on the packaging. Some specialty stores carry other grades, such as a 4x or 6x grind, which are generally used for specific commercial food products. For most home purposes, a standard 10x box or bag should perform well enough.

Confectioner's sugar being sprinkled with a sifter.
Confectioner's sugar being sprinkled with a sifter.

It is possible to create confectioner's sugar at home by placing standard granulated sugar in a blender and grinding it into a powder. Homemade powdered sugar should be used soon after grinding or stored in a cool, dry area. It will absorb moisture from the surrounding area if left unprotected, so cooks should keep it wrapped tightly in a lidded jar or plastic bag. Sugar does not need to be refrigerated or frozen, but it should be protected from insects.

Granulated sugar can be pulverized in a blender to create confectioner's sugar.
Granulated sugar can be pulverized in a blender to create confectioner's sugar.

Confectioner's sugar can also be kept in an oversized shaker and served along with other breakfast condiments such as syrup, butter, and cinnamon. Many people enjoy sprinkling it over pancakes, french toast or Belgian waffles. A dusting can also provide some additional sweetness to fruit compotes and gourmet coffee drinks.

Horehound candy coated with confectioner's sugar.
Horehound candy coated with confectioner's sugar.

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Discussion Comments

anon342090

I think it is sugar that is processed in a different manner.

anon181171

is standard icing sugar the right one to use when making macaroons?

anon153244

about 3.5 cups make a pound of confectioners sugar. it's 3.486, to be exact.

anon116005

I once heard of heating frosting made with confectioners sugar in a double boiler briefly, to cut the taste of the corn starch. Is this really effective?

anon64820

how many cups are in a pound of confectioners sugar?

anon44486

Traditionally, confectioners sugar is actually 2 cups violet petals and 1 cup caster sugar left to steep.

Violets are fairly hard periennial plants to grow, but the whole plant is edible and much in demand - there is invariably a world wide shortage. Top confectioners snap up supplies in the blink of an eye.

anon41369

wondering the same thing - how long is confectioner's good to use?

anon25644

What is the actual definition of confectioners/powdered sugar?

bigmetal

how long does confectioner's sugar stay good in your cupboard? i rarely use it, but i have noticed on occasion that old confectioner's sugar can taste a little stale.

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