What Is Confectioners' Sugar?

Buying, Baking, and Recipes

Blueberry tart with confectioners' sugar

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Confectioners' sugar is used to refer to any of a variety of refined sugars that have been finely ground into a powdery form. It's simply another name for powdered sugar (in the U.S.) and icing sugar (in the U.K. and Canada). You might even hear it called "10X sugar," indicating how much finer the consistency is than table sugar (also called granulated sugar). The texture makes it ideally suited for icing, frosting, candy, and fudge. It can also create melt-in-your-mouth cookies or be used as a decorative dusting over desserts, baked items, and fruit.

Fast Facts

  • Other Names: Powdered sugar, icing sugar, 10X sugar
  • Common Uses: Frosting, icing, dusting, dense baked goods
  • Melting Point: 160 to 186 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Shelf Life: Best within two years
  • Storage: Airtight container in a dry, cool place

Confectioners' Sugar vs. Baker's Sugar

Confectioners' sugar is not the same as baker's sugar, which is also called superfine sugar or caster sugar. Both are ground versions of granulated sugar (either cane or beet sugar), While finer than granulated sugar, baker's sugar is not powdery like confectioners' sugar. 

Varieties

Though most home bakers will not notice the difference, there are different types of powdered sugar. These are designated by the particle size, ranging from very fine 10X sugar to XXXX and XXX. The more X's, the finer the particles.

Confectioners' Sugar Uses

The finer particles make confectioners' sugar perfect for creating sweet foods that need a smooth consistency. It's the preferred sugar for baked good decorations like frosting, icing, and dusting. You'll also see it used often in candy and fudge recipes as well as dense cookie and dessert bar recipes. It dissolves very easily, so can be used in beverages like homemade chocolate milk.

How to Cook With Confectioners' Sugar

Despite its fine texture, some recipes recommend sifting confectioners' sugar to make it even fluffier and remove lumps. You will find that organic confectioners' sugar, as well as some nonorganic versions, is a bit clumpy, so sifting would be helpful for every use in these cases.

Confectioners' sugar behaves differently than other forms of sugar in recipes and there's generally a reason it's used instead of granulated sugar. For instance, icings, frostings, and candies use confectioners' sugar because it dissolves easily and provides a smooth consistency. Granulated sugar won't give the same snowy-topped effect that confectioners' gives when dusted on top of desserts. When dusting, use a fine-mesh sieve (strainer) or sifter so it's as light as possible.

Also, some cookie and cake recipes call for powdered sugar because the goal is a denser consistency. When creaming butter and sugar, granulated sugar's larger crystals incorporate more air into doughs than confectioners' sugar. A cookie made with granulated sugar will be crispy while one made with powdered sugar will be tender and melt-in-your-mouth.

What Does It Taste Like?

Confectioners' sugar tastes just as sweet as granulated sugar. Its fine texture gives it a smoother mouthfeel that's like eating a powder.

Confectioners' Sugar Substitute

You can use granulated sugar when the recipe calls for powdered sugar in certain situations. Candy and other smooth-textured sweets are generally not ok (use the recommended type of sugar), but it can work in things like cookies and cakes. While the recipe won't turn out exactly as intended, it will have the proper sweetness as long as you use the proper amount.

Generally, it's recommended to use 1 cup of granulated sugar for 1 3/4 cups of powdered sugar. A more accurate (and easier) way to substitute the sugars is based on weight, not volume. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of powdered sugar (4 ounces, or 113 grams), you should use 4 ounces of granulated sugar.

The other option is to make your own confectioners' sugar out of granulated sugar. Simply place granulated sugar in a blender or spice or coffee grinder and pulse until it's a fine powder. Commercial confectioners' sugar contains about 3 percent cornstarch to prevent it from clumping up. If you're grinding your own and using it right away, clumping shouldn't be an issue. If you want to add cornstarch, use 1 tablespoon for each cup of confectioners' sugar.

Confectioners' Sugar Recipes

It's always good to have confectioners' sugar in the pantry. You can dust fritters, cakes, and pancakes or incorporate the sugar into smooth frostings and bake up luscious cookies. It's also commonly used to sweeten candy.

Where to Buy Confectioners' Sugar

Any grocery store should have at least one option for confectioners' sugar, though most will have a few brands to choose from in the baking aisle. It's most often sold in 2-pound plastic packaging or 1-pound boxes and costs just a couple of dollars (10X or organic options may cost a little more). Unless you bake a lot, one package will last a long time, so it's typically a great value.

Storage

Moisture will cause any sugar to harden and confectioners' sugar is no exception, though it generally gets lumpy due to the cornstarch. Store it in an airtight container. Either place the open package in a plastic zipper bag or transfer the sugar to a canister or container with a really good seal. Keep the container in a cool, dry location, such as a cupboard away from heat or in the pantry. Unopened packages of powdered sugar can be stored indefinitely, but it is best to use it (opened or not) within two years.