Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar has the smallest crystal size of any of the white sugars, as small as 0.01 millimeters. It’s also known as “confectioner’s” or “icing” sugar depending on where you live. The tiny crystals make it good for dusting and of course making frostings and icings. The only major drawback to powdered sugar is its flavor and texture which can be chalky. The reason, because powdered sugar contains up to about 3% corn starch, which is there to absorb moisture and keep the tiny crystals from clumping.

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15 Responses to Powdered Sugar

  1. Jackie says:

    The brand icing sugar I get where I live is a UK product which lists E341 (Tricalcium Phosphate) as the anti-caking agent. I always used to wonder about the chalky texture I used to read about until someone brought me a bag of Domino brand confectioner’s sugar from the US. I made a simple water icing with it and compared to what I was used to it had a slightly soapy taste (if soapy is the best way to describe it) and it somehow seemed less sweet.

    • Rick Turner says:

      As an addition, in Australia we also have “pure icing sugar”, which (I believe) has no caking agent and a superior taste by far

      • joepastry says:

        Interesting. I don’t think we have that here. I wonder how it retains its consistency?

        I’ll see if I can find out, Rick!

        - Joe

        • Heather says:

          Rick is correct. Pure icing sugar is exactly what it says on the label. It is powdered sugar with no additives. It goes lumpy very soon after opening so I only buy it when I have a specific need, such as royal icing. The rest of the time I use icing sugar mixture, which is powdered sugar mixed with up to around 5% cornflour. This does not go lumpy if kept in an airtight container. It is used for stuff like buttercream, sweetening whipped cream etc.

          Here is a link with more information:

          http://www.sugaraustralia.com.au/CrystalSugars.aspx

          • joepastry says:

            Very interesting, Heather. My guess is that there’s something like that available as a specialty product in the States, but I’ve just not come across it. But it’s definitely not something you see in stores. Thanks for the comment!

            - Joe

  2. Chana says:

    On Passover, Eastern European Jews do not eat “kitniyot” (legumes), and corn products fall into this category. (It’s not really a legume, but let’s leave that aside for now.) So confectioner’s sugar for Passover is mixed with potato starch (instead of corn starch). I usually whiz some granulated sugar in the blender to make my own confectioner’s sugar if I need it for holiday baking. In small batches it keeps fine without clumping for several days, but it has to be stored airtight and I suppose climate plays a big role here. If it does clump, then it can be sifted. There really is a difference in taste.

    FYI — a couple of years ago I had some confectioner’s sugar left over after the holiday and decided to make macarons. I halved the batter and put “pure” confectioner’s sugar in one batch, and “regular” confectioner’s sugar in the other. I wanted to see if the starch in the sugar really made a difference in how the macarons baked, as quite a few recipes make this claim. Now I’m no expert, but I can tell you that both batches came out with beautiful smooth shells and wonderful frilly feet. So don’t let those recipes scare ya!

  3. Nicole says:

    King Arthur makes a “glazing sugar” that’s just confectioner’s sugar without the cornstarch. Mind you, I’ve never seen it in stores, but you can order it from their website. Since you’re a fan of their flour, I figured you might be interested.

  4. germaine says:

    Joe, thanks for your interesting sugar articles! I have a LOT of powdered sugar in my house at the moment, and not a lot of granulated sugar. Can I replace granulated with powdered in baking recipes? Is the substitution 1:1 ?

    Thank you

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Germaine!

      Unfortunately you can’t most of the time, I’m sorry to say. Those bigger crystals are needed for the way they poke holes in butter and attract water. Powdered can also introduce a slight cereal taste to some recipes because of the corn starch. But it’s great for icings and pastry creams and such! Make doughnuts by any chance? ;)

      Good luck!

      - Joe

  5. Maggy says:

    Last night I made an Apple cake..and with not a lot in the house, I decided to use the bag of confectioners sugar to make a simple glaze. My husband said to use milk even though I grew up with my Dad using water. It tasted so very disgusting. Like soap or perfume. I couldn’t..yuck!! I threw the piece of cake out. Is it because the sugar may be bad? I admit it has been sitting in the cabinet for some time..maybe over a year or more. Could even be two, I honestly can’t even remember when we bought it. Any ideas are welcome :) Thank you!!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Maggy!

      Sorry to hear about the experience! The sugar can’t really go bad, but over a period of years it can get rather stale and take on musty sorts of flavors. Adding the milk probably didn’t help anything. That’s pretty much my best guess!

      Better luck next time!

      - Joe

  6. Maggy says:

    Aw man..I read the other dates wrong. These are all from last year!!! Wah. I am silently hoping for a reply.. ha. I feel ridiculous now.

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