If you’ve ever baked a thing in your life, then you’ve come across different kinds of sugar. While most folks end up using plain white sugar, there’s so many more sugar types out there.
Most of them refer to how refined the sugar is, and how fine it is. So what do you do when you’ve got powdered sugar on the ingredient list, but only have icing sugar at home ? Aren’t the the same ? Well, let’s take a look.
Is icing sugar the same as powdered sugar ?
Icing sugar and powdered sugar are the same, in that both are made up of very finely ground white sugar and come in powdered form. In some places, like America, pre-made powdered sugar or icing sugar may be blended with a little cornstarch to prevent it from clumping.
One of the reasons you have two ingredients on the list is that whomever wrote it may life in a country that simply has different names for the same item, depending on it’s used.
But they are essentially the same. Now let’s talk a little about each item so we understand why they can be called different things.
What is icing sugar ?
Icing sugar is just powdered white sugar, and the reason it’s called icing sugar is because, well, t’s use for icing cakes. Most icings are made of buttercream, which is just plain butter mixed with powdered sugar so it blends better.
If you were to use regular, granulated sugar it wouldn’t melt into the butter. The frosting would be granulated and you’d have to overmix it. This goes for any cream, even if it goes between the cake layers or on a pastry and it’s not made of butter.
In short, icing sugar has a different name because folks are used to the pre-made products, and they can simply grab the clearly labeled items for whatever they need.
What is powdered sugar ?
Powdered sugar is just plain white sugar that has been blended or ground into a very fine powder. This can be done at home too, as long as you’ve got a spice grinder and some patience.
This powdered sugar can be used in icings (as an icing sugar, since it’s the same), or as a dusting over cookies, or really in any way you like it.
Powdered sugar has much smaller granules, so it will melt much faster. If you use powdered sugar in a cookie mix and go by sight not by weight, you’d end up with much sweeter cookies.
Since the granules are so small, they can easily fool you if you need a cup of sugar, as opposed to exactly 12 oz.
Why the cornstarch matters
Now what’s this about adding cornstarch to sugar ? Yes, some countries add that to their sugars, be it plain granulated sugar, caster sugar, or powdered sugar. The reason is humidity.
Sugar can get clumpy real fast when exposed to humid air, and some producers choose to mix in a very small amount of cornstarch, as an anti-caking agent.
This ensures the sugar is clump-free and will be easy to sift.
This isn’t the case for brown sugar, since that has a higher moisture level and as such may clump together. The moisture is from the leftover molasses.
So when you look at the ingredient list on your recipe, also check the ingredients on the sugar bag. Does it say it has some added cornstarch ? Then you can expect whatever you make to come out just a little bit thicker. To be fair though, the amount of cornstarch added is very small, meaning it won’t have a significant impact on your baked goods.
Can you substitute one for the other ?
Yes, you can substitute icing sugar for powdered sugar. In fact, you can also use confectioner’s sugar because, guess what ? It’s just another name for the exact same item.
The reason confectioner’s sugar is called differently is because confectioners were the ones making all sorts of sweets and complex cakes or pastries. They often needed powdered sugar, so it also became known as confectioner’s sugar.
In reality, it’s the same powdered sugar found in icing sugar. As the holidays approach this debate really needs to be settled in everyone’s head. It adds a lot of unnecessary stress to something that shouldn’t be a problem.
Making your own powdered sugar
IF you’ve got a spice grinder at home you can easily make powdered sugar or icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar. You can even throw in a little cornstarch if you’re making a large batch and don’t want it clumping.
Could you use a blender ? We don’t recommend this, as you’d need a grinder to catch all the particles. In a typical blander the blades are in different directions, and you usually add water to make a cohesive mix for the blender to cut through.
But if all you’ve got are a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, the blades won’t pick it up and it will sit uselessly at the bottom.
So, you need a grinder, like a burr grinder. It could be a spice grinder, a coffee grinder, an old-timey hand-wound grinder, anything of the sorts. As long as it’s got a small port and will actually interact with the sugar.
Keep the grinder running only until you’ve got some very fine powder. Tilt it a little in each direction to make sure all the sugar gets ground down.
When you stop it, be very careful when removing the lid. Often there’s a lot of fallout and you can get powdered sugar everywhere. And that’s it, your very own powdered sugar ! Congrats !
If you’ve got any other food curiosities be sure to check the related articles below, we’re always adding more food facts to make your life that much easier.