It's easy to take powdered sugar for granted...until you don't have it. The quietly dependable ingredient can add just the right touch of airy sweetness to your baked goods and frostings. When it isn't there, it really puts a damper on your baking plans. This is especially true when you're pressed for time and can't drop everything for an emergency trip to the store. If this has ever happened to you, you probably eyeballed your pantry in search of any easy substitution. If you're out of powdered sugar but you've got regular sugar on hand, you may be wondering if the two are interchangeable. To find out if you can substitute powdered sugar and regular sugar, we consulted with Felicia Howard of Felicia's Cake Factory in Macon, Georgia, and Will Drake of Hero Doughnuts and Buns with locations in Birmingham, Atlanta, and Charleston.
What is the Difference Between Regular Sugar and Powdered Sugar?
According to Howard, powdered sugar (sometimes referred to as confectioners' sugar) is a form of sugar that has been crushed very finely. The result, as the name implies, is a fluffy substance much more powdery than gritty regular or granulated sugar. The texture of powdered sugar is perfect for frosting or dusting the top of pastries.
Can You Substitute Regular Sugar for Powdered Sugar?
Drake says substituting regular sugar for powdered sugar isn't ideal. "Regular sugar has a larger crystal size than powdered sugar," he explains. "This means, cup for cup, there would be more sugar in a cup of powdered sugar than in a cup of regular sugar." In addition to inconsistent measurements, regular sugar won't dissolve and mix as well into recipes like frosting and icing. You'll end up with a grainy, unappealing texture. Lastly, store-bought powdered sugar generally includes corn starch, which prevents it from caking together. This can lead to unpredictable outcomes when you interchange the two.
Can You Make Powdered Sugar From Regular Sugar?
If you find yourself in a pinch and in need of powdered sugar, it's easy to convert regular sugar into powdered sugar. According to Drake, simply take regular sugar and run it through a blender or food processor until it's fluffy and fine. When you're through, take a small amount and rub it between your fingers to make sure the grit is gone and you've achieved the right consistency. "You can sub this out for any recipe calling for powdered sugar if you need to" he says. "I've done this before and it really works."
What is the Best Substitute for Regular Sugar?
If you've run out of regular sugar, the best substitute is brown sugar. Brown sugar can be substituted for regular sugar on a one-to-one basis, so no fancy math or guesswork is necessary. Be aware, however, that brown sugar has a rich, molasses flavor. It lends itself beautifully to chocolate chip cookies or even banana bread, but may not work as well for lighter, delicate recipes like tea cakes or lemon bars.