Powdered sugar, also known as confectioners' sugar or icing sugar, is a must-have ingredient for any baker. This fine, powdery sugar adds sweetness, moisture, and tenderness to cookies, cakes, frostings, glazes and more. But what exactly can you make with powdered sugar?
What is Powdered Sugar?
Powdered sugar, or confectioners' sugar, is simply regular granulated sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. It often contains a small amount of cornstarch, which helps prevent caking. The fineness of the powdered sugar is what sets it apart from granulated sugar.
Powdered sugar is used commonly in baking recipes that need a smooth, creamy texture like frostings, glazes, and buttercreams. It dissolves more easily than granulated sugar, making it ideal for recipes where you want sweetness without grittiness. Powdered sugar also helps baked goods hold moisture.
Replacing some or all of the flour in a recipe with powdered sugar results in softer, more tender cookies, cakes, muffins and breads. The lack of gluten allows for a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Now that you know the basics of powdered sugar, let's look at 25 amazing ways to use it!
1. Shortbread Cookies
Buttery, tender, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies get a touch of sweetness from powdered sugar. Shortbread dough contains flour, butter, sugar and little else. Replacing some of the flour with powdered sugar gives you deliciously crumbly, sandy cookies that aren't overly sweet. Dust the cookies with more powdered sugar or dip them halfway in chocolate for a decadent treat!
2. Sugar Cookies
Chewy sugar cookies are a classic dessert perfect for decorating for holidays and celebrations. A bit of powdered sugar in the dough lends tenderness and ensures a soft, cakey texture. Rolled in sparkling white powdered sugar or drizzled with a powdered sugar glaze, these cookies look as pretty as they taste. Make them your own with fun cookie cutters and colorful sprinkles.
3. Red Velvet Cake
Red velvet cake gets its signature red color from cocoa powder, and its fluffy, tender crumb from buttermilk and a bit of powdered sugar. The powdered sugar lightens up the texture so you get soft, moist cake layers. And what would red velvet cake be without luxurious cream cheese frosting made with powdered sugar? This Southern classic is perfectly balanced, not too sweet but with plenty of tangy and creamy flavors.
4. Cinnamon Rolls
Is there anything better than waking up on a weekend morning to the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls? Powdered sugar adds moisture and tenderness to the soft, pillowy dough. And it's essential for creating the thick, rich cream cheese frosting that takes these cinnamon rolls over the top. Make a pan on a lazy Sunday morning and enjoy them all week!
5. Lemon Bars
Pucker up for lemon bars with a powdered sugar crust! The powdered sugar combines with butter and flour to create a crisp, lightly sweet shortbread crust. The bars are filled with a tangy-sweet lemon curd, then dusted with more powdered sugar for a pretty finish. With bright citrus flavor and just the right balance of textures, these lemon bars are sure to be a hit.
6. Sugar Cookie Bars
All the flavor of decorated holiday sugar cookies, but in easy bar cookie form. The powdered sugar cookie dough bakes up chewy and cakey. While it's still warm, you spread on sweet vanilla frosting and sprinkle on any toppings you like. Once cool, you can cut into bars for a pretty and delicious treat. Make them for Valentine's Day, Christmas, or any festive gathering.
Key Takeaway: Powdered sugar adds moisture and tenderness to baked goods for a soft, delicate texture.
7. Funfetti Cupcakes
A birthday party classic, funfetti cupcakes rely on powdered sugar for their fluffy crumb and billowy frosting. A bit of powdered sugar in the vanilla cupcake batter keeps them soft and pillowy. And powdered sugar is one of the key ingredients in vanilla buttercream frosting. Top with rainbow sprinkles for irresistible nostalgic flavor and charm. Kids and adults alike will love these festive cupcakes.
8. Glazed Doughnuts
Who can resist the glossy, shiny perfection of a glazed doughnut? The sweet glaze coating the warm doughnuts is often made by whisking powdered sugar into milk, cream, or another liquid. You end up with a smooth, pourable glaze that hardens just a bit as it cools. Homemade glazed doughnuts are surprisingly easy to whip up with just a few ingredients, including powdered sugar.
9. French Macarons
These delicate French almond cookies are famously tricky to make at home. Using powdered sugar when making the macaron batter is essential for achieving the signature smooth dome shape and that distinctive "foot" or ruffle around the base. Once baked, macarons are sandwiched together with sweet buttercream, ganache or jam. Dust with more powdered sugar or decorate for a stunning presentation.
10. Meringue Cookies
Light and airy meringue cookies are made by whipping egg whites and slowly incorporating sugar. Powdered sugar is ideal here as it dissolves seamlessly into the meringue for a smooth texture. The lack of gluten from the powdered sugar allows the cookies to remain tender. They hold their shape while baking but the inside stays soft and marshmallow-like.
11. Buttercream Frosting
From cupcakes to cakes and more, this classic frosting adored by bakers gets its creamy texture and sheen from powdered sugar. Butter, milk or cream, extract and powdered sugar are whipped together into a fluffy frosting that is infinitely spreadable and pipeable. Make it chocolate or fruit flavored, or keep it simple with vanilla. Powdered sugar is a must for silky, decadent buttercream.
12. Mexican Wedding Cookies
These tender, melt-in-your-mouth cookie bites are coated in powdered sugar, giving them their signature soft, crumbly texture. Also known as Mexican wedding cakes or snowball cookies, they're made with butter, flour and finely chopped nuts. The high powdered sugar content causes them to fall apart in your mouth. Roll them in more powdered sugar before serving for sweet, nutty perfection.
The name says it all! Snickerdoodles get their flavor from a coating of cinnamon sugar. Powdered sugar added to the batter keeps them soft and cake-like. They have subtle sweetness and spice. Make them on the smaller side of cookie recipes for the perfect pairing with coffee or tea. The powdered sugar is key to creating the signature taste and texture.
14. Sugar Cookie Truffles
For a fun spin on ordinary sugar cookies, try truffle versions coated in powdered sugar. Make a basic sugar cookie dough, perhaps with festive sprinkles mixed in. Roll into balls, coat in powdered sugar, and refrigerate. The powdered sugar outside combined with the soft cookie interior creates truffles with contrasting textures. Serve cold for dessert or bring to a party.
15. Vanilla Pudding Cake
This classic comforting dessert consists of a vanilla pudding layer on the bottom and a light cake layer on top. Powdered sugar is added to the dry ingredients for the cake batter, which gives it a delicate crumb. As the cake bakes, the pudding layer bubbles up around the edges. Top it off with even more silky vanilla pudding for double the goodness!
16. Jam Thumbprints
Thumbprint cookies take on new flavor with homemade jam tucked inside each indentation. The shortbread-like dough is made tender with powdered sugar. Scoop small balls of dough, make an indent with your thumb, and fill with jam. A final coating of powdered sugar adds sweetness and becomes the "glue" that holds the jam in place. Raspberry and apricot jam are delicious choices.
17. Hot Chocolate Cookies
For the ultimate chocolate lover's cookie, hot cocoa mix and powdered sugar come together to create cookies that taste just like a mug of hot chocolate - with marshmallows! Mix powdered sugar into the batter, then roll balls of dough in hot cocoa mix to coat. Bake, then top each warm cookie with a marshmallow or marshmallow fluff.
18. Coffee Cake
With its crumbly, sugary topping, coffee cake is a beloved accompaniment for your morning cup of joe. The tender, slightly dense cake itself benefits from a bit of powdered sugar for moisture and structure. Whole wheat flour can sometimes make coffee cake too dense or dry, so powdered sugar counteracts that. Enjoy this old-fashioned cake for breakfast or dessert.
19. Marshmallow Buttercream
If you like marshmallows in your hot cocoa, why not add them to frosting? Marshmallow buttercream includes powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, and lots of mini marshmallows. Beat the powdered sugar into the creamed butter to ensure a silky base. Then fold in piles of marshmallows for the ultimate fluffy, sweet frosting that's a winner on cupcakes and cakes.
French-style crisp yet chewy macarons sandwiches are one of the trendiest cookies, and powdered sugar is indispensable when creating the delicate meringue-based batter. Once baked, they are filled with everything from chocolate-hazelnut to lemon curd. A final coating of powdered sugar gives them an elegant, professional beauty. It takes skill to master macarons, but powdered sugar will give you a head start!
21. Powdered Sugar Icing
This simple icing made from powdered sugar, milk or cream, and flavorings, can glaze everything from cookies and donuts to cakes and cinnamon rolls. Adjust the liquid to reach your desired consistency. Powdered sugar dissolves easily for a smooth, glossy sheen. Flavor it with extracts, cocoa powder, lemon juice or anything you like. Drizzle it or use it as "glue" to hold gingerbread houses and other treats together!
22. Meringue Mushrooms
These adorable meringue cookies decorated to look like mushrooms are the perfect woodland-themed dessert. Use powdered sugar when whipping up the egg white meringue so it reaches glossy, stiff peaks. Spoon and shape the meringue, then decorate with chocolate chips for the mushroom cap "gills." Kids will have fun getting creative with different toppings like sprinkles, nuts and candies.
23. Confetti Cake
Birthday cakes, engagement cakes, you name it! Confetti cakes are the perfect way to celebrate. Package cake mix makes the base, while powdered sugar in the famous vanilla buttercream frosting on top gives it rich flavor. And you can't forget the rainbow sprinkles inside the cake and out for a fun pop of color and texture. This crowd-pleasing cake says "celebration."
24. Peanut Butter Buckeyes
These no-bake peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate are a Christmas classic. To make the inside, powdered sugar helps bind together the peanut butter, butter, and optional graham cracker crumbs. Powdered sugar's absorbency prevents a greasy texture. Shape into perfect "buckeyes", chill well, and dip in melted chocolate. Kids will have a blast helping roll and decorate these cute bite-size treats.
25. Peppermint Bark
A white Christmas favorite, homemade peppermint bark makes a fabulous edible gift. Sweetened condensed milk and powdered sugar join forces to create a creamy candy coating that hardens like white chocolate. Break into pieces and top with crushed peppermints or candy canes. The powdered sugar is key to getting that signature smooth, snappy texture.
Key Takeaway: Powdered sugar's powdery texture prevents greasiness and grittiness in recipes.
FAQs about Using Powdered Sugar
What are some powdered sugar substitutes?
If you don't have powdered sugar, you can make a quick substitute by putting granulated sugar in the blender. Blend on high speed for 30 seconds or until powdery. Be sure to sift out any lumps. You can add a bit of cornstarch to help prevent clumping. Other ingredients that can mimic powdered sugar are honey powder, maple sugar powder, and coconut sugar.
Can I use powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar?
Yes, you can swap powdered sugar 1:1 for granulated sugar in most recipes. However, the final product will have a different texture. Cookies and cakes made with powdered sugar will be more delicate and tender. Frostings and glazes made with powdered sugar will be thicker. Taste as you go since powdered sugar is often slightly sweeter.
How long does powdered sugar last?
Properly stored, powdered sugar will last 12-18 months in the pantry. Keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Make sure it doesn't get exposed to moisture or humidity. Over time, it may clump as the cornstarch absorbs ambient moisture. You can sift out lumps or place a slice of bread in the container to absorb moisture.
Does powdered sugar go bad?
Powdered sugar does not spoil, but it can get hard and clumpy if exposed to moisture for a long period. Stored correctly, it will last over a year. If lumpy, try sifting it or crushing lumps with your fingers. Discard any rock hard sugar that doesn't break up. Also discard if you notice an off odor, color change or moisture.
Powdered sugar may seem like just a basic baking staple, but it lends its sweet touch to so many incredible desserts and other goodies! Use it to make shortbread, frost cakes, sweeten doughs and batters, and more.