Its fine texture makes it perfect for dusting cakes and cookies, while also helping to add sweetness to frostings, glazes and candy recipes.
But when a recipe calls for powdered sugar by volume (cups), it can be tricky to know how much to purchase when buying it by weight (pounds or ounces).
What is Powdered Sugar?
Powdered sugar, or confectioners' sugar, is simply granulated sugar that has been ground into a very fine powder. It is combined with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent clumping. The fineness of the grains allows it to dissolve quickly and create smooth textures in icings and glazes. It also enables an even coating when dusted atop baked goods.
Compared to granulated sugar, powdered sugar has a greater volume per weight due to more air being incorporated into the light powder. So when measuring powdered sugar for recipes, it's important to know the proper weight-to-volume conversions.
How Powdered Sugar is Packaged and Sold
In the United States, powdered sugar is most often packaged in boxes or bags ranging from 1 to 5 pounds. The most common size is a 1 pound box containing 16 ounces of powdered sugar.
Grocery stores also stock larger bags around 2 pounds or 32 ounces. Some brands sell massive 10 pound sacks perfect for bakeries or frequent bakers.
When shopping for powdered sugar, check the packaging labels for the weight in pounds or ounces. Recipes may list volume amounts in cups or tablespoons instead.
Key Takeaway: Powdered sugar is commonly sold in 1 to 5 pound boxes or bags in grocery stores.
How Many Cups are in a 1 Pound Box of Powdered Sugar?
A standard 1 pound box of powdered sugar contains about 4 cups of powdered sugar. However, the exact amount can vary between 3 1/2 to 4 cups depending on a few factors:
- Sifted vs. unsifted - Sifted powdered sugar takes up more volume in a measuring cup. A pound equals around 4 cups sifted or 3 1/2 cups unsifted.
- Settling - Freshly opened powdered sugar fluffs up more than settled sugar that has been sitting.
- Measuring method - Lightly spooning powdered sugar into a cup measures less than scooping directly from the box.
- Brands - The grind and density of powdered sugar can vary slightly between brands.
For simplicity, you can estimate a 1 pound box of powdered sugar as equal to 4 cups in most recipes. But it's always wise to measure precisely when baking.
Key Takeaway: A standard 1 pound box of powdered sugar contains approximately 4 cups.
Measuring Tips for Powdered Sugar
Since powdered sugar compresses and settles so easily, the measuring technique makes a big difference. Here are some tips for accurate measurements:
- Use a kitchen scale for most precision. Measure the desired weights called for in the recipe.
- For volume measures, spoon powdered sugar lightly into a dry measuring cup, then level off the top with a knife. Do not scoop directly from the container.
- Sift powdered sugar if specified in the recipe to remove lumps and aerate. 1 cup sifted powdered sugar weighs around 4 ounces.
- Check if the recipe wants sifted or unsifted powdered sugar, which changes the volume per cup.
- Store opened boxes of powdered sugar in an airtight container to prevent moisture absorption.
Following these tips will remove the guesswork and provide more consistency when measuring powdered sugar by cups or weight.
How Many Cups of Powdered Sugar in Larger Sizes?
Once you know a 1 pound box has about 4 cups of powdered sugar, it's easy to calculate the cup amounts in larger bag sizes:
- 2 pound bag - Approximately 7 to 8 cups
- 5 pound bag - Around 18 to 20 cups
- 10 pound bag - Roughly 35 to 40 cups
Double check your specific brand's weight-to-volume ratio for the most accuracy. But these general guidelines work for most standard powdered sugar products.
Can You Substitute Granulated Sugar?
While granulated white sugar makes a decent substitute for powdered sugar in a pinch, the texture and volume will be different. Here are some substitutions if you run out of powdered sugar:
- Process 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a blender or food processor until powdered. Use a little less than the amount of powdered sugar called for in the recipe.
- For dusting baked goods, combine 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon cornstarch and mix well. It won't fully dissolve, but adds crunch.
- In simple buttercream frosting, you can replace powdered sugar with 2/3 cup granulated sugar for every 1 cup powdered sugar required. Expect a grittier texture.
Ideally, stick to powdered sugar when it's called for, but these substitutions work well enough in a bind. Be sure to adjust any liquids in the recipe since granulated sugar has less volume per cup.
Common Baking Uses for Powdered Sugar
Why is powdered sugar used so often in dessert recipes? Here are some of its most popular functions in the kitchen:
- Dusting baked goods - Powdered sugar sprinkled over cakes, cookies, pastries, fruits, etc. adds sweetness and decoration.
- Frostings and icings - Whipped together with butter, milk or cream, powdered sugar makes glossy frostings and fillings.
- Glazes - Mixed with a small amount of liquid, powdered sugar forms smooth, pourable glazes over donuts, cinnamon rolls, etc.
- Candy making - Fudge, pralines, marshmallows and more use powdered sugar for an ultra-fine crystal structure.
- Smooth texture - The small grains of powdered sugar dissolve fast and provide a silky mouthfeel in sweets.
- Tenderizing agent - Powdered sugar can help tenderize butter-based doughs like cookies.
Take advantage of this versatile ingredient in all your baking projects!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does powdered sugar last?
Properly stored in an airtight container, powdered sugar will stay fresh for 1 to 2 years at room temperature.
Can you freeze powdered sugar?
It's best not to freeze powdered sugar, as condensation when thawing can cause clumping. Store at room temperature.
Why is there cornstarch in powdered sugar?
A small amount of cornstarch is added to help prevent the powdered sugar from clumping up. It improves flow and texture.
Is powdered sugar gluten-free?
Most major brands contain no gluten ingredients. But check labels for potential additives if gluten is a concern.
Can you make powdered sugar at home?
Yes, powdered sugar can be made by blending granulated sugar in a food processor or high power blender until super fine and powdery.
Whether you're whisking up a fluffy buttercream frosting or just dusting some French toast, powdered sugar is a handy staple to keep stocked in your pantry. Understanding approximately how many cups come in a standard 1 pound box of powdered sugar helps ensure you use the right amount for recipes.
For ultimate precision, weigh powdered sugar instead of measuring cups. But you can estimate about 4 cups fits into one pound, allowing for some variance depending on sifting and settling.