Powdered sugar, confectioners’ sugar, icing sugar, 10X—what does it all mean?! A whole lot of the sameness, as it turns out. Whatever you call it and however you use it—to coat doughnuts, marshmallows, or chocolate-covered cereal, to cover up an unsightly lemon square, to sweeten angel food cake batter (hey, some people must like it…), to mix into cream cheese frosting—powdered sugar is an invaluable ingredient in many bakers’ pantries.

But what is it, when do you need to use it (versus swapping in the regular stuff), and can you make powdered sugar yourself if the circumstances require it? That’s what we’re here to find out.

Let’s get it out of the way: Is confectioners’ sugar powdered sugar?

Yes! Powdered sugar, confectioners’ sugar (including confectioners sugar and confectioner’s sugar too), icing sugar, and 10X (a reference to the size of the particles) are all the same.

Okay, so what is powdered sugar?

Simply put, powdered sugar is granulated white sugar that’s been pulverized to a fine powder. Whereas granulated sugar is sandy and coarse, powdered sugar is so fine that it feels almost chalky. Commercial powdered sugar is also mixed with a small but mighty amount of cornstarch that acts as an “anti-caking agent,” preventing the coagulation of large clumps.

So if powdered sugar is that close to granulated sugar, what’s the big deal? When is it essential and when can you say, “Who cares!” and just use the regular stuff?

What is powdered sugar used for?

Even though powdered sugar is only a single ingredient away from regular sugar (a one-generation difference, if you will), it plays a very different role in baked goods.

First and foremost, powdered sugar affects the texture of what you’re making. You’re probably familiar with the notion of creaming butter and sugar together when making cookies, cakes, and pastries. When beaten with butter, granulated sugar creates millions of tiny little air pockets in its wake, which result in doughs that are light and airy in texture. But when you cream powdered sugar with butter in the same manner (as we do in these ridiculously simple Brown Butter Wedding Cookies), the finer texture of the sugar is unable to generate those same air pockets, leaving you with a denser, crumblier (but by no means inferior!) cookie texture. All this to say, if you’re going for an ultra-tender, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread type of situation, look for recipes that call for powdered sugar. If a crisper, crunchier cookie (think chocolate chip) is more your thing, well, you already know which direction to head.

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