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Oh, Sugar: A Blender Test

What would happen if I put a cup of sugar in a blender and buzzed it for a few minutes?

Why in the world would I want to?

I’ll answer the second question first: Because we are a full-service blog, and that’s just the kind of swell thing we do when a reader asks us a question. Depending on the question, of course.

This one wasn’t too daunting. It went something like this: Confectioners’ sugar contains cornstarch, and I don’t want cornstarch in my sugar. What can I do?

Well, we at first replied, one option is to look online. King Arthur Flour sells something called Snow White Topping Sugar; it's made without cornstarch, which is added to most confectioners' sugar to prevent it from clumping in humid weather. And around Passover, you can buy Passover confectioners' sugar, made with potato starch instead of cornstarch (corn products are not kosher for Passover).

But if you spend your day sitting at a computer, you tend to Google your way to more answers, and that’s how I learned that many, many Web sites confidently declare that you can make your own perfectly good confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch-free, with only granulated sugar and a blender.

Could that possibly be right? I didn't think so.

So I pulled out my ancient blender, poured in a cup of sugar and punched go. Almost immediately, I could see a powdery substance materializing in the jar. Three minutes later, when I thought the blender had done all it could do, I emptied the jar and scrutinized the results.

At right, store-bought confectioners' sugar. At left, the result of the blender test. (Jane Touzalin -- The Washington Post)

And I’d say they were mixed. Yes, what came out is white and fluffy. But it’s also a tad gritty, not quite as smooth as the real thing. Another factor is the weight. A cup of confectioners’ sugar weighs 120 grams (4 ounces) and a cup of granulated sugar weighs 198 grams (7 ounces). My hybrid creation weighed 147 grams (5 1/4 ounces). So it’s definitely lighter and fluffier than granulated, but not as light as actual confectioners' sugar. You might not want to dust a delicate pastry with it. In a pinch, you might be able to cook or bake with it, though, as long as you went by weight instead of volume.

But then there’s the larger question of whether you really don’t want cornstarch in your sugar. In cake frostings, for example, it’s key; the cornstarch helps hold the frosting together, especially when the atmosphere is a little warm or humid. It also cuts the sweetness.

And cake frosting is the last place I'd want to use ersatz confectioners' sugar that leans toward being gritty.

So it's official: All those confident Web sites were only partly right. I guess the moral here is: Don’t believe everything you read. Unless, of course, it’s on this blog.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  May 18, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
 | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin, sugar  
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I make powdered salt in a blender. It sticks to popcorn better than regular salt. Note: A little powdered salt goes a long way.

I also tried making powdered sugar, with the same disappointing results as Jane Touzalin's.

Posted by: Krisipuu | May 18, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Actually, what you made is super-fine sugar, which is used in some recipes and is often an ingredient in cocktails. I have a small container of it in my pantry that I use in my iced coffee because it actually disolves in the cold liquid. It's great because I don't like the super-sweet quality of artificial sweeteners, but I still want the sugar to disolve instead of creating a sugar slurry in the bottom of my cup.

Posted by: cewelsh | May 19, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Cewelsh, now you've REALLY got me wanting iced coffee. What you can't see in the photo is that this stuff I created, while not as fluffy as confectioners' sugar, is much finer than superfine -- within seconds, the blender had turned it into a gritty powder. There didn't seem to be much of a middle ground.
I buy Domino's superfine sugar at Giant (haven't found any other stores that carry it, so if anyone else knows of any, I'd be happy to hear about it), but the supply isn't dependable, so I'm thinking of buying in bulk online, as Food editor Joe Yonan does. I, too, love the way it dissolves in cold liquids. They (the same "they" who say you can make powdered sugar in a blender) say you can make superfine sugar in a food processor, but baking expert Lisa Yockelson cautions that it's not really the same and that if you bake with it, you won't get the same result.

Posted by: Jane Touzalin | May 20, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

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