Icing Sugar – The Foundation For Cake Decoration

Icing sugar is also known as powdered sugar or confectioners’ sugar or 10x sugar. A lot of people have been confused by these different terms. No need to be because they  all refer to the same item; it’s just that it’s called different things in different regions.

This kind of sugar requires no heat for preparation and dissolves fast in liquids. This attribute makes it ideal for recipes such as royal icing, butter icing and butter cream. It also used for a lot of other recipes in culinary arts.

Icing sugar is categorized in grades depending on how smooth the sugar is milled. The grade of any particular icing sugar is shown by the number of Xs marked on the label or packet.

Domino Confectioners 10-x Powdered Sugar, 1 Pound Box (Pack of 2)


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Importance of Icing Sugar in the Culinary Arts

We all know and would agree that sugar is one ingredient that’s most common in every confectioner, baker and chef’s pantry.  There are many kinds of sugar and they all behave differently in recipes.

Icing sugar is the smoothest of all types of sugar. Baker’s sugar or superfine sugar is also smooth but not the same as icing sugar.

When you talk about cake decoration, you cannot do anything without icing sugar. It is like the pillar that holds everything together. We are still looking for recipes for cake decoration that don’t call for icing sugar.

In cake decoration, icing is the term used to depict the covering of cakes for greater aesthetics and taste after baking. There are different kinds of icing and they all call for icing sugar.

Icing sugar is also used in candy making, decoration of cookies and other baked goods.

This ingredient is so important that every confectioner, chef or baker needs to know how to make it or substitute it. You can’t afford not have icing sugar at any point of your business or baking day!

Substituting other Kinds of Sugar for Icing Sugar

There are times when a recipe calls for icing sugar but you don’t have it and are unable to get it. Since you cannot just use any other kind of sugar, you have to make your own icing sugar.

Note however that this is a risky venture for some kinds of recipes that are not forgiving. This is a stunt that should only be pulled when the stakes are not too high.

Some recipes call for icing sugar instead of other kinds of sugar because of some reasons and they include the following:

(i) It gives the recipe a smooth consistency and dissolves fast in liquids. This is exactly what makes it ideal frostings and icing.

(ii) It gives a snowy effect when used to dust the top of desserts and other baked goods. The larger grains of other types of sugar would not do same.

(ii) It provides a denser consistency in cookies and cakes. So cookie and cake recipes that call for icing sugar do so because the goal is a dense consistency. Granulated sugar would always incorporate more air into a recipe or dough because of the large crystals.

With the above in mind, note that your end product wouldn’t be exactly like it’s meant to be when you use a substitute for icing sugar.

Also note that you have to substitute the icing sugar based on weight and not cup measurement. For example; a cup of icing sugar is 113g which means you have to use 113g of granulated sugar and not one cup.


How to Make Homemade Icing Sugar

Icing sugar is basically granulated sugar that has been milled to super smoothness with an addition of corn starch or wheat starch. The corn starch is added to prevent the powder from caking (forming lumps or clumping).

To make your own icing sugar, all you need is a blender or food processor or coffee grinder. Pour your granulated sugar into the blender and grind until it is super fine. Some people add the corn starch while others feel it isn’t necessary; especially if they are using the sugar right away.

The simple recipe is one cup of granulated sugar to one or two tablespoon of cornstarch. Remember the cornstarch is optional.  You may try this out both with and without the cornstarch and then choose which works best for you.


Icing Recipes that Call for Icing Sugar

There are several types of icing for cake decoration and frosting; these icing recipes can also be used for other baked goods. They all have icing sugar as the main ingredient. These recipes include the following:

Royal Icing

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This type of icing is the oldest and most traditional type of icing that is available. It basically requires only two ingredients which are icing sugar and egg whites.  Some recipes add lemon juice and glycerin. This produces a white icing that’s smooth and dries hard and fast with a matte finish.

Most cake decorators would advise that you use meringue powder which is pasteurized egg white. This is especially if you won’t use up the batch prepared immediately.  With meringue powder  you avoid the risk of food poisoning and also have more consistent results.

Here is a sample recipe that you can try and the tools needed. There are many recipes out there and most turn out beautifully. This sample is just to help you get a feel of royal icing.

Sample Recipe and Tools Needed


2 large egg whites

450g icing sugar

1 tsp glycerin – Remember that this is optional.

Tools Needed

Mixing Bowl – Ensure that the bowl is grease free.

Wooden spoon or Mixer

Plastic spatula – For scraping the side of the bowl as you mix.

Kitchen Scale, Measuring cups and Spoons


Step 1: Put your egg white in a grease free mixing bowl and beat well until frothy. You can either use a fork or mixing whisk.

Step 2:  Sift your icing sugar a little at a time into the egg white and beat thoroughly. Continue adding the icing sugar and mixing until you have a stiff icing.

Step 3: Keep on mixing the icing sugar for about 5 to 10 minutes until it’s smooth and can hold a peak. To test whether the icing is the right consistency, pass a knife through it. If the knife leaves a clear path through the icing then it’s the right consistency.

You can mix your royal icing with a mixer but if you don’t have a mixer, you can use a wooden spoon.

If you are adding glycerin or lemon juice, you add it in step 3. Glycerin helps to leave the icing soft enough to cut through when it dries. If you want a really dry finish, then there’s no need to add glycerin.

You can also buy royal icing mix or the ready to use versionCelebakes By CK Products White Royal Icing Mix, 1lb/2 Pack

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Check out these articles for more tips and info for your cake decoration products: –

Uses of Royal Icing

Royal Icing can be used to cover and decorate cakes. It can also be used to pipe on cakes and other baked goods. You can also use royal icing to make sugar flowers and as adhesive for baked goods.

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Another use for royal icing is to stencil on cakes. This medium is ideal for stencils that you want to paint as it hardens fast and smooth.

When you want to pipe delicate details onto cakes or write in fine small lettering this type of icing comes in handy.

You can add color to royal icing or use it white or even paint it after application. When adding color to royal icing, beware that it is susceptible to liquids; it runs easily. For this reason, the best food coloring for royal icing is paste, gel or powdered food coloring.

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Wilton Creamy White Decorator Icing,Medium Consistency,4 lb. Tub, Cake Decorating Supplies

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This type of icing is made with butter, icing sugar and flavor. There are several recipes for butter icing and most often a certain type is recommended for particular recipes of cakes or baked goods. You can add chocolate, lemon or other ingredients.

Butter cream icing is easy to make and doesn’t take much time. You can buy ready to use butter icing or the mix. You can also choose to make your own buttercream icing. Here’s a sample recipe that you can try.

Sample Recipe and Tools Needed


5oz / 140g butter, softened

10oz /280g icing sugar

1-2 tbsp milk

Food coloring

Tools Needed

Mixing Bowl

Wooden Spoon


Plastic Spatula

Kitchen Scale, Measuring cups and Spoons


Step 1: Beat butter in a mixing bowl until it is soft, then add half of the icing sugar and mix well until it is smooth

Step 2:  Add the other half of the icing sugar with one spoon of the milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If the mixture appears hard, you can add the remaining milk to soften the mixture.

Step 3:  Add food coloring as desired. If you choose to add any flavor, you can do so at this point.


Uses of Buttercream Icing

You can use butter cream icing for different purposes.  It is a useful for covering  cakes and adding decorations to them. You can also use it to decorate cupcakes and other baked goods.

Buttercream icing is ideal for cake fillings and crumb coating. It does not set as hard as royal icing but works just fine for all types of cakes.

Some cake decorators add meringue powder to their butter cream especially if they want to use it for swirls on cupcakes.

You can also use butter cream icing to make flowers for decorating cakes and cup cakes, pipe on cakes and also write messages on cakes.Wilton 2104-1364 Cupcake Decorating Icing Tips, 12-Piece Set, Silver

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Satin Ice White Fondant, Vanilla, 2 Pounds

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This type of icing is also known as sugar dough, sugar paste, roll out icing and a host of other names. What is called is dependent on the region/ country or brand.

Like we have earlier stated, all types of icing recipes call for icing sugar. This is no exception; however fondant requires the addition of adhesive ingredients that hold the dough together and make it pliable.

This icing has become the darling of many cake decorators because of its functionality and versatility; this coupled with the fact that it can be stored for long and reused severally.

You can buy ready to use fondant or make yours from scratch.  We would share a sample recipe that you can try out and also show you the tools needed.

Sample Recipe and Tools Needed


2 pounds confectioners sugar, sifted

1/4 cup cold water

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup glucose (found in cake decorating stores) or white corn syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons glycerine (found in cake decorating stores)

1 teaspoon desired flavoring Extract


This recipe is adapted from  https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rolled-fondant-recipe-1916019

We have tried this recipe and it works just fine with a little variation. We live in a humid environment so we omit the glycerin. But if you live in a low humidity climate, be sure to add the glycerin; you can also add two tablespoons of vegetable shortening.

We would usually use almond or lemon flavor when we don’t have clear vanilla extract; this also helps to preserve the white color of the fondant. If you use plain vanilla flavor, you can brighten the fondant by adding some drops of white coloring.

Tools Needed

Mixing Bowl

Kitchen scale, measuring cups and spoons



Fondant is not as easy to make as royal icing or buttercream but not as hard as making bread dough… I think?

Step 1: Sieve the icing sugar into a glass or plastic mixing bowl do not use metal bowls.

Step 2: Add the water to a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin into it. Remember to always sprinkle gelatin into water and not pour water into gelatin. Leave this mixture to set for 5 minutes.

Step 3: Put the saucepan with the gelatin on a stove and set stove to very low heat; do not allow the gelatin to boil.  Stir the gelatin until it is clear (which means that the gelatin has properly dissolved).

Step 4: Turn off the heat and add the remaining ingredients and stir until everything is well blended.

Step 5: Make a well in the icing sugar and pour in the mixture. Knead until all the icing sugar is incorporated with the wet ingredients. Sprinkle some icing sugar or corn starch onto your working surface and pour the dough onto it. Knead properly until you have smooth non sticky dough. If the dough is sticky, you can add some icing sugar.

Step 6: Roll your dough into a ball and wrap in an airtight plastic wrap and store in an airtight storage bin or container. It is  best to use fondant  8 hours after it has been made and left to rest at room temperature. Remember not to refrigerate fondant; just leave it in an airtight container at room temperature.


Uses of Fondant

Fondant is a versatile type of icing that can be used to cover an entire cake and also decorate it. it can also be used to make decorative elements for decoration of all kinds of baked goods and also cakes.Cute Baby Silicone Fondant Cake Mold Kitchen Baking Mold Cake Decorating Moulds Modeling Tools,Gummy Sugar Chocolate Candy Cupcake Mold(6 PACK)


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Because of its dough like consistency, you can use fondant to make figures and elements that do not need much stability.  This medium of icing allows for stenciling on cake, cake painting, airbrushing and sculpting.

Fondant is a handy medium that makes cake decorating easy and fast. This is because the elements can be pre-made and stored. Fondant itself can be stored for a long time as far as it’s stored in an airtight container.


Gum Paste

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Gum paste also known as flower paste in some quarters is similar to fondant. However it contains edible glue that makes it stronger and more elastic than fondant.

There are many variations to gum paste and they all go by different names which include:

Mexican Paste

This is more elastic than gum paste and is usually whiter too. It is so elastic that you can roll it as thin as paper. This makes it ideal for small and intricate designs and cut outs such as lacy butterflies and angels.


This variation sets very hard and is ideal for elements that require structure and stability. It is not as stretchy as gum paste or Mexican paste but the fast drying feature makes it right for solid elements.  An example of what it works best for is molding  handbags,shoes, turrets of a castle or a castle bridge.FUNSHOWCASE Chic Stiletto High Heel Shoes Silicone Candy Mold for Cake Decoration, Cupcake Decorate, Polymer Clay, Crafting 13x6x1cm 3-Cavity


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Modelling paste

Modelling  paste is reinforced sugar paste that’s strengthened by mixing an equal amount of fondant with either Mexican paste or pastillage.  Some people achieve modeling paste by adding a teaspoon of CMC or Tylose powder to 250 grams of fondant.

This dough is ideal for modeling because it doesn’t set too hard but still has more stability than fondant. In addition to modeling, this paste works well for making bows, swags, ruffles and frills.

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Having looked at these types of more elastic and strong sugar paste, we shall concentrate on gum paste.

There are ready to use gum paste dough and there are also mix that require that you just add water and make your dough. Whichever one you choose to use, they would work well for you; however, you may decide to make your own gum paste from scratch.

If you choose to make your own gum paste, try this recipe

Sample Recipe 


450 grams /4 cups Powdered sugar approximate (1 pound)

2 tbsp Tylos / CMC

1 tbsp meringue powder

½ tsp cream of tartar

2 tbsp light corn syrup

½ tbsp vanilla or almond extract

3 to 4 tbsp warm water

1 tbsp vegetable shortening

This recipe is courtesy of Veena Azmanov


Step 1: Measure two cups of icing sugar in a mixing bowl. Then add the other dry ingredients and mix well.

Step 2:  Next put  the light corn syrup in small bowl, add two tablespoons of warm water and stir properly.

Step 3:  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and incorporate everything properly. The mixture would be sticky and a bit hard to work. However, ensure that you mix all the ingredients thoroughly and then add the remaining two cups of icing sugar.

Step 4: Continue to knead the mixture very well until you have dough. If the dough is dry, add another tablespoon of water but be careful not to add too much water. Rub in the vegetable shortening until you have perfectly smooth and elastic dough.

Step 5: Knead the dough into a ball and place in a plastic bag. Store in the fridge at least two hours before use; this means you have to prepare your gum paste before time.

Uses of Gum Paste

The most common and popular use for gum paste is the creation of sugar flowers. The elasticity and pliability makes gum paste a good medium for realistic looking flowers.  Gum paste is also useful for making decorative elements that require more structure than fondant.

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If you do not have the time or inclination to make the other types of sugar paste that are stronger than fondant, you can always adapt gum paste to suit your purposes.

The above are just a few of the things that you can do with icing sugar. Seeing that icing sugar is such an important cake decorating product, let’s give you a little tip on how to choose the best icing sugar for your needs.

Tips on How to Choose Good Icing Sugar

Ensure that the brand of icing sugar you are thinking of buying does not clump

Buy the quantity you need per time. The reason for this is that there is the danger of icing sugar clumping once the package has been opened.

You can check the smoothness of the grains by looking out for the number of  Xs on the package. The more the X on the package, the finer the grains(hopefully).

Always shake the package before buying icing sugar. You would know how fresh and dry it is by the level of movement of the powder.

Finally always check the manufacturing and expiry date of products before you buy.Domino Confectioners Sugar 10X Powdered Pure Cane Sugar, 4 Lb

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Icing Sugar – FAQs

What Is The Difference Between Sugar And Icing Sugar?

The major difference between sugar and icing sugar is in the texture.  Icing sugar is sugar that has been milled to perfection. The grade of smoothness varies as we stated before and is delineated by an X in the product description on the package of the icing sugar.

Commercial icing sugar usually has an anti-caking ingredient which prevents it from having clumps. In addition, icing sugar is a primary ingredient in cake decoration.

Sugar on the other hand is more granular and features more in the preparation of baked goods and other desserts and confections. It is more if a general staple in every kitchen.

Can You Use Icing Sugar As Sugar?

You cannot use icing sugar as sugar and get the same result. This is because icing sugar is finer than sugar. More so, the taste of sugar changes in the process of grinding it to smoothness.

That said however, substituting icing sugar for sugar is best done for baked goods than other savoury dishes or sauces. One major reason why icing sugar is not a good substitute for anything other than baked goods is because of the anti-caking ingredient in icing sugar.  This ingredient can make the dish thicken more than you want it to.

Note that for the baked goods, you would have to almost double the sugar recipe to get the best result.

What Is A Healthy Alternative To Powdered Sugar?

There are a few healthy alternatives that you can use in place of powdered sugar. These alternatives entail that you use sugar alternatives such as coconut sugar, date sugar, maple sugar and such like ingredients.

Here’s a sample recipe with coconut sugar and tapioca flour:-

1 cup of coconut sugar

2 teaspoons of tapioca flour

Put both ingredients in a high powered blender and blend at 30 seconds intervals three times. Leave the sugar in blender to settle before you open the blender.

Note however that these alternatives would not be exactly the same as real powdered sugar. They can only mimic at best the effect that powdered sugar would have on baked goods.

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