How To Tell When To Use Regular Sugar, Caster Sugar, And Powdered Sugar

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Sugar is one of the major pillars of cakes, cookies, and desserts in general. Together with flour, butter, and eggs, you can make any number of desserts with just these four ingredients, including soufflés, cakes, and even cookies.  

If you ever wonder what kind of sugar you need to use for a recipe, you usually can't go wrong with typical regular white sugar. Its neutral color won't change the look of your dessert while still delivering the sweetness you need to make it taste delicious. 

However, there are some recipes that require special sugar, namely caster sugar and confectioner's sugar, also known as icing sugar or powdered sugar. If the recipe doesn't state what kind of sugar is needed, how do you know what to use? 

Here are the basic rules to know when deciding what kind of sugar to use when making a dessert: 

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1 Use regular sugar for most dessert recipes. 

For almost all recipes that require sugar, you can use regular sugar or also known as granulated sugar. This sugar is a clear translucent white that look like small crystals upon closer inspection.

You might wonder if you can use washed sugar or raw sugar for recipes that call for sugar and the general rule for this substitute is this: if the color of the sugar will not affect the look of the dessert, you can safely substitute washed or raw sugar for regular sugar. 

However, this rule doesn't cover brown sugar since brown sugar has more molasses content than these sugar. Molasses is an acidic ingredient and can change the balance of ingredients in the recipe, resulting in a failed baking project. 

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For best results, use white sugar in these cases. 

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2 Use caster sugar when you want the sugar to easily melt. 

In cases when the size of the sugar granules can matter, this is when you want to turn to caster sugar. In the simplest terms, caster sugar is basically white sugar that has been ground more finely than granulated sugar but not too fine that it's been powdered. Caster sugar is also known as superfine sugar, baker's sugar, and has been spelled as "castor sugar" as well. 

This is fantastic for those recipes where you are whisking egg white into a meringue or making buttercream using the Swiss method. Sugar in egg whites can be grainy but it does melt. However, since caster sugar is finer in grain than regular sugar, its small size will melt faster than regular sugar. 

This is the best reason to have caster sugar on hand since the faster you can melt the sugar in your mixture, the easier it is it get on with your baking. 

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3 Use powdered sugar when you do not want a grainy mixture. 

There's a reason why powdered sugar is also known as confectioner's sugar: it's the sugar of choice for those who make candy. The sugar is ground so fine that it resembles a powder, hence powdered sugar. It's the powder you find coating your fingers when handling marshmallows, hard candy, and some cookies, and even that exotic dessert, Turkish delight. 


This sugar is also the kind of sugar you want to use when making American buttercream. American buttercream is made with softened butter whipped to its lightest consistency and made sweet and delicious with powdered sugar. You don't want to use regular sugar or even caster sugar in this mixture since it will result in a grainy texture. Powdered sugar is so fine that it's less discernible than the other sugars. 

However it should be noted that powdered sugar is often mixed with another ingredient: cornstarch. This is to prevent sugar from absorbing too much moisture and turning back into large crystals. The addition of cornstarch can harm your recipe if you are supposed to be using regular sugar or even caster sugar so substituting powdered sugar when the other kinds of sugar are needed is not a good idea. 

When you do not have powdered sugar on hand, you can make your own by passing it through the blades of a food processor or even a blender until you achieve a more ground-up, almost powdered mixture. 


Are you still confused about the other sugars? Read more about it here: 


Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

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