The $2 Pantry Staple That Keeps Powdered Sugar from Melting

published Apr 9, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

If you’ve ever worked with powdered sugar before, you know just how finicky it can be. Within minutes a perfectly-dusted cake can go from stunning to sloppy, and all of the powdered sugar can disappear right before your eyes. It’s a problem almost every baker and every food stylist has encountered — after all, you have to make sure that your baked goods stay beautiful for long enough to snap a good photo. To solve this problem, I’ve come up with a simple solution that will buy you some extra time before your powdered sugar melts: It’s cornstarch.

To Keep Powdered Sugar from Melting, Add Cornstarch

Powdered sugar already contains cornstarch, and adding a little extra makes your powdered sugar last longer. It’s not a total solve — the sugar will eventually melt — but this little trick will buy you some extra time (in case you want to snap a photo for your friends to admire on Instagram). You don’t want to add too much cornstarch, though: At a certain point you’ll be dusting the top of your cake with cornstarch instead of powdered sugar — and we don’t want that! So go slow and be conservative with the amount of cornstarch you add. A good rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of cornstarch for every 1/4 cup of powdered sugar used.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Or Try Non-Melting Powdered Sugar

If you’re really serious about your baking, you can also purchase non-melting powdered sugar that will literally never melt. It’s pretty much completely unaffected by moisture, meaning it can sit on top of a moist cake for several hours without dissolving. Many food stylists will carry around a bag of the stuff to finish cakes, doughnuts, and other baked goods with.

This type of powdered sugar tastes just like the kind you get at the grocery store, but it’s less prone to dissolving. The ingredient list includes several added ingredients like palm oil and (you guessed it) cornstarch. Non-melting powdered sugar can be rather pricey, so I like to reserve it for special occasions and items that I know will take a long time to photograph.

Buy: Snow White Non-Melting Topping Sugar, $9.94 for 16 ounces

Welcome to Pretty Delicious, a series where our in-house food stylist shares his favorite tips, tricks, and hacks that you can use in your own kitchen. With just a little bit of food-styling know-how, you can make food that’s as pretty as it is delicious.