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Q&A

Why sift confectioner's sugar when making fudge?

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A recipe for fudge called for sifting confectioner's sugar into the pot rather than just adding it. The recipe also called for whisking continuously, so the sugar would be distributed immediately.

I didn't have a sifter, so I just added it slowly from the bowl into which I'd measured it. This worked fine as far as I could tell, but I don't have a version made with sifting to compare to.

Is "use a sifter" just a way to ensure that people won't dump it all in at once, and shaking it in slowly from a bowl achieves the same effect? Or is there some benefit to specifically sifting sugar that's already quite fine?

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1 answer

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Sifting powdered sugar has nothing to do with making fudge specifically, it's more a general recommendation when using powdered sugar. (For those wondering why I'm using the term powdered sugar even though @MonicaCellio asked about confectioner's sugar, see this link https://whatscookingamerica.net/Q-A/sugar.htm. I also didn't know about the similarity / dissimilarity.)

Powdered sugar is finely milled sugar. As soon as sugar is finely milled, it becomes more and more dissoluble in liquids because the sugar crystals within the sugar (simplified explained, more in depth here: https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/104859/sugar-a-molecule-or-crystal) become smaller and smaller. Now the powdered sugar is packaged and sent off to groceries stores around the globe.

The problem with this finely milled sugar is that even the tinniest droplet of water can lead to clumping of the sugar (the very reason why it was milled in the beginning). During manufacture, transportation and being placed in a shelf to be sold, it's not completely guaranteed that no liquids enter the packaging or that the humidity increases. Additionally, as soon as you open the package and store the product privately, the risk of clumping increases further.

So the reason behind sifting powdered sugar is to loosen up possible clumps. By doing so, the powdered sugar is more evenly distributed and dissolved in liquids. This then leads to better tasting end-products as you avoid having sweet spots in your food. (Spots /parts that taste particularly sweet compared to other spots / parts.)

Personally, I only sift powdered sugar when I use excessive amount of it (for example baking a lot of cookies or preparing litres of glazing) or a recipe emphasises it (for example cookies where you don't use granulated sugar but only powdered sugar).

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Thanks! I assumed the answer wouldn't be specific to fudge, but I didn't know which properties of fudge-making might be relevant. (Adding to liquid, adding to hot liquid, something about dairy in particular...) I opened a fresh package for this so maybe I just got lucky. Monica Cellio‭ 4 months ago

@Monica, the only really relevant property is whether the sugar remains solid (in which case the size of the particles makes a difference). If it's added to a liquid then it's either going to dissolve or melt, so clumping isn't a major issue. If you're creaming butter with sugar then you do care about crystal size. Peter Taylor‭ 3 months ago

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