Learn how to make sanding sugar at home with this simple, 2 ingredient recipe. In only a few minutes, you’ll have sparkling sugar in any color you want for a fraction of the price of store-bought.
You can use colored sugar to top your favorite cupcake recipes or frosted cookies.
I’ll give you variations and substitutions where I can, plus helpful tips and tricks for success. Read on for this info as well as the recipe. If you’d like to skip straight to the recipe, use the jump to recipe button at the top of the post.
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DIY sanding sugar
Buying jar after jar of colored sparkling sugars to top your creations can get very costly rather quickly. Not to mention that you might not be able to find the exact color or amount you are looking for.
By learning how to make sanding sugar at home, you can make the exact shade you want, and the quantity that you need. This translates into saving quite a bit of money in the long run, especially if you bake a lot during the holidays.
DIY colored sparkling sugar is only minutes away with this quick and easy recipe. You’ll need gel food coloring and coarse white sanding sugar (also called sparkling sugar).
Liquid food coloring doesn’t work the same as gel food coloring in this recipe, so please don’t try it. You will be disappointed in the result.
You can also make this with regular granulated sugar, raw sugar or sanding sugar that is less coarse than what I’ve used.
How to make colored sanding sugar
First, you’ll need about 1/2 cup of clear sparkling sugar and gel food coloring.
You can see how coarse the sparkling sugar is that I’ve used. I like its crunchy texture, but if you prefer something finer, you can use a different sugar.
Place the sugar in a zip top bag, or a mixing bowl. I use a plastic zip top bag, because it is easier to see if I’ve missed any.
Add one drop of gel color. Work the gel into the sugar by kneading it in the bag, turning to make sure it is evenly coated.
If you are happy with the color, you’re done. If you want a deeper or darker color, add another drop and repeat the process. Lay the sugar out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let it dry completely before storing.
Yes. You can use granulated sugar to make this colored sanding sugar.
You don’t have to bake it, but you can choose to heat it in the oven if you want more sparkle.
Forever. Sugar doesn’t spoil, so the only things to look for would be faded color or if it begins to clump.
Variations and substitutions
I have used a very coarse sparking sugar, but you can also use raw sugar or granulated sugar in this recipe.
Once you’ve achieved your desired color, you can let it air dry, or you can give it a quick bake in the oven if it needs a bit more sparkle.
Lastly, once you have a few colors, you can make your own custom blends with any colors you like!
I like adding coarse sugar to the tops of my blueberry mini pies for a bit of texture.
Helpful tools and equipment
- Bright white sparkling sugar (bulk)
- Gel food color set – This set comes with 12 colors: Super Black, Royal Blue, Sky Blue, Chocolate Brown, Lemon Yellow, Teal, Leaf Green, Orange, Deep Pink, Super Red, Violet, and Fuchsia.
- 50 pack gel color – If you like to bake and decorate cookies, cakes, cupcakes, etc., this is the set for you. Another option is to split it with a baking friend and share the cost.
- Baking sheet – These are my go-to baking sheets. They are heavy duty and don’t warp in the oven.
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- Pour sugar into zip top bag and add 1 drop of gel food coloring. Seal the bag.
- Mix it around in the bag, kneading the gel into the sugar until color is consistent throughout.
- If color isn't dark enough, add another drop and repeat until you've reached the desired shade.
- Once you have reached your desired color, pour the sugar out onto your lined sheet pan and spread it out evenly into a thin layer to dry completely. *See notes
- When sugar is no longer "tacky", store in airtight jars. It will keep for years.
*If your sugar loses a bit of its sparkle, here's how you can get it back:
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Pour the sugar into a mound (DO NOT SPREAD IT OUT) on a parchment lined baking sheet. Heat sugar in the oven for 4 - 5 minutes. Shut oven off. Let sugar cool in oven for another 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from oven, spread out and let dry completely before storing.
All ovens are calibrated differently! Please keep an eye on the sugar while it is in the oven. If you aren't sure if your oven runs hot, purchase an oven thermometer so you have an accurate reading.
**Keep an eye on the sugar while it is in the oven. Do not walk away. If it begins to melt, pull it out immediately.
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Serving Size:1 tsp.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 16Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 0mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 0g
Nutrition information calculated by a third-party company as a courtesy. It is intended as a guideline only.
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Originally published December 2012.