Do you wonder what to do with that large lump of hard brown sugar? These easy tips for softening brown sugar will have it soft and usable in no time at all.
Here are 6 of my best tips to make brown sugar soft again, and suggestions for how to store it for a longer shelf life.
I am sure that many of us has had the experience of taking out a container of brown sugar to make a recipe only to discover that it is rock hard.
Don’t panic! There are several simple food hacks to soften brown sugar so that it is as soft as a package fresh sugar from the store.
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Why does brown sugar get hard?
Brown sugar is coated in molasses. When the sugar is fresh, the molasses coating allows the sugar crystals to move easily over each other and the sugar will be soft and easy to work with.
When brown sugar is exposed to air, the moisture in the molasses starts to evaporate. This causes the particles of sugar to stick to each other as the coating dries out.
Once this happens, the brown sugar will harden into a solid mass of sugar.
Tips for softening brown sugar
There are several easy ways to get that brown sugar soft again. The trick in most cases is playing with moisture to get it back into the brown sugar.
All of the solutions provide a means of returning moisture back to the hard sugar.
Read on to find out how to soften brown sugar quickly.
Softening brown sugar with bread
Add a slice of bread to the container of brown sugar. Within about 8 hours (longer if it is really hard), the brown sugar will become soft and ready to use again.
Why does the bread work to soften brown sugar? Bread contains moisture that will evaporate if it is exposed to air. However, if the only air is in a sealed container with dried out brown sugar, the water vapor molecules will stick to the sugar crystals.
This causes them to be surrounded by a thin layer of water, so the sugar softens and crumbles.
It is not just bread that will help to add moisture back to hardened brown sugar. You can also use apple or pear slices to do the same thing.
This brown sugar softening trick takes a little while to work but it does the job, every time. It can take 8 to 24 hours for this trick to work.
One thing may happen when use this method to soften the brown sugar. The top layer of sugar may get lighter in color since the bread will absorb some of the molasses coating. It is still fine to use but won’t have quite the same rich flavor.
Using the microwave to soften brown sugar
The quickest way to soften brown sugar that has gone rock-hard is to use your microwave. Place the hard brown sugar in a microwave safe bowl and place a damp paper towel over the top of the bowl.
Heat on 30 second intervals at a half power setting. Check the softness between each heating interval. When it is almost soft, reduce the cooking time to 15 seconds until the brown sugar is soft enough to use.
It may be necessary to use a fork now an then to break up any lumps in the brown sugar.
Be careful not to heat it too long, or the sugar will start to melt. It’s also important to use the sugar fairly quickly after letting it cool so that it doesn’t get hard again.
This method is perfect for those times that you want your brown sugar softened very quickly.
Softening brown sugar with marshmallows
Those fluffy and MOIST nuggets are not just for making s’mores! If you have a container of brown sugar that is hard, add two or three plump marshmallows to the sealed container.
Seal tightly and check in a couple of days to make sure that the sugar has absorbed the moisture and is soft again.
Work the sugar with a knife to remove any clumps and tightly reseal the container. The sugar should remain soft.
Use a damp towel to make brown sugar soft
Take a kitchen towel and dampen it well. Wring out the towel as that you have removed as much of the excess water as possible.
Place hardened brown sugar in a bowl and place the dampened towel over it so that the top of the bowl is completely covered but the towel does not touch the brown sugar.
Allow the covered brown sugar to sit on the counter over night and the brown sugar will be soft in the morning.
This also works if you store your brown sugar in canisters with air tight lids. In this case, cover the top surface of the container with plastic wrap and the add the dampened towel over the top of the wrap. Leave it over night to soften.
How to soften brown sugar in the oven
Heating the brown sugar in the microwave is the fastest way to soften it but your oven will also work quickly. To soften the brown sugar in a conventional oven, wrap it in aluminum foil and place it in an oven set to 250°F.
This method works best if you use a baking sheet under the foil in case any of it leaks out.
Check the brown sugar to see how soft it is every five minutes or so. It will be very hot! Allow the brown sugar to cool before using it in your recipe.
How to soften brown sugar with a terra cotta disk
Ah, the wonders of marketing! Did you know that there is a kitchen tool made especially for softening brown sugar? Terra cotta disks are made especially for use with hard brown sugar to make it soft.
These brown sugar disks will also work to keep dried fruit, popcorn, marshmallows and spices fresh.
If you don’t have one of these disks, a piece of terra cotta from a broken plant pot (sterilized and cleaned before use) will work. I broke a small terra cotta pot and polished the edges with a pumice stone, then soaked it. It works great!
Soak the terra cotta disk or piece in water for about 30 minutes, dry off the excess water , and place it with your brown sugar in an airtight container.
Leave the container tightly sealed overnight and check in the morning to make sure that it is soft enough.
How to keep brown sugar soft
All of these tricks will help with softening brown sugar that has gone hard. How do you keep this from happening in the first place?
Air is what causes the sweet molasses-coated crystals to dry out, so airtight containers are what’s needed for effective storage.
The terra cotta disks mentioned above will help to keep your sugar soft for a few months. Just leave the disk in the container to help keep your brown sugar soft. If you do this, you will need to repeat the soaking process in a few months.
Keeping carrot peels, or saltine crackers in the brown sugar container also helps to keep it from hardening.
For long term storage, the use a double storage airtight environment. Place the brown sugar in a zip top bag. Roll up the bag to squeeze out any excess air and seal the bag.
Place this bag into a container with a tight lid and it will keep the sugar moist for -12 months.
Remember that the quality of brown sugar is best when consumed within 6 months of purchase and opening. Don’t store brown sugar in the fridge.
Freezing brown sugar
With the worry of having your brown sugar going hard, you may not be inclined to take advantage of sales of it at the store. Don’t pass those sales by!
Brown sugar can be frozen! Double bagging it will help to keep ice crystals away from the sugar.
After freezing, use a fork to separate clumps in the sugar before using it. If any ice crystals have formed, stir often as it thaws to make sure the sugar is not affected by the excess moisture.
Thaw frozen sugar and use a fork to separate clumps before using. If ice crystals form after long freezer storage, frequently stir the sugar as it thaws to prevent the sugar from being affected by pockets of moisture.
If you keep in mind these tips for storing and softening brown sugar, you’ll have soft brown sugar whenever your recipe calls for it.
What methods = have you used to soften brown sugar? Please leave your comments below.
Pin these tips for softening brown sugar for later
Would you like a reminder of these 6 ways to soften brown sugar? Just pin this image to one of your cooking boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
Admin note: This post first appeared on the blog in May of 2013. I have updated the post to add all new images, more tips for softening brown sugar, a project card to print out and a video for you to enjoy.
- Brown Sugar
- Air tight container
- Zip lock baggies
- Tea Towel
- Aluminum foil
- Brown sugar savers or terra cotta pots
These tips are listed from the quickest method to those that take the longest time.
- Use brown sugar savers in your brown sugar canister. They should keep the sugar soft indefinitely as long as you soak them every few months. Pieces of terra cotta also work well.
- Cover the brown sugar with a damp towel in a microwave safe bowl and heat it in the microwave in 20 second intervals. Check often for softness.
- Wrap brown sugar in foil and heat it in a 250 °F oven for 5 minutes and check for softness.
- Add a damp cloth over a bowl of hard brown sugar. Leave it over night. It should be soft in the morning.
- Add a piece of bread in the air tight container of brown sugar. Check in about 8-24 hours for softness.
- Add marshmallows to your container of brown sugar. The sugar should be soft in 24 hours.
To store brown sugar so that it doesn't go hard, double store it. Place a zip lock bag of brown sugar inside the air tight canister.
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