Sweet Secrets: 5 Tricks to Soften Brown Sugar

Has this ever happened to you? You reach for the brown sugar in your pantry only to find it’s turned into a rock-hard lump. Don’t panic. There are 5 simple ways to soften brown sugar: in the microwave, in the oven, with a slice of bread, with an apple slice, and with terracotta. Read on to learn more about each method and also get tips for storing brown sugar so it’s always fluffy and ready to use.

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How to Soften Brown Sugar

Brown sugar hardens as its natural moisture evaporates. Unless you store it properly, what was a soft, fluffy package of brown sugar granules will have hardened into a dense brown lump you could break windows with. It’s still safe to eat, but there’s no way you can measure it accurately for a recipe until it’s soft and grainy again. One of these 5 easy methods should do the trick, depending on how fast you need the fix.

1. How to Soften Brown Sugar in the Microwave

If you need to soften brown sugar quickly, opt for the microwave:

  1. Put the brown sugar lump in a microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel and microwave in 10-second bursts until the sugar is crumbly again.
  3. Poke the sugar with a fork between bursts to help break up the lump.

Be sure not to microwave it for too long, otherwise, the sugar will melt. Handle carefully because the sugar might be very hot.

2. How to Soften Brown Sugar in the Oven

If you have a few extra minutes, you can use the oven:

  1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C).
  2. Place the hard sugar in an oven-safe bowl and warm it in the oven, checking every couple of minutes and crumbling with a fork until the sugar is soft.

Caution: The sugar will be hot.

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3. How to Soften Brown Sugar with Bread

If you have a day or more:

  1. Put a slice of fresh bread in an airtight container with the lumpy brown sugar.
  2. After about a day, the sugar will have absorbed enough moisture from the bread to become its soft and crumbly self again.
  3. Remove the bread so it doesn’t mold.

4. How to Soften Brown Sugar with an Apple Slice

This works exactly like the bread method, but it’s gluten-free. (Just kidding.) No, really. It works. Just remember to remove the apple afterward.

5. How to Soften Brown Sugar with Terracotta

Hardened brown sugar is such a common problem that some clever people have come up with a very clever solution.

  1. You simply soak a piece of terracotta in water for about 20 minutes, then place it in an airtight container with the dried-out sugar lump.
  2. In about a day, the terracotta revives the sugar and prevents it from lumping up again by maintaining an ideal moisture level.

You can find terracotta sugar savers that look like adorable bears (see picture below), leaves, or other small shapes.

Photo by Meredith.

How to Store Brown Sugar

To keep brown sugar properly moist and ready to use, you need to store it in an airtight container in a dry pantry. (The fridge is too moist for proper sugar storage.) You can use the terracotta method (above) to maintain moisture. If you did a bulk buy on brown sugar, you could break it down into smaller packages, squeeze out all the air, and freeze it. Note that it could take a couple of hours to thaw.

How to Make Brown Sugar

Out of brown sugar altogether? Try whipping up a batch yourself with this simple method for making homemade brown sugar.