Brown sugar, both light and dark, is essential in the kitchen, especially for baking. Brown sugar is essentially white sugar that has had molasses added; darker brown sugars include more molasses and a richer flavor. Brown sugar brings rich toffee and caramel notes to your sweets, and a sweet complexity to balance the flavors in sauces like homemade barbecue sauce or chutney. When used in baking, it adds moisture to cakes, and great chew to cookies or pie crust. In savory cooking, brown sugar is key to creating a sweet glaze for contrast on a piece of fish or lending depth and flavor to a brine for turkey.
But too often, you reach for the canister and discover a solid brick of brown sugar, or a pile of little rocks. Don’t worry: That sugar is salvageable. Here are the best ways to soften brown sugar.
Soak a terra cotta tile
These small tiles can be soaked in water for 30 minutes, dried off, and then stored in an airtight container with your brown sugar to keep it soft. If you clean and re-soak them every few weeks, you should have no issues. If your sugar has already hardened, it will likely take a day or two for the terra cotta to soften the sugar.
Stash it with bread, marshmallows or apple slices
A slice of bread or a couple of large marshmallows or apple slices placed in the canister with your brown sugar will give you softened sugar in about eight to 16 hours. Even if clumps remain, they should be soft enough to break apart easily with a fork, or push through a sieve.
Cover it with a damp cloth or towel
Transfer your sugar to a bowl, dampen a clean tea towel or kitchen cloth with water, wring out, and drape over the bowl, being sure not to let the towel touch the surface of the sugar. Leave it out at room temperature overnight, and your sugar should be softened by morning.
Zap it in the microwave
While a bit riskier, you can soften brown sugar quickly by giving it some time in your microwave. Transfer the brown sugar to a microwave safe bowl, dampen some paper towels and wring them out, and drape them over the bowl. Microwave the sugar in 30 second intervals, breaking apart clumps with a fork between zaps.
How to keep brown sugar soft
The best way to always have soft brown sugar is to not let it harden in the first place. Store it in a sealed plastic bag inside an airtight container for double protection against moisture. You can also store it in the freezer to help retain proper moisture; just remember to take it out of the freezer the night before you want to bake. Using terra cotta tiles and remembering to re-soak them once a month or so can also help keep things nice and soft in your container. Finally, watch how much you buy. Brown sugars are pantry staples, but not necessarily ones to purchase in bulk if you do not bake with them regularly. Buy what you are likely to use within a month, and restock as needed.