How to Soften Brown Sugar (Our Best Ways!)

It’s happened to the best of us. We’re in the middle of making a batch of chocolate chip cookies or other baked goods, and when we pull our brown sugar out of the pantry, we realize it’s hard as a rock.

There are several easy ways to soften hard brown sugar so that you can measure it and use it in cooking. If your brown sugar has been in the pantry for too long or has been stored improperly, the texture is affected.

how to soften brown sugar

Equally important, if brown sugar is exposed to heat or warm air, it will harden and become dry. The problem is that brown sugar contains moisture because of the sweetener that is used to make it.

How do you soften brown sugar? In this list, we share quick methods for softening brown sugar, along with overnight methods. All of these methods are super easy to do, and it just depends on how soon you need your brown sugar softened and what tools you have to work with.

What Does Dark Brown Sugar Harden?

To understand why brown sugar crystals become hard, it helps to understand how brown sugar is made. Brown sugar is white granulated sugar (white sugar) that has been combined with sweet molasses, a dark brown syrup that adds tons of flavor and changes the texture of the sugar crystal.

1. Microwave Oven

Softening Time: Approximately 1 to 2 minutes

A fast and easy way to soften your hard sugar is to use the microwave. However, keep in mind that you need to do this carefully because if sugar gets to the temperature of 340 degrees Fahrenheit, it will melt.

To soften brown sugar in the microwave, place hardened brown sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Place a damp paper towel atop the bowl, then microwave on high in 10-second intervals. In between the intervals, break up the brown sugar with a fork.

soften brown sugar

2. Food Processor

Softening Time: Approximately 1 to 3 minutes

You can add clumps of brown sugar to your food processor to soften it. To do this, break the brick of brown sugar up into smaller pieces that will fit into the bowl of your food processor.

Then, use the pulse function to get smaller sugar granules.

3. Cheese Grater

Softening Time: Approximately 2 to 5 minutes

Who knew you could use your humble cheese grater to break up hard brown sugar?

Whichever you use, place the grater atop a sturdy plate or bowl. Use the grater’s large holes to grate the brown sugar. It takes a few minutes, but you’ll have some nicely separated brown sugar.

4. Oven

Softening Time: Approximately 3 to 5 minutes

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius). Put the sugar on a baking pan or pie plate, being careful to not allow it to touch the edges. Heat the sugar for up to five minutes in the oven.

Check the brown sugar every minute and use a fork to break up the larger pieces. Don’t overheat the sugar, or it will melt. The melting point is 340 degrees Fahrenheit (171 degrees Celsius).

When you remove the sugar from the oven, it will be hot. Allow it to cool completely, then use it in your recipe.

The oven method works great for large clumps of brown sugar or significantly larger amounts of sugar.

5. Plastic Bag

Softening Time: Approximately 10 minutes

To use the plastic bag method, add your hardened sugar to a large zippered bag. Then, add about 3/4 teaspoons of cool water to 1 1/4 cups of rock hard brown sugar.

how do you soften brown sugar

Press the air out of the bag and seal it. After 10 minutes, gently massage the clumpy brown sugar. This will break the clumps up as it distributes the moisture.

6. Apple Slices

Softening Time: Between 8 and 24 hours

Once you have your brown sugar in the sealed container, add a couple of apple slices to the sugar. Place the slices directly on top of the brown sugar. Your sugar will be softer in about eight hours. Also, the brown sugar will take on some of the apple’s aroma and flavor.

Don’t leave the apple slices in the brown sugar container for longer than about 24 hours. Toss the apple slices in the trash after you use them.

7. Bread

Softening Time: Approximately 24 hours

Fresh bread contains some moisture, and you can use soft bread slices to help soften your hardened brown sugar. Take a fresh bread slice and put it with the brown sugar into an airtight container. In about a day, your brown sugar will be softer.

Be sure to remove the bread after the 24-hour period because bread can become moldy, so this isn’t a strategy that works long-term in keeping brown sugar soft.

8. Brown Sugar Terra Cotta Saver

Softening Time: Approximately 24 hours

Because terra cotta is a porous material, it’s often used to make flower pots. Terra cotta soaks up and holds water so that it releases moisture slowly. The same concept works when you use a terra cotta brown sugar saver.

The terra cotta slowly releases moisture back into the brown sugar, and this helps the sugar to stay soft. You can find terra cotta brown sugar savers in cute shapes, such as a brown sugar bear. You can also break off a piece of a small and clean flower pot.

To use a terra cotta sugar saver, soak the terra cotta piece for 20 minutes in cold water. After it has soaked, blot the terra cotta dry with a clean paper towel, so your sugar doesn’t get wet.

Place the terra cotta piece directly into the brown sugar. Store the sugar in an airtight container. After about a day, the hardened brown sugar will be softer. This terra cotta piece will keep your brown sugar soft for three to six months.

how to soften hard brown sugar

How to Keep Brown Sugar from Getting Hard

If you’ve ever thrown out a bag of brown sugar because it was hard and you didn’t know how to soften it, you’re not alone. The key to keeping brown sugar soft is to limit exposure to air as much as you can. Follow these tips to help keep your brown sugar softer for longer.

  • Store the brown sugar in a plastic bag: Use a large resealable plastic bag to keep your brown sugar away from the air. Be sure to press out all of the air before sealing the bag.
  • Use an airtight container: After opening your brown sugar, store it in an airtight container. You can also use a glass jar with a rubber seal to keep air out of the jar.
  • Store in a dry, dark cabinet or pantry: Your brown sugar can become hard if it’s exposed to sunlight and heat, so be sure you keep it in a cabinet or pantry that’s not close to the stove.
  • Add terra cotta bears or disks: Brown sugar savers are easy to find online, and they’re perfect for keeping your brown sugar soft long-term.
  • Use within about two years: Brown sugar will keep for years, but for the best results, we recommend using it within two years of purchase. You can also store brown sugar in the freezer and defrost it before cooking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did my brown sugar get hard? 
Brown sugar becomes hard when it’s stored improperly. The sweetener in the sugar becomes dry if it has been exposed to air, and the same thing happens if the area where it’s stored is dry and hot.

Can I use my hardened brown sugar?
Absolutely! The one exception is if the brown sugar has picked up a lot of moisture and melted into a sticky mass. As long as you can still see the sugar granules, your brown sugar can be used in recipes. Just soften it using one of these methods and break it down.

Will brown sugar that’s frozen stay soft? 
You can freeze brown sugar for long-term storage. The water in the molasses will become hard, but as soon as it comes to room temperature, the sugar is easy to scoop. Be sure to allow your brown sugar to defrost before you cook with it.

how to soften brown sugar

How to Soften Brown Sugar

If you've ever been in the process of making a batch of cookies and discovered that your brown sugar has become hard, don't despair. There are several ways you can soften your brown sugar and get back to making those yummy cookies.
5 from 8 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Seasoning
Cuisine American
Servings 20
Calories 48 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • Cold water plastic bag method
  • 1/2 inch thick apple slice apple method
  • Bread slice bread method
  • 8 oz. hardened brown sugar

Instructions
 

Microwave Method (2 minutes)

  • Place the brown sugar in a bowl that's safe for the microwave. Place a moist paper towel on top of the bowl. Microwave the sugar on the high setting in 10-second intervals.

Food Processor Method (3 minutes)

  • Use your food processor to break up the hardened brown sugar lumps. Pulse several times until your light brown sugar is in granules.

Cheese Grater Method (5 minutes)

  • Use a box grater or handheld grate to break up large clumps of hardened brown sugar. Placing the grater over a plate or bowl, grate the clumps through the grater's large holes.

Oven Method (5 minutes)

  • Spread the brown sugar onto a baking pan or pie plate. Heat in a 250 degrees Fahrenheit oven. Check the brown sugar every minute and use a fork to break up the clumps.

Plastic Bag Method (10 minutes)

  • Put your hardened brown sugar into a resealable plastic bag. For 8 ounces of brown sugar, add 3/4 teaspoon of water sprinkled on top of the sugar. Massage the bag with the sugar to distribute the moisture and break up the hardened clumps.

Apple Slices Method (8 hours)

  • Add one or two apple slicers to your brown sugar. After 8 hours, use a fork to break up your sugar.

Bread Slice Method (24 hours)

  • Put a fresh bread slice into the air tight container where you store your brown sugar. After 24 hours, you can use a fork to break up your brown sugar.

Brown Sugar Terra Cotta Saver (24 hours)

  • Soak the brown sugar saver for 20 minutes in cold water. Blot with dry paper towels to remove the moisture on the surface. Put the terra cotta piece into your brown sugar and store it in an airtight container.

Notes

Serving Size: 1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
Recipe Yield: This recipe with 8 ounces of packed brown sugar yields approximately 1 1/4 cups of soft brown sugar.
Storing: If you don't use all of your brown sugar, transfer the remaining sugar to a resealable plastic bag or an airtight
container. Store your brown sugar in a dry, dark place like the back of the pantry. The key is to keep the brown sugar away from areas of the kitchen that are hot. You can also freeze brown sugar and defrost it before you use it.
Brown Sugar Amounts: The only method in this list that requires a specific amount of hardened brown sugar is the plastic bag technique.

Nutrition

Calories: 48kcalCarbohydrates: 12g
Keyword how to soften brown sugar
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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