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How to Soften Brown Sugar

Learn how to soften hardened brown sugar, whether you need it quickly or just want to salvage some brown sugar for later baking projects!

How to Soften Brown Sugar bake or break

How to Soften Brown Sugar

We’ve all been there. You’re all set to bake something delicious, but when you open your container of brown sugar, it’s a rock hard brick. Or maybe you frequently find that you have difficulty keeping your brown sugar from hardening.

Don’t fret, though, because there are some simple tricks to soften your hardened brown sugar and get you back on track quickly. And there are some simple solutions designed to keep your brown sugar fresh and soft, too.

These methods work for both light and dark brown sugar. If you want to more know about the differences between those, read Light Brown Sugar vs Dark Brown Sugar.

Why Does Brown Sugar Become Hard?

Let’s start with why brown sugar hardens. Unlike other kinds of sugar, brown sugar crystals are coated in molasses. When brown sugar is exposed to air, the moisture in the molasses evaporates, causing the sugar crystals to stick together. It’s as simple as that!

How to Soften Brown Sugar in the Microwave

By far, the quickest way to soften hardened brown sugar is to use your microwave. Just place the brown sugar in a microwave-safe container. Then either place a damp paper towel on top of the bowl or fill another microwave-safe bowl with water. Place the bowl(s) in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds at half-power and check for softness. If necessary, continue heating in 15 second intervals until the brown sugar is adequately soft.

You might need to use a fork to break up any lumps of brown sugar. Also take care not to overdo it, or you’ll melt the sugar. And you’ll want to use the sugar fairly quickly after letting it cool.

Use this method if you need your brown sugar softened quickly. Otherwise, keep scrolling for some other methods, including my favorite method for keeping brown sugar soft.

How to Soften Brown Sugar in the Oven

While the results aren’t as quick as using your microwave, your oven will also help soften brown sugar. Wrap your hardened brown sugar in aluminum foil, and place it in a 250°F oven. I recommend placing the wrapped brown sugar on a baking sheet just in case there are any spills.

Carefully check the brown sugar for softness every 5 minutes (It is hot, you know!) until adequately softened. Then let the brown sugar cool before using in your recipe.

How to Soften Brown Sugar Using Bread or Apple Slices

This one may seem a bit odd, but just go with it. Place your hardened brown sugar in a resealable plastic bag or an airtight container. Place a slice of fresh bread or a few apple slices in the container with the brown sugar. Cover it tightly and leave overnight.

Check the brown sugar for softness the next morning. If necessary, seal the container again and check again after a few hours. Be sure to remove the bread or apples! (I’ve also read this works with a few marshmallows!)

How to Soften Brown Sugar with a Dampened Towel

Dampen a kitchen towel or thick paper towel. Wring it out well to remove as much excess water as possible. Place the brown sugar in a bowl, and cover the bowl with the moist paper towel so that the opening is completely covered but the towel is not touching the brown sugar. Leave the covered bowl on your countertop overnight or until the brown sugar has softened.

If you store your brown sugar in an airtight canister, you can also cover the top surface with aluminum foil or plastic wrap,and place the dampened towel on top of the foil or plastic wrap. It’s important to put that layer of protection between the sugar and the damp towel. Otherwise, you’ll find that your brown sugar has turned suspiciously white. Close the container and leave overnight or until the brown sugar has softened.

How to Soften Brown Sugar with a Terra Cotta Disk

There are terra cotta disks made specifically for softening brown sugar, but you can also use any clean piece of terra cotta, like from a broken pot. I would look for a food-safe terra cotta. Simply soak the terra cotta in water for about 30 minutes, dry the excess water thoroughly, and place it with your brown sugar in an airtight container. Leave the container tightly sealed overnight and check for softness the next morning.

You can leave the disk in the container to help your brown sugar retain its moisture. You’ll need to repeat the soaking process for the terra cotta every couple of months, but doing this regularly will keep your brown sugar from hardening.

How NOT to Soften Brown Sugar

You may have heard that you can use a food processor or a blender to soften hardened brown sugar. Some suggest using a box grater. Or just going crazy beating it into submission until it’s no longer a hard lump. Doing this only breaks the sugar into smaller pieces, and doesn’t add back the moisture that’s been lost.

So while you may get those brown sugar clumps broken down, you’ve not actually fixed the underlying issue. And baking with dried-out brown sugar isn’t going to give you great results. Any of the other above methods I listed will work correctly to give your brown sugar new life!

light and dark brown sugar in wooden bowls

How to Keep Brown Sugar Soft

I am a big believer in keeping a terra cotta disk in my brown sugar container. The other methods I described will soften hardened brown sugar, but the terra cotta method will also keep your brown sugar soft for a long time. Keep your brown sugar in an airtight container that’s not too big so there’s as little excess air space as possible. Add one of these disks, and you’ll easily be able to keep that sugar nice and soft.

If you want to try a terra cotta disk, you’ll find many options available. I use an airtight OXO container that allows their terra cotta disk to attach to the lid. I have used it to soften rock hard brown sugar, and I also dampen the disk occasionally to keep the brown sugar soft. This is my preferred method for storing brown sugar and keeping it soft.

How to Store Brown Sugar So It Stays Soft

As you now know, the key to keeping your brown sugar soft is to help it retain its natural moisture. Storing brown sugar in an airtight container is usually enough to prevent hardening, but I like to take an extra step to make sure it stays soft and ready to use.

As I just described, I prefer keeping my brown sugar in an airtight container with a terra cotta disk. (These are sometimes called brown sugar savers or terra cotta sugar savers.) If you use this method, you’ll periodically need to repeat the process of dampening the terra cotta to keep your brown sugar soft.

Because air exposure is the culprit in hardening brown sugar, there’s also the option of making extra sure that your sugar storage is airtight. Try placing the sugar in a zip-top plastic bag and squeeze out the extra air. Then place that bag inside an airtight container.

Freezing Brown Sugar

It’s inevitable that brown sugar will eventually become hard if stored long enough. If you don’t use it frequently enough to avoid hardening, store it in your freezer. It will need to be in an airtight container like a zip-top bag with the excess air removed. Then just remove the container from the freezer two or three hours before you’ll need to use it. If you like, you can even freeze the sugar in unit-of-use sizes (like 1/2 cup or 1 cup) so you can just grab what you need whey you’re ready to bake.

With a little effort and planning, you can easily keep your brown sugar in ready-to-bake mode. But if that fails, you simply need to add moisture back to the brown sugar to make it useable. Luckily you have several options, whether you need to use the sugar within hours or minutes!

Recipes Featuring Brown Sugar

Now, if you’re wanting a little brown sugar baking inspiration, I’ve got some great recipes that feature brown sugar in all it sweet glory. Put your brown sugar to delicious use with Brown Sugar Shortbread, Brown Sugar Pound Cakes, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, Brown Sugar Snack Cake, and Brown Sugar Crinkles.

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    9 Comments on “How to Soften Brown Sugar”

  1. I have always used the bread trick before I invested into the OXO Container. Never knew about the microwave and oven tricks! Thanks for your delicious recipes!

  2. Don’t let it get hard. Press all the air from the opened bag, put an elastic band around it. Then place in a freezer bag and pop into the refrigerator. I’ve been doing this for years and the sugar always stays soft.

  3. I have tried the apple  method for softening brown sugar and it caused too much moisture to form in my canister  and I had to throw out the sugar.   

  4. I’ll stick with the slice of bread. Good use for those odd end cuts you get so it’s practically free.

  5. I’ll stick with my little Teddy Bears. Do you think any piece of terracotta is food grade?

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