Home / Baking Basics / How to Soften Brown Sugar (6 Ways!)

How to Soften Brown Sugar (6 Ways!)

This post contains links to affiliate websites, such as Amazon, and we receive an affiliate commission for any purchases made by you using these links. We appreciate your support!

Finding yourself with a big hard block of brown sugar is the worst! This post covers how to soften brown sugar six different ways, explains why it gets hard, and how to store your brown sugar so it's always soft and ready for your recipes.

Clumped hardened brown sugar in a clear mixing bowl

Have you ever gone to scoop out brown sugar for a recipe only to have the measuring cup sound like it ran into a boulder? Ugh, it's the worst.

But the good news is that it's not an unsolvable problem! There are actually several different ways you can return your brown sugar to its original glory – so don't throw that hard brown sugar out! Read on to find out how to get it back into a soft, usable state.

What is brown sugar?

First, I think it's important that we understand what brown sugar actually is. If you're anything like me, once I learn the mechanics or science behind something, it will be more likely to stick with me.

It's created by this (very simplified for the sake of this post) process:

  • Sugarcane stalks are cut and crushed to extract its juice
  • The juice is clarified and sent through an evaporator to remove the water and create a syrup
  • The sugar in that syrup is crystallized
  • Now you have a bunch of raw sugar crystals that are covered in molasses

While you might think that would be brown sugar in its final form, these days it usually isn't. It's actually refined to the white sugar stage, and then it's re-mixed with molasses to get a consistent flavor and color.

What's the difference between light and dark brown sugar?

The difference between light and dark brown sugar is simply the amount of molasses each contains.

  • Light brown sugar: Contains around 3.5% molasses, fluffier
  • Dark brown sugar: Contains around 6.5% molasses, has a deeper caramel flavor

Why does brown sugar get hard?

Okay, so we've covered that brown sugar contains molasses, and molasses contains moisture.

So when brown sugar is exposed to air and loses that moisture through evaporation, it dries out and the brown sugar hardens. Hard as a freaking rock.

And now for the answers to the million-dollar question: how do you soften hard brown sugar so that returns to a usable state?

How to soften brown sugar in the microwave

Place your boulder clumps of hardened brown sugar into a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave in 10-second increments for about 20 seconds.

Give it a fluff with a fork or whisk and if it seems like there are still parts that haven't quite softened enough, remove the parts that have and heat the hard portion again for 15 seconds.

  • Pros: This is the quickest fix to get you back into the baking business in no time.
  • Cons: If you don't have a microwave… well, this won't work for you.

How to soften brown sugar in the oven

Preheat your oven to 250˚F and put your brown sugar clumps on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Place it in the oven and keep an eye on it until you see it start to soften, and then immediately remove it from the oven.

However, you need to measure out what you need and use it immediately. The sugar is now hot and once it starts to cool it will harden again. And that, of course, defeats the purpose of why you did all this.

  • Pros: This is a pretty quick solution, and the quickest option if you don't have a microwave to use the above method.
  • Cons: You have to use it immediately, so you have to make sure you've measured out exactly what you need (which is tough to do when it's still rock hard) and you have to work quickly.

How to soften brown sugar with terracotta

Soak a piece of terra cotta (also known as terracotta brown sugar bears, brown sugar saver, or a terracotta disk) in water for at least 20 minutes.

Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add the terracotta disk, ensuring it is touching the sugar.

The great thing about this method is that if you have some lead time, you can just let the disk do the work for you – and you can re-soak the disk and add it to your usual container of brown sugar so that it can help maintain the already soft sugar's integrity.

  • Pros: This is a pretty hands-off method, so you can set it and forget it (for a while). It can also be used as a long-term method of keeping brown sugar soft while its stored.
  • Cons: Takes a couple of days to do its magic.

How to soften brown sugar with bread

Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add a slice of bread to the top. The brown sugar will slowly absorb some of the moisture from the bread.

Check it after 24 hours and the sugar should be soft – toss the bread, and enjoy your newly softened brown sugar.

  • Pros: This is a pretty hands-off method, so you can set it and forget it (for a short time), and most people have bread lying around.
  • Cons: Takes a day or so to do its magic, and runs the risk of forgetting about it and ending up with moldy bread (and therefore tainted sugar).

How to soften brown sugar with apples

Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add a couple of slices of apple to the top.

Check it after 24 hours and the sugar should be soft – toss the apple slices, and enjoy your newly softened brown sugar.

  • Pros: This is a pretty hands-off method, so you can set it and forget it (for a short time).
  • Cons: Takes a day or so to do its magic, runs the risk of forgetting about it and ending up with moldy apples (and therefore tainted sugar), and there's a chance it can transfer some of the apples flavor to the sugar.

How to soften brown sugar with marshmallows

Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add a couple of jumbo or regular-sized marshmallows to the top.

Check it after 24 hours and the sugar should be soft – toss the marshmallows, and enjoy your newly softened brown sugar.

  • Pros: This is a pretty hands-off method, so you can set it and forget it (for a short time).
  • Cons: It takes a day or so to do its magic, and it makes me sad to know you have to throw away the marshmallows and they'll never be s'mores.

What if it's soft, but still a little clumpy?

Sometimes you'll find that you're brown sugar is generally pretty soft and ready to go, but you have a few small clumps that you can just sort of press with a fork or your fingers and it collapses.

If you have more than a few, you can toss the brown sugar into a food processor and give it a few pulses just to break those up.

A terracotta brown sugar bear sinking in a container of brown sugar

How to keep brown sugar soft

Of course, the ideal scenario would be to store your brown sugar so that it stays soft, and then you don't need any of the above tips!

The key is to keep it in a cool area in an airtight container.

I store mine in one of the medium-sized OXO food storage containers along with one of the soaked brown sugar bears, and it works wonderfully. I just resoak the bear every couple of weeks.

… well, that was a weird sentence.

More food storage tips

To learn more about storing baking ingredients and pantry staples, check out my post about How to Store Common Baking Ingredients.

Spoiler alert: there isn't a one size fits all solution, so it's worth the read!

Recipes that use brown sugar

This is just a small sampling of the recipes I have that contain brown sugar, but this will give you a few ideas:

Leslie leaning on a counter

I hope this information helps!

Do you have any questions about this topic that I didn't answer? Let me know in the comments below!

How to Soften Brown Sugar (6 Ways!)

Print Pin
Clumped hardened brown sugar in a clear mixing bowl
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 1 cup (or as much as is needed)

Description

Finding yourself with a big hard block of brown sugar is the worst! This post covers how to soften brown sugar five different ways, explains why brown sugar gets hard, and how to store your brown sugar so it's always soft and ready for your recipes.

Instructions

How to soften brown sugar in the microwave

  • Place your clumps of brown sugar into a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and heat for 15-20 seconds.
  • Give it a fluff with a fork or whisk and if it seems like there are still parts that haven't quite softened enough, remove the parts that have and heat the hard portion again for 15 seconds.

How to soften brown sugar in the oven

  • Preheat your oven to 250˚F and put your brown sugar clumps on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Place it in the oven and keep an eye on it until you see it start to soften, and then immediately remove it from the oven.
  • However, you need to measure out what you need and use it immediately. The sugar is now hot and once it starts to cool it will harden again.

How to soften brown sugar with terracotta

  • Soak a terracotta disk (also known as brown sugar bears) in water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add the terracotta disk, ensuring it is touching the sugar.
  • The great thing about this method is that if you have some lead time, you can just let the disk do the work for you – and you can re-soak the disk and add it to your usual container of brown sugar so that it can help maintain the already soft sugar's integrity.

How to soften brown sugar with bread

  • Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add a slice of bread to the top.
  • Check it after 24 hours and the sugar should be soft – toss the bread, and enjoy your newly softened brown sugar.

How to soften brown sugar with apples

  • Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add a couple slices of apple to the top.
  • Check it after 24 hours and the sugar should be soft – toss the apple slices, and enjoy your newly softened brown sugar.

How to soften brown sugar with marshmallows

  • Place your hardened brown sugar in a tightly-sealed container, and add a couple jumbo or regular sized marshmallows to the top.
  • Check it after 24 hours and the sugar should be soft – toss the marshmallows, and enjoy your newly softened brown sugar.

Notes

How to store brown sugar to keep it soft: The key is to keep it in a cool area in an airtight container. I store mine in one of the medium-sized OXO food storage containers along with one of the soaked brown sugar bears, and it works wonderfully. I just resoak the bear every couple weeks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    I didn’t know about the sugar bear thing and I think it’s hilarious lol totally gonna try this