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Cooking Tips

How to Soften Brown Sugar (and Keep It That Way)

Here’s how to make your hardened brown sugar good as new.
By Published Apr. 29, 2022

There’s nothing worse than setting out to make your favorite cookie recipe, opening your pantry, and being greeted by a big brick of rock-hard brown sugar. Panic sets in a little bit, but it doesn’t have to. You have a few options to fall back on to soften your brown sugar.

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Why Does Brown Sugar Harden?

Brown sugar is white sugar that is flavored with molasses, hence its color. When it is exposed to air, the moisture in the molasses evaporates. This causes the brown sugar to dry out and harden—and leaves you with a brick of brown sugar you don’t know what to do with. (Until now.)

How to Soften Brown Sugar

Luckily, you have a couple of different options to soften your brown sugar, depending on how much time you have and what equipment you have in your kitchen.

This video shows some of our favorite ways to soften brown sugar and keep it soft. Read on for some of our other softening tips.

1. How to Soften Brown Sugar in the Microwave

To soften brown sugar in the microwave, simply place a slice of sandwich bread in a bowl with your hardened brown sugar, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. The brown sugar will absorb the moisture from the bread and soften up.

2. How to Soften Brown Sugar Overnight

To soften brown sugar overnight, place a slice of bread in a zipper-lock bag with the brown sugar and set it aside overnight until the sugar is soft again. Like the microwave method, the brown sugar will absorb the moisture from the bread to soften.

3. How to Soften Brown Sugar in Your Oven

To soften brown sugar in your oven, heat your oven to 250 degrees. Place your sugar in a pie plate and bake it in for five minutes. Let it cool then use it immediately.

4. How to Soften Brown Sugar with a Coffee Grinder

If you have a coffee grinder, this tool is perfect for quickly breaking up those hard clumps by placing up to ¼ cup of brown sugar into the grinder at a time.

5. How to Soften Brown Sugar with a Grater

Another quick method for this problem is to run the block of sugar along the holes of your grater to break down the sugar into a softened, usable state.

How to Keep Your Brown Sugar Soft

The best way to avoid having to soften brown sugar is to prevent it from hardening at all. Here are the best ways to do it.

1. Store Your Brown Sugar in an Airtight Container

The key to keeping your brown sugar from hardening is eliminating as much air exposure as possible. The best way to do this is to transfer your brown sugar into an airtight container such as a large, heavy-duty zipper lock bag. This method also makes it easier to use your measuring cups and spoons when you need it.

2. Keep Your Brown Sugar Soft with Terra Cotta

In addition to storing your brown sugar in an airtight container, a permanent solution to this problem is to store your brown sugar with a soaked piece of terra cotta.

One option is to use a terra cotta brown sugar saver, such as a Brown Sugar Bear. Just soak it in water and then store it in the same container as your brown sugar. It's cute and affordable, and you’ll never have to worry about hard brown sugar again.

You can also make your own version of a Brown Sugar Bear. If you have any broken terra cotta pots lying around, repurpose it to soften your brown sugar. Here's how to do it:

  1. Find a shard of terra cotta about the size of a small saucer, with no sharp edges. Scrub it free of dirt and soak it in water for 15 minutes.
  2. Blot the piece with a towel before placing it at the bottom of your brown sugar container. It will slowly release moisture, keeping the sugar soft.