How to Soften Brown Sugar

We’ve all been there. We go to bake up some cookies or a cake, grab the brown sugar hoping for soft brown sugar, like sugar crystals of sweet wet sand, but it is solid as a rock.

straight on shot of brown sugar in measuring spoon


Storage- How to Keep Brown Sugar Soft

The best way is to not have it get hard in the first place. Unless you know you are going to use a lot, buy it in the smallest packages possible. I like to keep it in resealable plastic container, pushing out as much of the air as possible. Air = clumpy brown sugar. You can also store it in a sealed container in a cool place out of the sunlight. Avoid keeping it in a box, if that is how it came packaged.

Unless you are only storing it for a short period of time, say you plan to use it later that day or tomorrow, you can cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

You might be tempted to just throw in the sugar hard and hope for the best, but many recipes (especially baked goods) that call for brown sugar are also counting on the moisture that goes with it, not just flavor.

Savory dishes are generally looking for the sweetness to balance out other flavors or to caramelize, so it isn’t as important. If you find yourself with a solid mass, just throw it into a food processor to break it up.

To give it even more longevity, use one of these handy brown sugar savers which is really just a terra cotta disc. You can even use a piece of a broken pot, as long as it is cleaned well. Soak them in water, set them in your container. You’ll need to remember take it out and soak it every so often.

Here are a couple of different ways to zhugh up your hard clump.

1. Microwave Method

This is the quickest way, but also has the shortest soft-life, if you will. Place hard brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and cover it with a damp towel- either a paper towel or a tea towel. Be sure to squeeze out the excess water when you moisten it; it should not be dripping, just damp.

Microwave for 20 to 25 seconds. You might need to work heating in 10-second intervals. It is okay for the sugar to warm, but don’t go too far. If you do, the sugar will melt or start to dry out again. Use a fork to break it into smaller pieces and granules.

This techinque is the fastest and easiest, but you will also need to use your softened brown sugar right away. It will go back to being a lump if you don’t get it right into the recipe!

2. Bread and Apple Method

If you have a little bit of time before needing your sugar, you can use the classic and no technologically advanced/natural method for softening brown sugar using apples or fresh bread. The theory here is that the moisture from these two items will seep into the sugar and naturally soften.

Place your solid brown sugar in an airtight container and top it with either fresh apple slices or a slice of bread. The moisture will transfer from the bread into the sugar resulting in a longer-lasting softening effect than that of the microwave technique.

Caution though, this option can take anywhere for a few hours to overnight depending on how much brown sugar you have to soften. If you need to bake immediately, go with the first technique.

3. Substitute for Brown Sugar

The last technique isn’t really softening your rock hard brown sugar, it is substituting. Use a 1:1 ration of brown sugar to white sugar and 2 teaspoons of molasses for every cup. Which is exactly what brown sugar is anyhow.

You can also swap light brown sugar for dark brown sugar or vice versa.

4. Buy New Sugar

There is also something to knowing when a sugar lump just needs to be replaced. You’ve heard every chef say that a good recipe start with quality ingredients. Depending how much you need, how you are using it and what the recipe is, sometimes the best way to deal with your situation is to just run to the store and buy more. Or ask a neighbor.

Here are more helpful tips and techniques for use in the kitchen!

straight on shot of brown sugar in measuring spoon with text overlay for pinterest
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

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Questions and Reviews

  1. I found an old bag of brown sugar in my pantry and I couldn’t let it go to waste! I used your bread technique and it worked perfectly!! Thanks so much for helping me revive my sugar 🙂