Q: What’s the best way to soften brown sugar that has gone hard?

A: This question comes up often. And it recently happened to me. I went to measure out some brown sugar for a recipe and it was rock hard. The sugar was stored in its original packaging and I closed the bag, squeezing out the air and put a clip on it. I also put it in a jar with a lid, but not a tight-fitting lid. It turned hard anyway.

Brown sugar is granulated sugar with the addition of molasses. When brown sugar turns hard it is, in part, because of the molasses. What happens is that once the brown sugar is exposed to air, the molasses evaporates, and the sugar crystals stick together and turn hard. But it’s the molasses that gives brown sugar its softer texture.

Once a bag of brown sugar is opened, you can avoid it becoming hard by sealing the bag shut and storing it in an air-tight container. You can also store it in a plastic sealable bag with the air squeezed out. There’s a gadget called a Brown Sugar Bear, which is made of clay. Placing the Brown Sugar Bear in with the brown sugar will help keep it soft for three to six months depending on the climate. You can also use the Brown Sugar Bear to keep cookies and raisins soft. Also, consider placing some marshmallows in with the brown sugar.

But if the brown sugar has turned hard, here are two quick methods:

Place hardened brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover sugar lightly with two pieces of wet (but not dripping) white paper towel. Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap. Heat in the microwave on high for 1 {-2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and use a fork to stir and break up the sugar. (Caution: The sugar will be hot.) Domino’s recommends microwaving only the amount of sugar you need because it will harden as it cools.

Place brown sugar clumps in a paper bag and add a couple of apple wedges or a slice of bread. Close the bag tightly and leave for one to two days.

Take clumps of hardened brown sugar and run it across a grater to break it up.

White sugar can also become hard over time. But in order to break it up, you need to use a hard object to break it apart. It should break apart easily because of its small crystals.

Here’s a favorite cookie recipe from our archives that uses more brown sugar than white granulated sugar.


Makes: 3 dozen generous-size cookies / Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened

½ cup sugar

1½ cups brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon small- to medium-grain coarse sea salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1½ teaspoons baking powder

2 cups broken up chocolates

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and brown sugar until the mixture is fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes. Add the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix until cookie batter is fully incorporated. Finally, add the chocolate chunks until well distributed. The batter should be somewhat thick. For each cookie, drop about 2 tablespoons of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the edges are golden brown.

From Stephanie Acho-Tartoni of Chocolates by Renee in Northville, Mich.

Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 1 cookie.

171 calories (46 percent from fat), 9 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 132 mg sodium, 27 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber.

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