It happens all the time: You peer into your cardboard box of brown sugar and find brown concrete instead. When you tap that solid mass with your measuring spoon, it’s like mining for gold with a pickax. Ugh. But you must make those cookies.
Why, oh why?! (Ummm … air.) It’s OK, though. You have solutions.
If you have a day or two, or 12 hours minimum, place the sugar in a sealed plastic container and put some apple slices, bread, or a damp paper towel in there. Those items will absorb the hardened molasses a bit, softening and separating the sugar. The top layer of sugar may lighten but you can discard that part. Make sure to remove the bread or apple slices after two to three days or you could find mold.
For those of us who need the brown sugar RIGHT NOW, there’s the trusty microwave. Place a damp (not dripping wet) paper towel over your bowl of brown sugar and heat it for 10 seconds a pop until the consistency is right. Or, place the sugar in the microwave next to a bowl of water and microwave for a minute, as needed, says Hanna Trafford of the Mama Knows online community. Be careful not to melt the sugar. It’s like buttah (ahem, butter). In your quest for speedy softening of either one, you can end up with a melty mess.
The oven is also there for you in this time of need for quick softening, Trafford says. Put the hard brown sugar on a baking pan and bake at 250°F for five minutes and then check on it until soft.
Put a Brown Sugar Bear in there. The terra cotta, food-safe fired-clay keeps brown sugar moist for at least three months. Soak it in water for 20 minutes and stick that cute little bear in not just brown sugar, but also baked goods, cakes, cookies, marshmallows, and dried fruit to soften and maintain moistness. You can also use the bear without soaking it first to absorb moisture and keep spices, salt, crackers, pretzels and chips crispy and dry.
To make sure this doesn’t happen again, seal your brown sugar in an air-tight container. Store it in a lidded plastic container, like Tupperware, or in a plastic freezer bag, Ziploc.
Let’s make this as basic as possible.
To soften brown sugar in fewer than 10 minutes, you will need:
- hardened brown sugar
- microwave-safe bowl
- dampened paper towel
Dump into a microwave-safe bowl that big, solid block of brown sugar that remains in the plastic packaging within the cardboard box.
Rip off a paper towel sheet and sprinkle some water on it until damp, but not dripping wet.
Spread the damp sheet over the bowl of hard brown sugar and place it in the microwave. Heat for either 10 seconds or 30 seconds at a time, checking the sugar after each interval. Don’t heat it until the sugar melts!
Once the sugar is supple, take it out of the microwave and measure out the amount you need for your recipe.
Place the remaining softened brown sugar in a plastic or glass container that has an air-tight lid. For extra measure, you could soak a Brown Sugar Bear in water for 20 minutes, dry it off and place the bear inside the container with the sugar.
Now that you have softened brown sugar, try baking one of these treats.
Instead of gingersnaps, make a moist, zingy bread with all the flavors of the season. You’ll need a cup of packed brown sugar. Get our Gingerbread Loaf recipe.
Spiced Pumpkin-Oatmeal Cookies
Enjoy that pumpkin flavor in a slightly different way, with rolled oats for some extra fiber to combat a sugar spike. Filled with the warming spices we love during the holidays, this cookie is a winner for adults and parents alike. You’ll need a cup of packed dark brown sugar. Get our Spiced Pumpkin-Oatmeal Cookies recipe.
Pecan Pie Tart
Buttery and caramelized, this tart is chock full of brown sugar goodness (but only ⅓ cup, not too much) and crunchy pecans. Make a classic in a new way. Get our Pecan Pie Tart recipe.
— Head photo: Mama Knows.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She’s trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.