Why does brown sugar bulk up into a rock-like state, while white sugar stays granulated? You might’ve wondered a little about that as you held a brick hard bag of brown sugar in your hands.
The science behind this is simple. Brown sugar is basically white sugar with added molasses. And if it’s not properly stored in an airtight container, its moisture escapes into the air. The molasses then thickens, and becomes like a glue, binding its crystals into this solid mass.
The question is then, how to soften brown sugar? And here’s the ultimate guide to restoring hardened brown sugar back to its granulated state.
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How to Soften Hardened Brown Sugar?
Before discarding the brown sugar pack that’s become rock-solid in your pantry, you might want to try a few tricks. Let me tell you about how to soften brown sugar that has hardened by using a simple process.
First, we should get to the roots of the problem. Sugar clumps and solidifies as the moisture inside it gradually evaporates.
This is often due to a fault in its packing or storage. However, it’s not the end of the world. And once you get that moisture back in, your brown sugar will be restored to its factory settings. Just don’t try anything extreme like drowning it in water. There are easier ways.
How to soften brown sugar that is hard? There are some pretty good tried and true methods like using a piece of bread, a slice of apple, or soliciting the help of a microwave. Read on to see how each one of these tricks works.
How to Soften Brown Sugar Quickly?
You’re halfway through making your favourite cake, and as you go to the pantry to get the sugar, you find that the whole pack has turned to stone. So how to quickly soften brown sugar?
People often have multiple fixes for everything, but in the case of how to soften brown sugar fast, there is a unanimous opinion. And that is using a microwave oven.
Here’s how to soften brown sugar in a hurry. Basically, it’s the detailed steps of how to soften brown sugar in the microwave.
How to Soften Brown Sugar in Microwave?
It’s really no hassle at all, and it takes a few minutes tops. Here’s how to soften brown sugar in a microwave.
Step 1 : Get a Chunk of Hardened Brown Sugar
Chances are that you don’t need the whole pack to resume your cookie recipe. If possible, take a manageable chunk of the brown sugar and get it ready for further processing.
If the whole pack is moulded into one hard mass, then this option is clearly off the table. Don’t try to hack at it with sharp or heavy things. We can still sort it out.
Step 2: Use a Large Microwave-Friendly Bowl
Pick one that’s more than double the size of the hardened sugar. You’d need to manipulate it several times as you soften it, so give yourself sufficient room for that.
If the whole pack has solidified, then make sure the bowl you’re using is wide enough. A baking dish with a raised rim could be optimal for the rectangular brown sugar packs.
Step 3: Cover the Bowl With a Wet Cloth
The whole idea is to give the brown sugar back its lost moisture. The best way to do that is by providing a source that’s rich with humidity.
Notice that we aren’t putting the water directly on the brown sugar. We’re just letting it soak back the water that’s vaporising from the damp cloth. This is by the far the least intrusive method to reverse the hardened state of the sugar.
Step 4: Set the Microwave for Short Intervals
As a rule, when sugar is heated up, it melts and becomes caramelised. At that new state, you can hardly use it for little more than caramel based desserts, like Creme Caramel. You wouldn’t be able to use it in the cookie recipe we’re so keen to resume.
It’s best then to get the benefits of the microwave, without letting it heat up the brown sugar. The way to do that is by turning the microwave on for only a few-second-intervals at a time. Twenty-second turns is a good process.
Step 5: Stir Things Up
Once the twenty seconds are done, take the bowl out, and stir the brown sugar. This way, you’re exposing more of its surface to the water vapour. At the same time, you’re keeping it from excessive local heating, or the microwave charring off the uppermost parts.
Repeat this process until the sugar gets back its refreshed crystalline state.
How to Soften Brown Sugar Without a Microwave
What if you’re not in a terrible hurry, and would rather not do the microwave drill. Fortunately, there’s a way to do that. Here’s how to soften up brown sugar without a microwave.
Step 1: Find a Moist Material
We often use bread to lend the dried up sugar some of its moisture. Some people resort to apples, orange peels, marshmallows, or even terra cotta.
All these materials work in theory, but several people didn’t get great outcomes when they tried them. We also prefer to go with something that’s handy, clean, and wouldn’t affect the taste or odour of the sugar.
So go with a piece of soft bread.
Step 2: The Secret Is in the Container, Get a Good One
Brown sugar hardens whenever it’s exposed to air. The secret then is to put in a container where this moisture wouldn’t escape. Airtight containers are absolutely essential for that.
You could also use the package that the manufacturer wraps the sugar in, as it’s already airtight. But make sure that you give it an extra wrapping in another impervious bag. That’s to make sure that the newly created moisture stays inside.
Step 3: Place the Bread beside the Sugar
A single slice of bread is often enough to re-vitalise the hardened brown sugar. If it’s too dry, or you have a large quantity of sugar in the pack, add more. Feel free to put in 2-5 slices of bread as needed.
Step 4: Wait for a Few Days
This is an easy but not-so-quick method to soften brown sugar. You’d need to wait for 2 or 3 days till the sugar gradually reverses its hardened state. It’s actually amusing to watch such Benjamin Button progress!
How to Soften Dark Brown Sugar
Dark brown sugar is different from the lighter shades of brown sugar in the amount of molasses it contains. Light brown sugar contains around 3% molasses, while dark brown sugar contains about 8%. That’s why it packs in a richer caramel flavour and has a rather smooth texture.
To soften dark brown sugar, you just need to bear in mind that it needs to replenish its lost moisture. Also, you’d need to make sure that whatever treatment you give it wouldn’t affect its flavour or consistency.
Normally, the same techniques that work with light brown sugar are effective with dark brown sugar. The long term solution of the bread is good, and the immediate fix of popping it inside a microwave is good too. You might want to decrease the intervals to 10 seconds though.
A Few More Things
As you can see, it’s a walk in the park to soften brown sugar. However, it’s much easier to keep it fresh and smooth. Airtight containers are your ally in that respect, so use them. You don’t even need to pop them in the fridge. Anywhere in the pantry will do.
What causes brown sugar to harden?
Brown sugar hardens when it loses its moisture content. This usually happens due to exposure to air, when the sugar is not stored properly in an airtight container. Brown sugar’s unique moist texture comes from the molasses content, which can evaporate over time, causing the sugar to form hard clumps or lumps.
How can I quickly soften hardened brown sugar?
If you need to soften brown sugar immediately, a quick solution is to microwave it. Put the brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl, cover it with a damp paper towel, and microwave it in 20-second intervals, breaking up any large clumps with a fork in between. Be careful not to melt the sugar! Alternatively, if you have a food processor, you can pulse the hardened brown sugar until it returns to its granulated form.
Are there any natural ways to soften brown sugar?
Yes, there are a few natural methods to soften brown sugar. You can add a slice of fresh apple, a piece of bread, or a few marshmallows to the container of hardened brown sugar. These items help to add moisture back into the sugar. After a day or two, the sugar will absorb the moisture and soften. Just remember to remove the apple, bread, or marshmallows once the sugar has softened to avoid spoilage.
How can I prevent my brown sugar from hardening in the first place?
The best way to prevent brown sugar from hardening is by storing it properly. Keep it in an airtight container or a self-sealing plastic bag to prevent air exposure. You can also invest in a terra cotta brown sugar saver, which you soak in water and then place in the container. It helps to maintain the moisture content of the sugar, thereby preventing it from hardening.
Is hardened brown sugar safe to use? Does it lose its flavor or quality?
Yes, hardened brown sugar is safe to use and it doesn’t lose its flavor or quality. The hardening process only affects the texture of the sugar, not its safety or taste. However, the change in texture can influence how the sugar interacts with other ingredients in a recipe. For instance, it may not blend as easily into mixtures, which is why softening it can be beneficial.