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Food & Recipes

Pro Chef Reveals the Sweet Secret That Softens Brown Sugar Fast

Plus 8 other clever ways to reclaim your rock-hard sugar with what you've got on hand

Ever start making a dessert only to discover your brown sugar is hard as a rock? It’s especially frustrating when the treat needs to be ready for a special event, like a birthday party or church bake sale. It happens to even the best bakers and pro chefs, but there are multiple tricks to soften brown sugar fast when you’re pressed for time — and one of them involves a simple drizzle of honey. Keep reading to learn more about this and other surprising hacks to soften your brown sugar so you can get back to baking.

Why does brown sugar harden?

The reason brown sugar gets petrified in your pantry so quickly is because it’s made with molasses. And molasses hates air, so even a little exposure to the elements in your kitchen can cause it to evaporate, drying out your sugar and causing the granules to cement together. How can you whip up something like maple cinnamon sticky buns with hard-as-rock brown sugar? You need to soften it first.

How to soften brown sugar with honey

If you need your brown sugar to be softened fast, look to another sweet staple — honey. Adding a little bit of the sticky stuff to your brown sugar will loosen it up quickly. “Drizzle a few drops honey over hardened sugar bits and mix well,” says Michael Haas, creator of barbecue cooking site Angry BBQ, who uses lots of brown sugar in his cooking. “Honey has a natural moisture that will blend with the hardened sugar pieces and soften them.” Concerned about the flavor? Don’t be. “A drizzle of it won’t really alter the taste of your sugar,” assures Haas.

How to soften brown sugar with other foods

As strange as it sounds, other foods you have around the house can help soften your brown sugar too. This method isn’t as quick, so it’s best for when you realize you need soft sugar the night before. However, it’s incredibly effective at getting the sugar back to its original texture.

To restore your brown sugar, throw a lemon slice, apple slice, carrot peels, marshmallows or a slice of bread into an airtight container with the brown sugar. “They’ll generously donate their moisture, softening your sugar,” confirms Jessica Randhawa, owner and head chef of The Forked Spoon. The only downside is that you’ll have to let it sit a full 24 hours to see results.

How to soften brown sugar in the microwave

Need brown sugar ready faster? Pop it in the microwave, recommends Cristy Stewart-Harfmann, creator of Happy Family Blog. Here’s her step-by-step:

  1. Place the hardened sugar in a microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Dampen a paper towel and place it on top of the sugar.
  3. Microwave the bowl in short intervals, around 10-15 seconds each, until sugar softens.

This method works by reinfusing hard sugar with the moisture it lost, resulting in a soft texture. One important note: “Be careful not to overheat it as the sugar can melt,” she warns. If you’re really in a rush, you can create a steam bath in the microwave. “Place a small bowl of water in the microwave with your bowl of sugar,” says Brian Nagele, CEO of food site Restaurant Clicks. This is a faster method, but you have to be extra careful not to overheat or melt your sugar as the steam can heat it up faster.

How to soften brown sugar in the oven

If you don’t want to use your microwave to soften brown sugar, your oven works just as well. Follow the instructions below for softer sugar in a jiffy:

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. Wrap the entire lump of sugar in foil.
  3. Place in the oven for 5 minutes.

Why does this work? The foil will trap the heat in the wrapped-up sugar, which will cause the granules to separate. One caveat: Just be sure to use the sugar right away before it hardens again.

How to soften brown sugar with kitchen tools

Maybe you can’t wait for the microwave or oven — and we get it. Who wants to wait for sweet treats? Chef and cookbook author Laura Lea Bryant suggests using tools you already have in the kitchen to for near-instant results. “I like to either pulse hardened brown sugar in my food processor until just broken down or grate it with a cheese grater.” She also recommends investing in a terracotta brown sugar bear (Buy from Amazon, $7.99 for pack of 2) that you soak in water and place inside your brown sugar container to keep it moist. “This will make sure your brown sugar never lacks moisture or company!” For more food knowledge and some wonderful recipes, pre-order Chef Lea’s cookbook, Recipes for an Aching Heart: Healthy & Easy Meals to Help You Heal from Grief, Loss, or the Stress of Everyday Life, which releases July 25 (Pre-order from Amazon, $27.44).

Hopefully these tricks soften your sugar so you can satisfy you sweet tooth — stat. And if you want more money-saving kitchen hacks, check these out:

How to Instantly Save Dry, Stale Bagels

6 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Wrap Your Bananas in This Kitchen Staple, Plus 4 Other Pro Tricks to Keep Your Produce Fresh For Longer

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