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, but there is a trick to soften brown sugar fast when you're pressed for time — and all you need is a little heat.
According to the Food Network, the reason why brown sugar gets petrified in your pantry so quickly is due to its molasses content. Molasses hates air, and even a little exposure to the elements in your kitchen can cause it to evaporate, drying your poor brown sugar out. But if you zap it in the microwave, the warmth can help bring the moisture back for much smoother and sweeter results.
Simply put a lump of brown sugar into a microwave-safe bowl and cover it with a moist paper towel before popping it in. Heat it for 20 seconds on high, and then take a peek inside to see how it looks. If it's still hard, you may need to heat it for another 20-second interval. But be careful not to over-microwave it — otherwise you'll be left with a melty, caramelized mess. Pro tip: Break it up with a fork as you go along so you can get a better sense of how soft it is. Voila!
If you happen to have more time (the party or bake sale is tomorrow and not today), there are a couple other ways to soften brown sugar. According to Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, a popular method is to place the brown sugar in an airtight container with a slice of bread at the top. While this is said to be the absolute best way to soften brown sugar, you'll have to let it sit a whopping 24 hours to see results. Same goes for the apple method, which simply swaps out the sliced bread for apple slices and works its magic after a day has passed.
To keep brown sugar from going hard in the first place, you'll want to move it to an airtight container and squeeze every last bit of air out. For additional moisture, you can also add a piece of bread at the bottom of the container (don't worry, the sugar makes the bread stale but won't make it moldy). While it may take some extra time to plan ahead like this, you may find it's worth it when the time comes to actually bake.
And at the end of the day, who wants to wait for treats?