The other day I went to make this amazingly delicious Bacon Brown Sugar Chicken recipe from Sabrina at Dinner Then Dessert, and when I took my brown sugar out of the cabinet, I discovered that it was a hard and crumbly fossilized mess.
It doesn't matter how you store your brown sugar --- in the original bag, box, or even an airtight container --- it often ends up as a big rock of sugar and molasses that you have to beat with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin. This happens because molasses in the brown sugar does not like air, and when you expose it to the elements in your kitchen, the molasses evaporates. This turns your brown sugar from a bunch of damp sand to a hard brick.
But, there is a better way to soften your brown sugar without tools. So, the next time you find a hard block of brown sugar in your kitchen, try one of these methods.
If you need to use your hard brown sugar right away, simply place it in a microwave-safe bowl and put a dampened paper towel on top. Then microwave it for about 20 seconds at a time, and use a fork to break up the large clumps as you go. This method will work fast, so keep an eye on it to make sure that your sugar doesn't melt and then harden into a syrupy goo when it cools.
For every 8 ounces of dried-out brown sugar, all you need is 3/4 of a teaspoon of water to fix it. Put the brown sugar in a Ziploc bag and pour the water over it. Then, press the air out of the bag, zip it, and place it in the microwave for 15 seconds. If you don't have a microwave, just let the water and sugar stand in the bag for about 30 minutes.
Then, press the melty spot on the bag and start working through the bag with your fingers to break up the lumps. Finally, knead the brown sugar until it's homogenous.
If you plan your baking in advance and discover that your brown sugar is hard while checking your cabinet for the ingredients you need for your next shopping list, you can easily soften it in a day or two by letting it sit with a moist ingredient.
Take the hard brown sugar and put it in an airtight container or Ziploc bag, then add a slice of bread, damp tea bags, some apple slices, or marshmallows to the top of the sugar and close the container. The brown sugar will absorb the moisture from any of these items, and start to soften.
The best ingredient to use is a slice of bread. Marshmallows don't soften the sugar as quickly, and apples can cause everything to turn slimy.
To keep your brown sugar from clumping together and getting hard, store it in the most airtight container you can find to minimize moisture evaporation. According to The Kitchn, click-clack containers work the best, and the smaller the container, the better. You want to keep the ratio of air to sugar low, so you want to make it where there is little to no space between the sugar and the lid.
If you have a larger airtight container, try putting the brown sugar in a Ziploc bag and remove all of the air before putting it in your container.
If your container isn't airtight, try using a terracotta brown sugar saver. They don't cost very much, and all you have to do is soak it in warm water for twenty minutes before placing it in your brown sugar storage container, and it will keep it soft for three to six months.
Now that you know how to soften brown sugar, you can make any recipe that calls for it, no matter if it has turned into a brick while sitting in your pantry.