How to Soften Hardened Brown Sugar

Brown Sugar 1

Recently, I found myself with a dense, hard brick that used to be brown sugar. The idea of shelling out more money for soft brown sugar kind of killed me a little inside, because I hadn't gotten my money's worth out of this sugar. But could it be brought back to life? 

Recalling a tip I'd read about adding an apple slice to the sugar to soften it, I decided to give it a try. I put in half an apple that was bruised and I didn't want to eat out of hand, and in a few days, sure enough, the brown sugar was soft, moistened, and use-able. But how and why did this occur?

I hit the internet to find out. 

According to the Domino Sugar website, "Brown sugar becomes hard when moisture in the sugar evaporates. Therefore, the various methods used for softening brown sugar are intended to return moisture to the sugar."

It makes sense that an apple slice would help in this regard...but why not, say, a slice of pear? It is interesting to note that in the various tips I found online, the two objects suggested to re-moisten the sugar were a slice of white bread, or an apple. 

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Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find conclusive evidence of why these two items are most commonly suggested, but I am going to make an educated guess: in the case of the white bread, the bland flavor will not affect the flavor of the sugar; in the case of the apple, any flavor imparted to the sugar would be fairly mild and harmonious. 

Of course, if you don't have a few days to soften your sugar, according to the Domino Sugar website, there are other tried-and-true methods for re-moistening your hardened sugar:

Quick softening method: If you need to use hard brown sugar immediately, remove it from the package into an oven-safe container and heat it at 250-degrees. Watch it carefully. As soon as it’s soft, measure the amount you need right away because it will again harden as it cools. Please use caution. Oven heated sugar is very hot!

Microwave softening method: Place about 1/2 lb. of hardened brown sugar in microwave safe bowl. Cover sugar with two pieces of wet (but not dripping) white paper towels. Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap. Heat in microwave at HIGH for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Divide sugar with fork (sugar will be hot); stir. Again, microwave-softened sugar hardens as it cools so microwave only the amount of sugar you need. Use immediately and use caution as it will be hot. Microwave ovens vary in power; cooking time may need adjustment.

Brown sugar

Time-permitting softening method: Place hardened brown sugar in a tight sealing container.  Cover sugar with two pieces of dampened – not dripping, wet paper towels placed over a small piece of plastic wrap or foil on top of the sugar. Or you can also use a slice of bread to add the bowl of sugar.  Place lid on container and seal tightly. Remove the paper towel or bread after the sugar absorbs the moisture and softens (about two days) and tightly reseal the container. Divide sugar with fork; stir. Sugar should remain soft.

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