How to Soften Brown Sugar (and Keep It Soft)

Have you ever gone to make cookies and found that your bag of brown sugar has turned into a brick? Us too! Good thing learning how to soften brown sugar is super easy!

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It can be incredibly frustrating to go make chocolate chip cookies and find that your brown sugar has gone hard. Why is that? And how can you soften brown sugar?

First, know that this type of sugar—both light brown and dark brown varieties—contains molasses. When that molasses is exposed to air, it loses moisture and causes the sugar to harden. This can happen when the sugar is stored in an unsealed bag or loosely covered container. It also occurs over time.

The good news is that learning how to soften brown sugar is easy–and fast! Before you know it, you’ll be baking up these heirloom brown sugar desserts.

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Airtight Container

The best way to keep brown sugar soft is to store it the right way from the get-go. As soon as you open up the bag, empty the contents into an airtight container. This will keep air from getting inside and drying out the sugar.

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It might seem strange, but marshmallows can help soften brown sugar! How? Well, the moisture from the mallows gets absorbed into the dried-out sugar.

For this technique, just drop a few marshmallows into your container of brown sugar and seal it up tight. In a day the sugar should be softer, though you can leave the marshmallows in there for a few weeks or until they become hard.

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Sliced Bread

Just like with marshmallows, dried-out brown sugar can also absorb moisture from a slice of bread. Toss a slice into your container and in a day or two you’ll find that the bread is nothing but a crouton while the sugar is soft and pliable.

You can use this same technique to soften cookies that have gotten a bit too crunchy. In both cases, be sure to use bread with a neutral flavor like white or wheat (not yesterday’s asiago bagel).

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Apple Wedges

If you don’t have any bread or marshmallows laying around, apples will also work! Toss a few wedges (or even the core) into your container of too-hard brown sugar. Leave this to sit overnight. By morning, the sugar should be softer thanks to the moisture in the apples.

Don’t forget to toss the used slices. They shouldn’t sit in your sugar for more than a day.

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Terracotta Bear

The cutest way to soften brown sugar has to be a brown sugar bear. To use, soak the terracotta bear in water, then place it into a container with the sugar. This will help soften up any too-hard sugar and will keep it soft for up to six months.

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Moisture is a big deal when it comes to brown sugar. If your brown sugar has gone hard as a rock, and you can spare a few days, sprinkle a few drops of water in the bag of brown sugar and wait until it softens up. Be careful not to overdo it, though; water can also cause the sugar to dissolve.

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Rolling Pin

If your sugar is a little too firm for making pecan pralines, it’s time to break out the rolling pin. Seal the sugar in a zip-top bag and then give it a few good thwacks with the rolling pin (a meat mallet also works). This will help break up the sugar.

Be sure to use our other techniques for any remaining brown sugar you have. You won’t want to go through this routine every time you bake.

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While many of these methods are fairly quick, you may need a near-instant method when you’re planning on baking cookies right now. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, pop the sugar into a dish, cover with a damp paper towel or tea towel and zap in the microwave for 20 seconds.

Emily Racette Parulski
Emily has spent the last decade writing and editing food and lifestyle content. As a senior editor at Taste of Home, she leads the newsletter team sharing delicious recipes and helpful cooking tips to more than 2 million loyal email subscribers. Since joining TMB seven years ago as an associate editor, she has worked on special interest publications, launched TMB’s first cross-branded newsletter, supported the launch of the brand's affiliate strategy, orchestrated holiday countdowns, participated in taste tests and was selected for a task force to enhance the Taste of Home community. Emily was first mentioned by name in Taste of Home magazine in 1994, when her mother won a contest. When she’s not editing, Emily can be found in her kitchen baking something sweet, taking a wine class with her husband, or making lasagnas for neighbors through Lasagna Love.
Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.