Your Best Options for Softening Brown Sugar

December  1, 2015

It’s happened to all of us: Halfway through making cookies, you pull out the brown sugar, it’s hard as a rock, and no amount of palm squishing power will break that clump of sugar. But this bump in the cookie-making road doesn’t have to be frustrating.

There are several ways to soften hard brown sugar. Some methods are quick, while others take more time, but all will put your freshly baked cookie dreams back on track and prevent any wasted sugar.

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Here are the 4 best ways to soften brown sugar: 

The Quickest Way: Microwave with Water

If you’re in a hurry and need the sugar right away, this method is the best option. Place the brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and fill a small mug or microwave-safe container with 1/4 cup of water. Place both side-by-side in the microwave and heat in 30-second intervals (checking the sugar after each round). The water will begin to boil and the steam will soften the sugar until it can easily be crushed with your fingers. Just keep an eye on it to make sure not to melt the sugar, and the bowls will be hot, so handle carefully. 

If the clumps of hard sugar are too large for the microwave to save them, then try this next method—the oven.


For Really Gnarly Chunks: Oven

Another quick way to soften hard brown sugar is by heating it in the oven. You’ll need to keep an eye on the sugar so it doesn’t melt, but it works well with both smaller and larger pieces of sugar. 

Heat the oven to 250° F. Spread the hard brown sugar out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and heat for 5 minutes (check after 2 minutes for very small pieces). Remove from the oven and break apart the softened sugar. If it’s still hard, heat for additional 1-minute intervals until softened. 

Use this method when: You have really big chunks of sugar to soften.


For Low-Energy, Non-Urgent Cases: Bread

Place the hard brown sugar in a bowl or resealable plastic bag and place a slice of bread (plain sandwich bread is fine) on top of the sugar. Tightly cover with plastic wrap or seal the bag and set aside for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. As the bread dries, the moisture released will soften the sugar.

Use this method when: You have time to spare and don’t need it right away. If you notice that only some of the sugar has hard clumps, remove them and use this method. Once softened, you can add it back to the bag of sugar. 


For When You Don’t Have Bread: An Apple

Place the hard brown sugar in a bowl or resealable plastic bag with a fresh apple slice (a few slices for larger clumps). Tightly cover with plastic wrap or seal the bag and set aside for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. The moisture from the apple will soften the sugar and it will be ready to use once again.

Use this method when: You have time but not a slice of bread. This method imparts a faint apple odor to the brown sugar, so I’d suggest using the bread method before this one if you can.

What’s your brown sugar softening method of choice? Tell us in the comments!

Images by Teresa Floyd

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sue levin
    Sue levin
  • Nancy Gibson
    Nancy Gibson
  • Michi
  • Genjidog
  • Leena Trivedi-Grenier
    Leena Trivedi-Grenier
Teresa Floyd is a freelance photographer, food writer, and pastry chef living in Kansas City, MO. She is the creator of Now, Forager, a pastry blog focused on seasonal pastries and desserts.


Sue L. January 30, 2022
I use a clay sugar bear
Nancy G. December 3, 2015
I have a clay disc that has a cat stamped on it that you soak in warm water for about 15 minutes. Towel dry it and put it in your brown sugar storage container. It will keep your brown sugar nice and soft. Keeps it soft for a long time. I got mine in New Mexico. It works really, really well.
Michi December 2, 2015
Same with bread or apple, I wet a paper towel and place it over a container and then put a lid or plastic wrap over it.
Genjidog December 2, 2015
I have a brown sugar mouse--a little clay figure that I periodically (every 3 to 4 mohts, whenever things seem to be drying out) soak in water for a few hours and then put back in the tightly lidded container with the sugar. So the brown sugar never dries out.
Leena T. December 2, 2015
I store my brown sugar with one large marshmallow and that helps to keep it from clumping.
Laurie H. December 2, 2015
You can also grate it.

Coffee G. December 1, 2015
These are helpful since I am often cooking at other people's places where the sugar has not been properly stored. However, you can avoid this problem altogether if you place it in a plastic bag, press out the air and seal it.
foofaraw December 1, 2015
I found the easiest way is to actually not having brown sugar at all, but substituting it directly in the recipe with white sugar and molasses with the correct proportion. The white sugar replaces brown sugar in the recipe, and molasses goes to wet ingredients. Never a chance of having rock hard brown sugar.