5 Ways to Get Clumps out of Brown Sugar

Brown sugar should have the consistency of wet sand, not a solid brick. Here's how to restore it.

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Hard brown sugar with hammer
Photo: Kirsten Strecker

We've all been there. You're about to bake cookies from scratch, and by some miracle, you actually have all the ingredients you need. There's just one problem: The brown sugar you pulled from the back of the cabinet is a solid brick. You could break a window with this thing. How are you going to pry off the "1 cup of brown sugar" that the recipe calls for? Don't let brown sugar clumping ruin your plans! Instead, use one of these five suggestions for un-clumping it.

Why Does Brown Sugar Clump?

Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to white sugar. The more molasses added, the darker the sugar (which is why you can buy either light brown or dark brown sugar). Molasses contains moisture, and when exposed to air, it loses that moisture. This makes the sugar crystals stick together. If you're experiencing brown sugar clumping, you probably stored it in a container that allowed air to sap the moisture from the crystals.

How to Un-Clump Brown Sugar

There are several ways to break down that solid block of sugar, most of which involve replacing the lost moisture.

Try the Microwave

If you're in a hurry, this microwave hack will save you time. Place the dried-out brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and top with a damp paper towel. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave it in 15-second intervals until the sugar is moist and easy to scoop. You'll be well on your way to getting those cookies in the oven.

Add Bread or Apples

If you discover hard brown sugar and have time to spare, Susan M. Reid, editor of The Baking Sheet blog from King Arthur Flour, suggests placing the sugar in a resealable plastic bag overnight with a slice of bread or a couple of apple wedges. She explains that since sugar is hygroscopic (fancy talk for spongelike), it will naturally absorb moisture from the bread or the apple, so you don't have to zap it in the microwave.

Seal in a Bag With Water

This will take a few days, but if you add a few drops of water to your bag of brown sugar and seal it, the sugar will soften up. Don't sprinkle more than a few drops, though. If you pour a cup of water in there, you'll just end up dissolving your sugar in water.

Toss in a Terra Cotta Brown Sugar Saver

Yes, there is actually a product created for the purpose of un-clumping brown sugar: a disc made of terra cotta. Terra cotta is a very porous material that absorbs water and maintains wetness. A brown sugar saver is a clever item that will simplify your life. Just enclose it in a bag with your brown sugar, and the disc's moisture will loosen the sugar crystals.

Run It Through the Food Processor

It may feel like a brick, but it's actually just a bunch of very sticky crystals. That's nothing that a sharp food processor blade can't break apart.

How to Prevent Brown Sugar From Clumping

To avoid clumping in the first place, store your brown sugar in an airtight container. If the brown sugar isn't exposed to air, it won't lose moisture and harden.

Reid also suggests investing in the above-mentioned terra cotta brown sugar saver. Soak the disc for 15 minutes, pat it dry, and package it with the sugar to prevent future clumps.

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