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How to soften brown sugar?

We already know that brown sugar, also panela, does not make sweets healthier: it is still sugar. Instead, its use depends on the specific result that we want to obtain in each recipe. However, brown sugar tends to harden, sometimes being as hard as a stone. How can we quickly soften it? In this article, we read about How to soften brown sugar?

It gives me a lot of anger to start preparing any recipe, preparing all the ingredients and utensils, and finding the pot of brown sugar with a stone that is impossible to incorporate into the dough. Chopping it with a knife is usually not a good idea since, in addition to being dangerous, it could leave challenging pieces that will spoil the result – and could break a tooth. Luckily, there are some tricks that we can apply to fix it.

Why does brown sugar get hard?

Current legislation distinguishes between white sugar and brown sugar in terms of the level of sucrose they contain. My colleague Mª José already explained how sugar is obtained from boiling and filtering the sugar cane juice, separating the molasses to refine it. The brown sugar is the one that preserves part of that molasses, which gives it a darker color and also a very particular aroma and flavor, as well as moisture.

Brown sugar from supermarkets is often fake.

This is what you have to know so that you do not get ripped off.

Panela would be the purest form of these cane juices before the purification processes turn them into granulated sugar. We can also find sugars with different refining levels, such as demerara or muscovado; In the Anglo-Saxon world, there is even dark brown sugar or soft brown sugar, more tender and humid. Sometimes molasses are added to white sugar after refining, so it would not be brown sugar as expected.

And why does it get so hard? When we open a package, we leave the sugar crystals exposed to the air. These crystals are covered with molasses; the higher the purity, the softer, wetter, and more malleable it is to the touch – unlike white, which looks like dry sand. But as time goes by, the sugar dries up, the moisture in the molasses evaporates, and the crystals stick to each other.

If the sugar has a high proportion of molasses and too many days have passed since it came into contact with the air, it is easy to end up with a complex, dry, and challenging work block. That is why it is advisable to check the pantry before baking, preferably the day before.

How to soften brown sugar and panela

My favorite trick is the simplest, and I have proven that it works: you have to add to the brown sugar a slice of bread -preferably soft or mold- or apple slices. The container must be well closed, and you must wait at least 24 hours; after that time, the bread or fruit will have released its moisture, which the sugar absorbs, regaining its soft texture.

If we need brown sugar immediately, several express methods will get us out of a tight spot:

  • Place the brown sugar you need in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with a damp cloth -no dripping- and heat for about 15-20 seconds at maximum power to soften brown sugar. Check that it has been moistened by removing the crystals, being careful not to burn yourself.
  • You can also use damp kitchen paper; the action is enhanced if covered with a plate or microwave lid.
  • In the most challenging hardness cases, it will be necessary to work in several batches, breaking up the solid lumps little by little with a fork or similar.
  • Spray the sugar with a skinny layer of water, making sure it comes out almost like a transparent and homogeneous curtain. Heat in the microwave for about 15 seconds, stir, and repeat if necessary.
  • Heat the sugar in the oven to about 100-120ºC, taking advantage of the fact that you will probably need to bake. Check every couple of minutes to see if it can be stirred with a fork, being careful not to burn yourself.
  • In the case of panela, which can also be found directly in blocks, grating it when small quantities are needed.


To preserve it correctly and avoid hardening, the ideal is to use an airtight closing container. Better if it allows air extraction, creating a vacuum effect. Terracotta pieces also seem to work, some marketed in cute designs.

Different types of sugar have other effects. They can accentuate or reduce the level of sweetness, make doughs more or less juicy. Create more or less crunchy toppings, caramelize or add roasted aromas. They can also enhance the effect of other ingredients, creating much richer flavor combinations.

Also read: how to make a bow out of ribbon



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