Ask Chef: Brown Sugar

Q: Chef. My brown sugar constantly hardens into unusable chunks. What’s going on?

A: Brown sugar is composed of sugar crystals combined with specially prepared molasses syrup. The molasses not only contributes color, but also moisture. So when this moisture evaporates, all those sugar crystals cling to each other, causing the brown sugar to harden into chunks. To stop your brown sugar from chunking up, store it in a way that doesn’t allow the moisture to evaporate. One way is to transfer the brown sugar to an airtight container, and storing it in a cool, dry place. Another technique is to store the brown sugar tightly sealed in its original plastic container in the freezer. Then everytime you need it, simply let the brown sugar thaw for a couple hours.

However, all is not lost if your brown sugar is already rock solid. Adding a bit of moisture can easily revive your brown sugar chunks. One approach is to place an open bag of brown sugar in the microwave, along with a cup of water. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Rotate the bag after each minute if the microwave doesn’t have a carousel. Alternately, transfer the brown sugar rocks to a microwave-safe container and cover loosely with a moist (not wet) paper towel. Microwave on high, checking the sugar every 30 seconds with a fork. It’s important to note that microwaving brown sugar is not a permanent solution, the sugar will harden again. However, you can repeat the process each time you need the sugar.

Or, if you have more time and no microwave, never fear. Place the hardened brown sugar in a rust-proof container. Place a sheet of foil or plastic wrap over the sugar. Add a moist (again, not wet) paper towel on top and tightly cover the whole contraption. After a couple days, the brown sugar will have absorbed enough moisture to return to it’s manipulable state.

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