How to quickly soften hard, dried out brown sugar
I had some brown sugar that didn't get properly sealed and so now it's too dry and solid as a rock. What's the quickest way to soften it up and get rid of the clumps? Folks have suggested leaving an apple with it in a bag overnight; any suggestions of a shortcut for rehydrating that takes minutes instead of hours or days?
There are a variety of tips for quickly softening hardened brown sugar here: 10 Ways to Soften Hard Brown Sugar.
The one that worked best for me personally, when I had to do this in a hurry, was to chip off a large chunk of the hardened sugar, put it in a (microwave-safe) Ziploc bag with a damp paper towel, and microwave it for 5-10 seconds at a time until it was soft enough to use. Don't pierce the bag; the whole point is to allow the steam to re-hydrate the sugar. But obviously don't leave it in the microwave for too long either, otherwise the bag will either melt from the heat or explode from the steam. You should also let it cool for a minute or two between zaps; the sugar will continue to absorb moisture as long as the steam can't escape.
I also use the paper towel trick if I need to re-hydrate the sugar the day before. Place a piece of wax paper on top of the sugar, then a damp paper towel on top, and seal it. It'll be good as new the next day. Don't leave the paper towel in there for too long though, otherwise it'll grow mold (doesn't seem like it should, but I personally witnessed it happen). I like this method because it doesn't require me to waste any apples or bread, if I even have any around.
Don't microwave plastic. Ever. Unless you want cancer. Then gopher it.
@clyde Some kinds of plastic are safe - that's why Aaronut mentions using a microwave-safe bag here.
@clyde: That's not a fact, it's a combination of myth, paranoia, misinformation, and outright propaganda. PET (Type 1), HDPE (Type 2), LDPE (Type 4), and PP (Type 5) are all microwave safe; those comprise the vast majority of "Ziploc" type bags and plastic food storage containers. The only ones you really need to worry about are polystyrene and polycarbonates containing BPA.
Just tried this and it worked like a charm. Most ziplock baga are microwave safe, certainly for the actual amount of microwaving this required.
thought I would mention this because of the problem at hand...Sugar is hygroscopic which is the reason that sugar clumps up. To reduce the possibility of this occurrence vacuum seal your sugar or use airtight containers to lessen this effect. It will not remove it completely because brown sugar has molasses added to it which also adds additional moisture content, but it will help control the situation.