Did you know sugar stores forever? It doesn't ever spoil or go rancid. And here's a little practical science for your kitchen- brown sugar is hygroscopic, meaning that it attracts moisture from the air. Cookies made with it have a better chance of being chewy. This also depends, of course, on how long you let them bake! Brown sugar adds moistness, chewiness in baked goods, and a deeper, caramel-like flavor. All of this is because of the small amount of molasses in it. Most brown sugar is just refined white sugar with molasses added at the factory. Turbinado, or raw cane sugar is an exception to this- the brown color in it is because the molasses wasn't taken out to begin with.
What this hygroscopic nature means for you is that if there’s any moisture available to the sugar, it will soften up over the course of several hours or overnight. Some ways to add moisture are:
· Add a slice of apple to a sealed container of brown sugar. Let sit.
· Add a slice of bread. This is a great use for those heels that sometimes don’t get eaten. When it’s totally dried out, you can crush it into breadcrumbs.
· Soak a small (clean!) terra-cotta pot, saucer, or shard (piece of a broken pot), in water. When it’s moist, add it to your brown sugar container. This one’s reusable! Just soak it again when dry.
· Put a dampened cloth or paper towel in the container, or just put the brown sugar in a bowl and cover it with the damp cloth.
· Any place the brown sugar actually touches something wet, the moisture may drive out the molasses (which is what makes it brown) and leave a white, moist section of sugar. It’s fine. Stir it back in.
If you can’t wait that long for your sugar, there are more options:
· Microwave the brown sugar for 30 seconds. If it’s not softened yet, put it in for a little longer. It will be soft and easy to measure, but only while it’s still warm! Crumble it while you can, measure what you need, and put the rest in a container with one of the ideas above.
· If you don’t have a microwave, you can use a grater to get what you need off that solid block of sugar.
· If you have molasses on hand, stir it into regular sugar. This is how they make brown sugar at the factory! For light brown sugar, use 1/2 Tbsp (1 ½ tsp). molasses to 1 cup white sugar. If you want dark brown sugar, use 1 Tbsp. molasses instead.
· Knock off some chunks with a hammer or other heavy item. Weigh them instead of using a measuring cup. A cup of brown sugar weighs about 7 ounces. (For the curious or the kitchen scientist, a handy chart listing other foods’ weights per cup, see http://www.veg-world.com/articles/cups.htm) Most recipes use some form of liquid- add the hard sugar lumps to the recipe's liquid to let it soften, dissolve, or mix in.
One great thing to make with brown sugar is
2-4 Tbsp. butter
1/4-1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch OR 1/2 c. flour
2 c. milk
1/8 tsp. salt, optional
1 tsp. vanilla
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat, stir occasionally until it turns brown and smells heavenly. Remove from heat. Add brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt; stir until smooth. Gradually stir in the milk; return to heat and stir until it comes to a boil. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Pour a thin stream of the hot milk into the beaten egg, stirring constantly, until about half the milk is mixed with it. This keeps the egg from curdling (scrambling). Pour the egg mixture back into the boiling mixture; cook and stir for two minutes more.
For more variations on pudding, see White Sauces and Pudding